Water. Earth. Fire. Air. Long ago, Netflix announced their plan to make a live-action adaptation of Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender. On November 9th, they finally released the first trailer, along with an early 2024 release date. So, before we see Aang and the crew on the big screen, what do fans need to know?
A Complicated Past
Avatar: The Last Airbender originally began as a three-season Nickelodeon show. Critics and fans alike praised for its charming animation style, heartfelt story, and dynamic characters, resulting in a stunning Rotten Tomatoes score of 100%. For many members of Gen Z, the show is a childhood staple. However, audience members of every age love Aang’s story. With its unique premise and whimsical magic, Avatar has been enchanting audiences for well over a decade.
Long-time fans will know that Netflix’s new project isn’t the first time Avatar has gone to the big screen. In 2010, M. Night Shyamalan produced a live-action adaptation of the show, simply titled The Last Airbender. This film was so poorly received that it has become infamous, with an abysmal 5% Rotten Tomatoes rating and a 30% audience score. One memorable review from critic Lindy West reads: “Airbender’s editing is clunky, its pace glacial. It feels like watching someone’s homemade tai chi reel if tai chi could be somehow racist.” Overall, the consensus is that the film itself is much too serious, too slow, badly acted, and painfully white-washed. Needless to say, a major letdown.
Netflix Saves the Day (?)
Given the history of live-action adaptations, when Netflix announced its own version in 2018, fans were a little skeptical. They had been stung before, and many recent live-action movies had notoriously failed to impress. However, fears abated when show creators Michael DiMartino and Brian Konietzko supported the project, saying that they were ready to “reimagine” Avatar and “cinematically realize Aang’s world.”
“We’re thrilled for the opportunity to helm this live-action adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender. We can’t wait to realize Aang’s world as cinematically as we always imagined it to be, and with a culturally appropriate, non-whitewashed cast. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance to build upon everyone’s great work on the original animated series and go even deeper into the characters, story, action, and world-building.”DiMartino & Konietzko, Netflix announcement (2018)
Of course, just like Avatar’s warring nations, this peace wasn’t meant to last. Two years after the original announcement, DiMartino and Konietzko parted ways from Netflix, citing creative differences and an inability to lead the project in a meaningful direction. In February 2021, they announced a collaboration with Paramount+ to form Avatar Studios, which is currently working on three new animated films. While these projects are sure to be just as delightful as the original series, it does put Netflix in a bit of a tricky spot. Fans of all ages are wondering the same thing: Will the live-action movie be yet another failure?
An Action-Packed Trailer
On November 9th, Netflix released the first official trailer for Avatar. Prior to this release, they had released several stills of the cast, which were received with tentative approval. Though nothing seems to be concretely wrong with the movie, DiMartino and Konietzko’s abandonment of the project has left many fans with a wary outlook. So, how did the trailer go over?
Overall, the reviews have been positive. Of course, given the 5% rating of its predecessor, Netflix doesn’t have a very high bar to beat. But the cast looks accurate, the visual effects look realistic, and the acting, from what we can see, looks worlds better than The Last Airbender. People were especially excited by the appearance of Appa, Aang’s flying bison. “Appa is so big and fluffy like he should be!” cheers Twitter/X user @griffxnblake.
The movie’s actual success will hinge largely on the performances of the main cast, and the believability of key characters such as Aang (Gordon Cormier) and Zuko (Dallas James Liu). No amount of special effects will make up for a lackluster story or an unbelievable performance—so let’s keep our fingers crossed! With only one teaser trailer out, there’s still much to be seen.
The Future of Avatar
With all the new adaptations coming up, along with all the messy drama of show business, it can be easy to get a little confused. Essentially, though, whether the live-action movie is a hit or not, fans have a lot of new content to look forward to. After Avatar: The Last Airbender releases on February 22nd, 2024, Avatar Studios will produce three new animated films, with their first one slotted for late 2025.
Only time will tell if Netflix’s adaptation can escape the live-action curse and live up to the stellar reputation of its source material. In the meantime, we’re just happy to come along for the ride. Yip yip, Appa!
To read more about Avatar, click here.