Avatar: The Last Airbender receives mixed reviews from critics

Netflix’s newest live-action offering, Avatar: The Last Airbender, is dividing critical opinion.

The eight-part series is a remake of the popular animated fantasy series of the same name by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko.

They both signed up with Netflix to make the live action version, but did not see out the project.

The 2024 Albert Kim remake has been described by Variety as a “beautifully crafted disappointment”.

Critic Aramide Tinubu said the series “is far from the mess” of another remake – the 2010 M. Night Shyamalan film The Last Airbender, but added: “It will leave fans wishing the streamer had left DiMartino and Konietzko’s masterpiece alone.”

She added: “While the show’s visuals and its Asian and Indigenous stars add authenticity to the series, the performances of the majority of the cast, no matter how earnest, don’t hold up to the weight of the narrative.

“Many of the series’ portrayals lack the extensive emotion needed to carry a show centring on the horrors of genocide, war and totalitarianism.”

The show’s legal team will be keen to point out that this has nothing to do with Avatar itself, the highest-grossing film ever made, but is still a big hit with fantasy lovers.

Image caption,

Canadian actor Gordon Cormier plays lead character Aang

Without giving too much away, the premise of the series is there are four divided kingdoms, defined by fire, earth, water and air – with the “benders” who live in them harnessing these elements into some sort of magical power.

Its main characters include 12-year-old Aang, played by Gordon Cormier, who teams up with 14-year-old Katara (Kiawentiio) and her older brother Sokka (Ian Ousley), to save their kingdoms.

The Guardian’s Jack Seale was more complimentary, awarding the series four stars.

“The landscapes sparkle, there is a giant six-legged flying bison that carries everyone spectacularly from place to place through the clouds and the young cast are up to the task,” he wrote.

“The Airbender franchise has confidently revived itself; this won’t be the last we see of it.”

‘Rather drab and thinly sketched’

However, Empire’s Kambole Campbell gave the series just two stars, adding that it “sadly mostly sheds the original’s cartoonish charm and dynamic presentation in favour of more self-serious fantasy”.

He added that it is “a rather drab and thinly sketched spin on well-worn fantastical tales of oppression and rebellion” and despite each episode running for an hour, “the show somehow feels too long and too short at the same time”.

There was a middling review from the Telegraph’s Anita Singh, who awarded it three out of a possible five stars.

“It’s solid entertainment,” she said. “Fast-moving, action-packed, with decent fight scenes and some appealing performances, all done on a generous Netflix budget.

“Don’t expect subtlety – this is aimed at children so the characters and plot are broadly drawn.”

Singh said she watched it with her children, the agegroup the series is broadly aimed at, who also gave their own review – “It’s good,” they said, “but not as good as SpongeBob SquarePants.”

‘The acting is wooden’

(L-R) Actors Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, Daniel Dae Kim, Ken Leung, Kiawentiio, Gordon Cormier, Ian Ousley, Dallas Liu and Elizabeth Yu.IMAGE SOURCE,GETTY IMAGES
Image caption,

(L-R) Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, Daniel Dae Kim, Ken Leung, Kiawentiio, Gordon Cormier, Ian Ousley, Dallas Liu and Elizabeth Yu at the show’s premiere

Whilst most reviews have drawn some positives from the show, the same can’t be said for that of Vulture’s Jackson McHenry.

“From the very start, the live-action series has a lot of flaws,” he wrote. “The acting is wooden, the writing is even more wooden, the costumes are garish, the score drones on annoyingly, and it all looks like it was filmed through a light glaze of mud.

“But worst of all, the self-serious, hour-long premiere of the new series is simply dull. It’s hard not to zone out somewhere along the way, and harder still to muster the enthusiasm to continue on for seven more instalments,” he added.

“What should have felt like an exciting adventure romp instead feels like being handed a homework assignment, which is a rough fate for something based on a Nickelodeon kids’ cartoon.”

But Paul Tassi of Forbes was more positive, writing: “You can tell this is made by a cast and crew that have a lot of love for the source material.

“It is not as good as the animated series,” he continued. “Of course it isn’t. This is painting the Mona Lisa with coloured pencil, where it may be great in its own right, but it’s just an entirely different medium that could never live up to the original masterpiece.”

However, he concluded: Despite a mountain of scepticism, including from myself who counts the original as one of my favourite shows ever, I have to say Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender is much better than I thought it would be. By the end, I genuinely enjoyed it.”

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