Promotional image from Netflix's Avatar: The Last Airbender live-action series.

Jan 25, 2024 | Avatar

I have my reservations about Netflix’s ATLA series

Avatar: The Last Airbender has a troubled history with live-action.

Image: Netflix

We’re just about a month away from the release of Netflix’s live-action adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender. This means a new trailer, interviews with the cast, and some inevitable comparisons to the original.

From the looks of it, the live-action series looks just about right: a sky bison that somewhat resembles the fluffy original and special effects that don’t leave a nauseating aftertaste. The new trailer checks off the “faithful adaptation” box, but I can’t still shake off the feeling that Netflix’s version will fail to measure up to the original.

The live-action adaptation, first announced in 2018, has hit some roadblocks along the way — most notable when the show’s original creators stepped away from the project in 2020, citing creative differences. Michael Dante DiMartino noted how they “couldn’t control the creative direction of the series.” In a separate Instagram post, Konietzko noted how “there was no follow-through” on Netflix’s pledge to support their vision, alleging that the work environment had become “negative” and “unsupportive.”

This was the first red flag: Until Netflix’s recently released One Piece adaptation, the studio has been notorious for its half-hearted animation-to-live-action adaptations. With the brains behind the original walking out, the show will likely cut some corners along the way — since it’s not being looked over by people who have their reputation attached to the legacy of the Avatarverse itself.

M. Night Shyamalan’s botched film adaptation was a clear consequence of creative oversight, serving as a cautionary tale as Netflix moved toward reviving the franchise. When Avatar: The Last Airbender arrived on Netflix in 2020, it was a quick summer hit that spent multiple days on Netflix’s most-watched list — indicating that the series has stood the test of time.

The animated series originally ran from 2005 to 2008 on Nickelodeon and is widely credited as one of the greatest TV shows ever.

Undisguised by the way it depicts the consequences of endless war and a dictatorial stronghold, Avatar: The Last Airbender invests heavily in world-building and character development. The show is expansive, its fanciful terrains serving as aesthetic backgrounds to beautifully crafting elemental “bending” battles and paying homage to ancient Chinese architecture. And frankly, the responsibility that comes with an endless cycle of reincarnation is (almost) always exciting.

Watching such adaptations also comes with the weight of acceptance: Inorganic powers aren’t going to look as good as animation when replicated through CGI. What truly sets good live-action adaptations apart from the rest is the injection of soul, some of which has emanated from Avatar: The Last Airbender’s trailers so far.

However Netflix’s take of the Avatarverse fares, there’s still DiMartino and Konietzko’s upcoming Avatar projects to look forward to.