Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?


REVIEW – Netflix’s ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ Sets the Standard for Live-Action Adaptations

EN US ATLA Main Ensemble Vertical 27x40 sRGB PRE min e1708590096636

Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender may very well be the best live-action adaptation of an animated source material ever. The original animated series is considered by many to be one of the best shows in TV history, and some have even called it a perfect show. Released in 2005 on Nickelodeon, the series first developed a passionate cult following that only grew as the years passed. Following the end of the series in 2008, Avatar has been streaming on Netflix at various times, which steadily increased its popularity. That makes for some overwhelmingly large shoes to fill for anyone who wants to adapt the series into live-action.

Thankfully, Executive Director and writer Albert Kim and the creative team behind Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender were more than up to the herculean task, and have created an adaptation that not only honors the spirit of the animated series, but also stands on its own as exceptional storytelling. This live-action series is a visual feast, with epic elemental bending action and fantastic costumes and set pieces. However, much like the source material, the aspect that sets this series apart is the wonderfully developed characters played by an exceptional cast.

Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender is a perfect complement to the animated series that will open up the rich and delightful world created by Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino to new audiences, while adding welcome authenticity to the storytelling.

Avatar: The Last Airbender premieres February 22nd on Netflix.

Netflix Avatar: The Last Airbender Key Art
Netflix Avatar: The Last Airbender Key Art

Official Synopsis

Water. Earth. Fire. Air. The four nations once lived in harmony, with the Avatar, master of all four elements, keeping peace between them. But everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked and wiped out the Air Nomads, the first step taken by the firebenders towards conquering the world. With the current incarnation of the Avatar yet to emerge, the world has lost hope. But like a light in the darkness, hope springs forth when Aang (Gordon Cormier), a young Air Nomad — and the last of his kind — reawakens to take his rightful place as the next Avatar. Alongside his newfound friends Sokka (Ian Ousley) and Katara (Kiawentiio), siblings and members of the Southern Water Tribe, Aang embarks on a fantastical, action-packed quest to save the world and fight back against the fearsome onslaught of Fire Lord Ozai (Daniel Dae Kim). But with a driven Crown Prince Zuko (Dallas Liu) determined to capture them, it won’t be an easy task. They’ll need the help of the many allies and colorful characters they meet along the way.

AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER is a live-action reimagining of the award-winning and beloved Nickelodeon animated series. Albert Kim (Sleepy Hollow, Nikita) serves as showrunner, executive producer, and writer. Jabbar Raisani (Lost in Space, Stranger Things) and Michael Goi are executive producers and directors alongside directors Roseanne Liang (also a co-executive producer) and Jet Wilkinson. Dan Lin (The Lego Movie, Aladdin) and Lindsey Liberatore (Walker) serve as executive producers from Rideback.


The goal of creating a live-action adaptation of any animated series is a perilous task. Film and TV history is riddled with failed adaptations that didn’t understand the source material, couldn’t properly translate animated visuals, or didn’t have the creative vision to recreate the heart of the original stories. No adaptation embodies all of those failures better than the 2010 film, The Last Airbender, directed by M. Night Shyamalan. A crushingly disappointing film that barely deserved even its 5% Rotten Tomatoes Tomato-meter rating, The Last Airbender serves as a frightful warning to all who would even consider trying another adaptation.

When Netflix announced in 2018 that original series creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino were working on a new live-action adaptation, there was optimism within the fan community. However, when the pair left in 2020 due to the dreaded “creative differences,” the specter of past failure reared its head once again. Enter Albert Kim, who had previously worked on shows like Sleepy Hollow, Nikita and Leverage.

(L-R) Kiawentiio as Katara, Gordon Cormier as Aang and Ian Ousley as Sokka in Netflix's Avatar: The Last Airbender
(L-R) Kiawentiio as Katara, Gordon Cormier as Aang and Ian Ousley as Sokka in Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender

While the departure of the creators may have been disappointing to fans, in many ways, it may have been a blessing in disguise for this series because it gave the creative team the opportunity to tell their own unique version of the story. Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender is not a shot-for-shot recreation of the animated show. Instead, it tells the story from a fresh perspective, with its own twist on the characters and their journey; it’s a remix, not a regurgitation.

With the first season made up of eight-episodes, each approximately 50 to 55 minutes long, the series can’t possibly include every moment from the 20-episode Book 1 of the original. There are subtle changes throughout the storylines, but the familiar highlights are all there. The Netflix series also makes some welcome additions to the story, that do not drastically change anything important, but serve to add even more richness and depth to the already beloved characters.

The visuals of the series are exceptional, which is a necessity when adapting the fantastical elements that come easier with animation. The Avatar world is itself a creative wonder, deeply inspired by Asian and Indigenous cultures, and yet seeded with magical bending powers, mythical creatures and epic lands. And while there are some moments where the CGI isn’t quite as seamless as one might hope, overall, the series successfully transports viewers to another world.

Of course, for a series named after elemental bending powers, the most important visual effects are the actual bending, which are incredible. It’s hard not to get excited seeing the ground swell and crack at the behest of an earthbender, or the dancing flames surrounding the Fire Nation soldiers. Bending is to Avatar what the Force is to Star Wars, and this series truly brings that power to life.

(L-R) Dallas Liu as Zuko and Paul Sung-Hyung Lee as Uncle Iroh in Netflix's Avatar: The Last Airbender
(L-R) Dallas Liu as Zuko and Paul Sung-Hyung Lee as Uncle Iroh in Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender

All the impressive visual effects are irrelevant if not for great characters, and Kim and the Netflix team got the most important part right with pitch perfect casting. The main cast of Gordon Cormier, Kiawentiio, Ian Ousley and Dallas Liu are visually perfect recreations of the core four of Aang, Katara, Sokka and Zuko. The young quartet is buoyed by an incredible supporting cast of talented and experienced actors, including Paul Sung-Hyung Lee (Uncle Iroh), Ken Leung (Commander Zhao), Utkarsh Ambudkar (King Bumi), Daniel Pudi (The Mechanist), Tamlyn Tomita (Yukari), Yvonne Chapman (Avatar Kyoshi), Amber Midthunder (Princess Yue) and Daniel Dae Kim (Fire Lord Ozai). Every single one of these actors deliver memorable performances and embody their characters.

Among the main cast, Ousley’s Sokka and Liu’s Zuko are standouts, with Sokka carrying the majority of the comedic tone that is more generally prevalent in the animated series, and Zuko bringing the emotional intensity that makes him one of the best and most interesting antagonists in pop culture. The relationship between Zuko and Lee’s Iroh form the heart of the series, and in some ways even surpasses the relationship seen in the original. The chemistry between Liu and Lee is so unique that they genuinely feel like family.


One of the challenges of having a story centered around four young characters is the need for largely inexperienced actors to carry the weight of the story. And while Cormier, Kiawentiio, Ousley and Liu certainly look the part and tackle their roles with enthusiasm, the line readings and delivery, especially in the early episodes, are stiff and rigid. All four improve consistently throughout, and while most TV series are not shot sequentially, the general improvement in later episodes is notable.

Daniel Dae Kim as Fire Lord Ozai in Netflix's Avatar: The Last Airbender
Daniel Dae Kim as Fire Lord Ozai in Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender

Beyond the young actors, the changes in story from the animated series is likely to be divisive amongst hardcore fans. There are changes for the sake of convenience, conciseness and likely budget, and while they make for more tight storytelling, this series misses the “side-story” moments from the original that provided rich character development. Where the characters in the animated series enjoyed multiple episodes to fully flesh out their goals, motivations and relationships, those are reduced to mere minutes within the Netflix series. As a result, viewers who don’t watch this series with a pre-existing attachment to the characters may not have time to develop the same affinity that the animated fans have.


The original Avatar: The Last Airbender series is best categorized as an homage to Asian and Indigenous cultures. So many of the visuals and characterizations are obvious references to Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Inuit ethnic groups, among others. And yet, the fact remains that the series was created by two white creatives, and the substantial majority of the original voice cast, outside of the legendary Dante Basco as Zuko, was made up of white actors. As such, the series always danced that fine line between appreciation and appropriation (it’s worth noting that several of the books and graphic novels that have followed have been written by Asian writers like Gene Luen Yang and F.C. Lee).

With the Netflix series, the main Avatar story is finally told by Asian producers, writers and directors, and the series is made up of an overwhelmingly Asian and Indigenous cast. Netlfix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender not only sets the standard for live-action adaptations, but it also a strong example of representation done well.

(Editor’s Note: While all of those additions are certainly critical to the improved representation in the series, it’s important to note that there is some controversy regarding the casting of Ousley as Sokka and his stated background of being mixed-race Native American.)

THE RATING – 4.5/5 Pocky

Pocky Rating 4.5

Ron is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of POC Culture.  He is a big believer in the power and impact of pop culture and the importance of representation in media.

You May Also Like


It’s almost time for everyone to enter the Avatar state and Netflix released the final trailer for its hotly anticipated new series, Avatar: The...


Director Denis Villeneuve’s Dune of 2021 is one of the most critically acclaimed sci-fi movies ever. The film garnered ten Oscar nominations at the...

Sticky Post

The action drama Warrior, based on the writings of iconic martial arts superstar Bruce Lee, is one of the best shows on TV. Yet,...


Netflix’s live-action Avatar: The Last Airbender series just might be the most anticipated release on the streaming giant since Stranger Things. Of course, the...

© 2021 POC Culture