Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender – Episode 1 Review

The long awaited Avatar: The Last Airbender live action show from Netflix finally released, and all 8 episodes are out. Here are my impressions of Episode 1.

Story: Very good. There was already solid source material to work with, and the way they decided to start with the backstory first actually works, chronologically easier to follow. Although not exactly the same frame by frame, so far, it is generally staying pretty true to the original story, and honestly, anyone hoping for a frame-by-frame exact equivalent is just not being reasonable. One little tweak I’m very pleased with is the change in Ang and Kitara’s relationship at the beginning of the story. In the animated series, Ang’s little crush on her always felt really awkward and uncomfortable. They’re just comrades now, and even though I’m not fond of their pairing, at least their relationship can develop with a little more sincerity without the creepy weirdness.

Acting: Good enough. Of course there are varying levels of execution across the board, and I’m no theater expert, but for the main Team Avatar, Ang (Gordon Cormier) and Kitara (Kiawentiio) do feel like they’re reciting lines in a Disney special. Zuko’s character (Dallas Liu) is still in his one-dimensional stage, so he just has to emote some crazy right now, and the real challenge will be when the Fire Nation prince has to get over his daddy issues. Sokka (Ian Ousley) has been the real winner so far. He’s one of the fan-favorite characters that really rounds out the team with some non-bending reality and comic relief, and I really felt his desperation to fill his father’s shoes.

Visuals: Good enough. The CG is not top notch, but perhaps because I don’t have that much of a discerning technical eye, I didn’t notice it being particularly terrible. However, I will say that quite a bit of the scenes were too dark and made it hard to see everything that’s going on, especially when I want to enjoy the martial arts. Perhaps the darkness is meant to hide some of the less-than-stellar effects and martial arts.

Martial Arts: Good enough. The promotional poster with Ang not fully holding a solid stance had me worried (who okayed that?), as did the promo video with all four main characters doing respective forms. Some of the cast and stunt team can really do their stuff at a pro level, but others not so much, yet the fact that there are elements moving around made it so that you’re not as distracted by the lack of martial arts prowess–it doesn’t take much physicality to be a convincing bender just like it doesn’t take much to make a Jedi force-powerful. It’s a bit like some wuxia movies with wire work and fantasy effects, more for the drama and flourish than for the martial arts. At least Zuko is definitely delivering on the skilled martial arts action.

Warning: It’s fairly brutal and appears to be meant for young adults who watched this when they were kids but are now old enough to see the devastation of live action fire. They don’t get Mortal Kombat gruesome, but they do take you right there to what it would look like in a world full of war and genocide.

Disclaimer: I’m still reeling from the live action film that came out a decade ago, so honestly I may have come into this with very low expectations.

Extra: I keep testing into Water Tribe or Air Nomad. However, after the first 10 minutes of Episode 1, I wanted badly to be Earth Kingdom. That first fight scene made me feel like I wanted rocks and heavy lifting to be my thing.

Overall: Worth watching, but I recommend younger viewers to watch the animated series first–this is not meant for the little ‘uns.

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