Critics say Netflix's 'Avatar: The Last Airbender' is better than panned 2010 film but doesn't capture the 'heart' of the original series

Aang in the original "Avatar: The Last Airbender" animated series, Netflix's adaptation and the 2010 "The Last Airbender" movie.
Aang in the original "Avatar: The Last Airbender" animated series, Netflix's adaptation and the 2010 "The Last Airbender" movie.

  • Netflix's much-anticipated "Avatar: The Last Airbender" live-action series is out now.

  • Critics agree the new series is better than M. Night Shyamalan's disastrous 2010 movie adaptation.

  • But the series still doesn't hold up to the original, they said. 

Netflix's "Avatar: The Last Airbender" live-action series has received mixed reviews, but critics seem to agree on one thing — it's better than the widely panned 2010 movie adaptation.

The new series, based on the Nickelodeon animated show of the same name beloved by Millenials and Gen Z audiences, follows a group of children on a mission to save the world from the Fire Nation and its genocidal leader, Firelord Ozai.

A live-action adaptation of the first season by director M. Night Shyamalan and Paramount Pictures in 2010 was panned by critics, mocked by fans, and faced backlash for casting white actors in the Asian and Indigenous-inspired story.

Netflix's adaptation, developed by Albert Kim, was viewed by fans as going in the right direction when it received support from the animated show's creators, Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, at the start of development and Asian and Indigenous actors were cast in lead roles.

However, fans got worried after DiMartino and Konietzko announced in 2020 that they were stepping away from the reboot due to creative differences.

While critics largely agree Netflix's series hasn't repeated the same mistakes of the 2010 movie, many say the show isn't as good as the original series.

Here's what critics have said about "Avatar: The Last Airbender."

Netflix's 'Avatar' adaptation is better than the 2010 movie, critics say

aang in the live action netflix avatar the last airbender. a young boy wearing red and yellow loose clothing, holding a wooden staff, and with a blue arrow tattooed on his forehead
Gordon Cormier as Aang in Netflix's live-action "Avatar: The Last Airbender."

Rolling Stone's Alin Sepinwell said the Netflix series is more respectful of the original source material and has better action scenes and casting than the 2010 movie.

Mashable's Belen Edwards wrote: "The new show is nowhere near the failure of the film, nor as spectacular as the series — but it's not of uniform quality, either. As if torn between its predecessors, 'Avatar: The Last Airbender;' alternates between high highs and low lows, both of which stem from adaptation choices that range from fresh and exciting to dull and bewildering."

The series translates 'bending' pretty well.

katara in the live-action netflix avatar. she's wearing blue, patterned robes with fur on the cuffs and collar, her hair pulled back with two strands looping in the front. her hands are outstretched, and she's looking at a ball of water she's making hover in the air
Kiawentiio as Katara in the live-action "Avatar: the Last Airbender."

In the series, some humans can control elements, known as bending. Only the main character, Aang the Avatar (Gordon Cormier), can use all four elements — fire, water, air, and earth.

A major failure of the 2010 film were the slow and unimpressive fight scenes. However, critics said that Netflix's series better translates the "bending" power.

Collider's Therese Lacson wrote that firebending and earthbending "are the most visually compelling," whereas the other two don't look natural on-screen.

But it relies too heavily on VFX.

aang, katara, and sokka, teens clad in brightly colored clothing, sitting on top of appa, a large flying bison with fluffy hair, horns, and an arrow pattern on his forehead
Netflix's live-action "Avatar: The Last Airbender."

Many critics praised the overall quality of VFX in the series and the attempt to bring Aang's furry flying bison Appa to life. However, many critics said that the series relies too much on VFX, making certain scenes feel unnatural.

Verge's Charles Pullman-Moore wrote that the digital backgrounds make sense for Netflix to cut costs, but the lead actors performed better in practical settings.

"There is so much unnatural lighting and so many scenes where things in the background move with an uncanny swiftness that the show immediately feels like yet another Netflix-branded live-action cartoon that would have been better served by more practicality," he said.

Don't worry about the changes to Sokka. Ian Ousley portrays the hero well.

sokka in the live action avatar the last airbender, wearing blue, cold-weather battle gear and with his hair pulled back on top with an undercut. he's standing in front of a wall with a symbol of flowing waves on it
Ian Ousley as Sokka in Netflix's live-action "Avatar: the Last Airbender."

Fans began criticizing the Netflix series ahead of its release after actor Kiawentiio Tarbell told Entertainment Weekly that the adaptation removed Sokka's sexism.

In the original series, Aang's companion, Sokka, believes women can't fight as well as men as at the start of the series. However, he changes his view after being outclassed by a crew of female fighters, the Kyoshi Warriors. Fans thought that removing Sokka's sexism would ruin the character's development.

However, several critics have praised Ian Ousley's Sokka performance and said the series toned down Sokka's sexism rather than removed it.

Mashable's Edwards wrote that Ousley "nails Sokka's sense of humor."

Verge's Moore wrote: "The new show does a solid job conveying how Sokka's retrograde thoughts about gender are both a moral failing and the sort of weakness that can wind up getting you killed in combat."

Dallas James Liu is the standout actor as Prince Zuko.

zuko in the live-action avatar the last airbneder. he's a young man in grey and red armor, a red scar over his left eye, and a shaved head except for a long, high ponytail
Dallas Liu as Zuko in Netflix's live-action "Avatar: the Last Airbender."

The standout actor is Dallas James Liu, who plays the show's antagonist, Zuko. Zuko is the son of the Fire Nation leader, Lord Ozai (Daniel Dae Kim), and hunts the Avatar throughout season one.

RadioTimes's Nicola Austin wrote: "His character arc and transformation is known to be one of the best in an animated series, so it's no mean feat to say Liu brings further depth and a greater empathy to the role."

A consistent criticism of the series is its uneven pacing and tone.

Daniel Dae Kim as Fire Lord Ozai in season 1 of Netflix's "Avatar: The Last Airbender."
Daniel Dae Kim as Fire Lord Ozai in season 1 of Netflix's "Avatar: The Last Airbender."

Season one of Netflix's series attempts to mash the original series' 20 episodes into 8 episodes. Critics said this made the show feel rushed, missing key worldbuilding details and storylines that build the connection between the protagonists.

Verge's Moore said the shrunken-down story "stripped away a lot of the narrative that helped make the original feel so expertly developed."

Another major criticism is that Netflix's attempt at a darker tone did not always land. Albert Kim told IGN in January that the tone change was implemented to appeal to "Game of Thrones" fans.

The Hollywood Reporter's Angie Han wrote that the series feels "far less mature than the kids' cartoon ever did" despite its grittier tone.

Critics have questioned whether the adaptation was necessary.

A screenshot from the Avatar: The Last Airbender series finale.
"The Avatar: The Last Airbender."

Many critics said that the new Netflix series is just too similar to the original show, so fans cannot help but compare the two.

"Rather than breathe fresh life into a familiar world, this Avatar serves only to remind that some beloved properties might be better left on ice," The Hollywood Reporter's Han wrote.

Daily Beast's Coleman Spilde wrote: "The show is fighting to prove its worth, but is consistently hampered by lofty ambitions that could never match the original show's scope, only surpass the previous live-action iteration."

Overall, it seems that there is much to love in Netflix's "Avatar: The Last Airbender," but some fans may not be satisfied with the series.

Read the original article on Business Insider