‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ review: crazed fantasy that banishes memories of the flop movie

‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ review: crazed fantasy that banishes memories of the flop movie
‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ review: crazed fantasy that banishes memories of the flop movie
Kris Holt|@krisholt|April 25, 2023 10:28 AM

Two turned-on television series. Comics. Books. Video games. Soundtracks. And one seriously lambasted 2010 movie by M. Night Shyamalan, Avatar: The Last Airbender is one of those heavyweight multimedia franchises that just keeps giving. Not to be tumbled with James Cameron’s blue-skinned aliens from the fictional Pandora, this Asian-influenced fantasy story began life as a Nickelodeon turned-on series, created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko.

Now comes the Netflix-backed live-action remake, launching with a lively eight-part run that will likely introduce this world to a new generation. The story is set in a universe where so-called ‘Airbenders’ can tenancy one of the four elements: water, earth, fire and air. But among them, one will be the mighty Avatar, capable of bringing wastefulness and harmony to all. And when you have the warring Fire Nation spoiling for a fight, it seems that peace will be in short supply.

The story centres on Aang (Gordon Cormier), a 12-year-old boy who finds himself in the midst of this ongoing war. In a neat plot development, he’s left frozen in ice for a hundred years pursuit a unconfined storm; when he emerges, all the other airbenders are gone, wiped out by the world-conquering Fire Nation. “He is the last Airbender,” comes the pronouncement when he emerges. It will be up to Aang to take on the mantle of Avatar and bring an end to the conflict.

Of course, internal strife arises as Aang just wants to be a normal boy. “Why do I have to be different?” he laments. Preferring to goof off with his friends, he feels he’s “not someone who can stop a war”. But with unconfined power comes unconfined responsibility, as they say, so Aang must protract his training with the help of 14-year-old Katara (Kiawentiio) and her older brother Sokka (Ian Ousley).

Developed by Albert Kim – DiMartino and Konietzko reportedly left the show due to creative differences – fans of the franchise should finger sated. It works well as an whoopee spectacular, with plenty of flashy Hollywood-grade visuals such as fireballs and frozen tundras popping from the screen. And there’s a nice line in humour underscoring the quasi-spiritual leanings, expressly when one weft says of Aang: “Let’s go save the weird kid!” Cormier’s infectious performance is flipside plus point in a show that really benefits from his likeable presence.

Admittedly, it’s quite simple, emotionally-speaking – those expecting anything deep and meaningful will probably finger short-changed. The notation are broad, notably Prince Zuko (Dallas Liu), the exiled 17-year-old crown prince of the Fire Nation who is gunning for Aang. Fortunately, among the sultana tint are fine actors including ex-Lost star Daniel Dae Kim, who plays the tyrannical and sadistic ruler of the Fire Nation. And such is the exuberant nature of The Last Airbender, it’s nonflexible not to get swept up in this crazed fantasy. If nothing else, it sure banishes memory of the Shyamalan travesty.

‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ is streaming now on Netflix

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