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The Hawk Eye

The student news site of Hillcrest High School

The Hawk Eye

The student news site of Hillcrest High School

The Hawk Eye

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Jakemah Calhoun, Senior Staff Writer • April 30, 2024

So, The Live-Action “Avatar: The Last Airbender” Happened…

Nickelodeon+Productions%3B+Rideback%3B+Albert+Kim+Pictures
Nickelodeon Productions; Rideback; Albert Kim Pictures

Introduction

I’ve been a fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender for years. I remember watching the episodes when they appeared on Nickelodeon, and trying to waterbend with my brother in the pool. As a young child, my brother and I used to fight each other with our “bending” skills. Sometimes I would earthbend, and he would firebend. I say all of this to say that I’m a fan of the series. So when the show was put on Netflix during the pandemic, of course I had to watch it. It was great reliving everything. All of the sad moments, funny moments, series moments, I enjoyed all of it. It’s a wonderfully written show with a very colorful cast of characters.

When the live action series was announced, I was a bit excited, but also a little worried too. There was a live action movie that came out a few years ago, but it was terrible. However, the original creators of the show were going to be working with Netflix. So there was nothing to worry about, right? That is, until the creators left the show due to “creative differences”.  After that, I had a bad feeling about the show. I still wanted to give it a chance though. So when it finally came out on Netflix this year, I watched it. I finished all 8 episodes within a couple days, and I have some thoughts about it (to say the least).

My Thoughts 

I want to start off by saying that the show isn’t terrible per say. In all honesty it could’ve been worse. Some of the moments in the show got a chuckle out of me too, and the actors aren’t bad either. I especially liked the performance of the actors playing Zuko, Sokka, Zhao, Suki, and Iroh. Everyone else…did their best. I can tell that the actors actually like the series and enjoyed doing the show, so it’s not their fault that the show is like this. It’s up to the production to make the show good, as well as the writers.

While on the topic of actors, I’ll start with the first thing I noticed: colorism. For those who don’t know, the different nations in the show are based on countries/ethnicities (mostly Asian influence). The water tribe is based on Inuit culture. In the animated series, the people in the water tribe are undeniably brown skinned. The same is true for the other people in the water tribe. However, in the live action, the characters look pretty pale to me.

While I’m glad that for this live action they actually hired indigenous (and Asian) actors (you don’t see that happening much), I think dark skinned people should also be taken into consideration. Hiring minorities is a good step forward, but I think in order to achieve representation for all, all skin tones should be included.

Now let’s talk about my issues with the show from a story point of view. To make a long story short: it feels like so much has happened in the show, but at the same time nothing at all. The pacing gives me whiplash. In the show’s defense, there are only 8 episodes, so I understand needing to squeeze everything in. I wouldn’t have minded this so much if it wasn’t for the fact that the events are out of order.

For those who don’t know, the animated series is split up into “books” (basically different seasons) that center around a specific element that Aang has to learn. They go in the following order: Book 1: Water, Book 2: Earth, and Book 3: Fire. I was very confused as to why King Bumi was included in book 1 when he wasn’t introduced until book 2. As a matter of fact, most of the things involving earthbending don’t happen until book 2.

Book 1 is supposed to be focused on Aang (and Katara alike) learning waterbending. And while they do show the group going to the northern watertribe and fighting the firebenders (as well as other events such as the misogyny in the culture), Aang has basically learned nothing! I’ve only seen him waterbend 3 times max (and that’s me being generous). Other than contacting the past avatars a few times, I feel like Aang hasn’t really learned anything during these 8 episodes. The last thing I’m going to mention is something fire related. Let’s talk about Ozai and his family.

Before I begin, I want to say that I understand that even villains have feelings and their own traumas that make them who they are, which is indeed shown in the animated series (for Zuko and Azula at least). With that being said, taking away the manipulative and evil nature of a character to make them more sympathetic isn’t the only way to go. Besides Azula being introduced in book 1 (when she wasn’t supposed to be), I felt that her character was a little…off. She seemed a bit more timid (for lack of a better word) than her animated counterpart who started off as evil, manipulative, smart, and powerful, but then eventually became a broken person. Despite being manipulative in the live action, she didn’t really give off evil or scary vibes. Azula was someone to fear. In the live-action, she only became someone to fear after she used her lightning ability. Other than that, she was just less conniving in general.

The last thing I want to mention is the Agni Kai scene. For those who don’t know how Zuko got his scar, his father challenged him to an Agni Kai (a duel) for being insolent during a military meeting. In the animated series, Zuko refuses to fight his father and even gets on his knees because of how much love and respect he has for him. To punish him, Ozai burns Zuko’s face. Although it happens offscreen, it’s still hard to watch. However in the live action, Zuko does fight Ozai, but decides not to land the finishing blow. Ozai then proceeds to burn him for being weak. This seems fine, but there’s one problem that I have: Ozai’s face. During the scene, it looks like there’s tears in his eyes; as if he’s sorry that he did this.

This seems very out of character for Ozai. I doubt that a man who pit his children against each other, banished his 14 year old song from the fire nation, and colonized different nations would feel bad for doing such a thing. I just felt that it’s out of character. I do hope that they don’t try to make him a sympathetic character.

Conclusion 

Despite the cringey dialogue and my criticisms, the series wasn’t all bad. I think Sokka’s actor was made for this role, and he did a really good job portraying him. The scenery is very beautiful as well, and I think it’s cool that they attempted to bring this wonderful story to life. Season 2 and 3 were announced recently, so I hope that they can do better for the next two seasons.

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Alexis Dickens
Alexis Dickens, Senior Staff Writer

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