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As I’ve said time and again, Avatar: The Last Airbender is one of the greatest TV shows of all time. The live-action film adaptation from M.Night Shyamalan? Not so much.
With the news of an Avatar: The Last Airbender live-action series coming to Netflix that is being overseen by the original showrunners, there’s some semblance of hope that this might turn out golden. At the same time, I do have my reservations, so here are the list of things that should be improved in this next live-action adaptation of a classic show.
Keep Sokka and Katara’s Personalities Intact
In the cartoon, Sokka was a smart if goofy non-bending hero of Team Avatar. Katara is the moral compass, mother figure, and stern caretaker archetype all in one.
In the live-action film, Sokka was a bland angry guy who is at odds with Aang while Katara…well, she doesn’t even know Aang’s name until later in the film. And she got her ass kicked in the last third of the film.
Long story short: please maintain Sokka and Katara’s original personalities and work around them. Add in more exclusive live-action moments to make it stand out from the animated series. Just not too much to the point that they’re unrecognizable.
Focus On Aang And Zuko’s Bond
While Aang and Zuko started out as enemies early on before the halfway point of Book Three, there was at least some form of kinmanship between the two. The episode “The Storm” established that clear bond long before they became allies. The live action film did not do this part justice, which made the eventual team-up of Aang and “Blue Spirit” Prince Zuko more of a fan service moment falling flat than actual plot development.
Perhaps the Netflix series can expand and adapt this plot thread further.
Expand The Princess Yue Romance
Adapting a few episode’s worth of romance between Sokka and Princess Yue (a princess of a water tribe who has moon spirit in her) in movie format is tough, so why not take it away and write up something new that makes sense? The live movie version was like a drive-by that didn’t need to happen.
What the Netflix show can do is have one or two episodes dedicated to the blossoming of the relationship, complete with the involvement of Princess Yue’s betrothed just like in the animated show. Just make it a tad different so that the eventual part where she leaves the realm all the more heartbreaking. Kinda like how the Game of Thrones adaptation handled the Red Wedding, but with way less red. And stabbed pregnant women.
Make The Bending Great
The 2010 Shyamalan adaptation had a US$150 million budget that clearly went to everything else except the source material’s main draw: the elemental bending.
Here’s what one earth bender can do in the animated show.
And here’s what a couple of earth benders can accomplish in the live film.
Pretty embarrassing, yes? The Netflix adaptation should have Netflix money and a sizeable budget to make the key feature of an Avatar episode shine. We want to see the pyrotechnics from a group of firebending soldiers. We want to see Katara go nuts with her waterbending, tidal waves and ice attacks and all. And we want to see a climactic battle where Aang goes into the avatar state.