* Mild spoilers for Avatar: The Last Airbender ahead!
Despite no recent news about Netflix’s upcoming Avatar: The Last Airbender live action remake, anticipation is growing amongst the diehard fans (like myself). A:TLA buzz is popping up again thanks in part to the newly released Avatar Kyoshi novel, The Rise of Kyoshi, which all Avatar fans should definitely reader — Spoiler free review here!
But the other reason that Avatar is moving swiftly to the front of people’s minds is the influx of live action remakes in the past few months, and the drastically divided reactions to them. For not wanting to repeat what has already been said in a million YouTube video essays, I’ll just say this: They are commercial darlings, critical disasters. This should come as a surprise to no one, but increasing discourse surrounding live action remakes has drudged up the memory of the horrendous attempt to remake Avatar: The Last Airbender into a live action film back in 2010. Those memories are extremely painful to this day, but here we are, 10 years later, trying again.
The fandom fear surrounding this adaptation comes from the fact that original series was basically perfect, meaning virtually any change could yield unfavorable results. However, a perfect shot-for-shot remake is no more likely to perform for fans, thus leaving them to wonder what would result in a “good” adaptation of this show. While I can certainly understand the caution and skepticism felt by the fandom about the upcoming Netflix remake, I personally have faith in it. Show creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino are both returning for the Netflix adaptation, and the fact that Netflix is taking their sweet time releasing any information about the series is a good sign that they are working to make it the best it can possibly be.
So what exactly is the best it can possibly be? In my opinion, the best thing they can do with this remake is remain as faithful to the source material as they can in terms of tone, style, and characters, while adding content to the plot that expands upon character backstories, side characters, and story beats that were perhaps rushed in the original due to time constraints. I don’t think it should be a shot-for-shot remake, but instead a build on the concepts they already have.
Here are 5 things I want to see in the upcoming series:
1. Excellent Casting & Set Design
With Netflix’s budget, resources, and history of delivering on highly stylistic premises (Stranger Things, Black Mirror, Sense8, Altered Carbon), at the very least fans will be expecting a visual design that brings the grounded yet fantastical world of Avatar: The Last Airbender to life. Getting the look and feel of the characters and the setting will be absolutely crucial to a successful adaptation. Again, I have a lot of faith, especially on this point because in truth the design of the Avatar world is not that far from our own (all four nations were very clearly based on real world cultures and landscapes), and aside from the CGI required for the bending and some Spirit World design, the series takes place in a world much resembling our own. I think the hardest part will be finding a perfect cast, and unfortunately this is also the most important part. Without a convincing cast, the series could fall flat very quickly. And I might as well mention it since we’re all thinking it — the characters in Avatar are based off of Eastern cultures and people, and therefore, probably shouldn’t be white.
2. Epic Action Sequences
It’s hard to think back on Avatar: The Last Airbender and not immediately think of all the epic bending battles and fight scenes. It was an integral part of the show that developed almost like a language for the viewers. The show’s fight choreography remains some of the most distinct and impressive I have ever seen on screen, and this is due to the fact that it is rooted in real life technique from various Asian martial arts disciplines. Both in the universe of the characters and in the design of the show, the fighting & bending is treated as art, with each type/style connected to a philosophy and culture. Even more than that though, each character has a style of fighting that is representative of who they are. It’s not fighting for fighting’s sake or for the display of flashy moves; It’s always linked directly with the story, as powerful as dialogue. That’s why the new live action adaptation should take the time to understand all of the fighting styles and techniques, so that when it appears on screen, they can communicate the same messages that were so powerful to viewers in the animated series.
3. More Mature Plot Points & Conflicts
The previous 2 points were all about how I hope the Netflix series stays true to the original, but now we’re getting into discussion about where the adaptation can make improvements. It’s yet unclear exactly what audience the Netflix series will be looking to hit, but considering the source material’s main demographic of 8 to 16+ (CommonSense Media), I doubt we will be getting a full Dark Knight treatment here (though that would be SUPER cool and if you’ve read the Kyoshi novel you’d know that world of Avatar gets much darker than you thought). However, all of those 8 to 16 year olds who watched the show in its original run (or shortly thereafter) are now adults — and it should be pointed out that Avatar is far from just a “kid’s” show as it is. It’s a truly show for all ages. That being said, I would love to see a few of the implied darker elements of the show be brought to the forefront, like seeing more of the effects of the war, the oppression of other nation by the Fire Nation, and the complexity with some of the side characters (like Jet — I think there could be a really cool developed backstory in there that continues on the brief one mentioned in the original series — or Iroh, who used to command a Fire Nation battalion and likely did some not great stuff). Additionally, there’s lot of room to talk about the origin of the 100 Year War, give it more of a cemented conflict than just “the Fire Nation attacked”. With longer episode run times and the pull of a more mature audience, I think adding extra political intrigue could really push the series over the top in the best way. I say go even bigger and badder with this world because the live action element will draw in new and older viewers (think about all those Stranger Things fans who missed A:TLA the first time around), so give ’em something to squeal about.
4. Deeper, More Nuanced Romantic Relationships
Again targeting that older audience, one major improvement the new adaptation can make is to the character relationships. In the animated series, the romantic plots were always B or even C ideas in the grand scope of the narrative, and there was absolutely nothing wrong with that because the target audience wasn’t really into that sort of thing. Of course, the result of the flimsy romantic arcs was a massive ship war that still gets people heated to this day. Yes, I’m talking about the infamous divide between Katara/Aang fans and Katara/Zuko fans, but even beyond these two popular ships there is discussion about healthy depictions of romance in the series. Most romances in the show are pretty shallow and underdeveloped, and that makes sense for the age of the characters and the given situation, so personally I think it would be really interesting to age up the entire cast a few years to make room for more nuanced romance arcs (plus, we know they probably won’t hire real 12/14 year olds anyways, may as well just make the characters the actual age of the actors). I also think it would be really fun to toy with the ideas of other relationships that never came to fruition in the original series, but still gained traction in the fandom. Whether or not Zutara was ever a thought in writing the series, it certainly became one after the fact, and I think planting more seeds for this and other relationships would be interesting. Meanwhile, the existing relationships can be explored a bit more, like the Katara/Aang moving from a sweet childhood romance to a developed, lasting partnership, and some of the Zuko/Mai conflict that was written in the comics. (And while we’re at it, why don’t we add some LGBT+ rep in for good measure? I’ll forever be grateful to Legend of Korra for introducing the first LGBT+ couple depicted on a children’s show, but I think there are characters in A:TLA that would be perfect for an LGBT+ storyline).
5. Improved Episode Arcs
And finally, the last thing I want to see in the new Netflix adaptation is some improved episode arcs! What do I mean by this? Well, I think that for the most part A:TLA has incredible episodes and plot arcs, but if they move to an hour-long format with fewer episodes (which I think they will do), they will need to adjust some of the stories for the runtime. This is not a bad thing. I think this provides an opportunity to think critically and creatively about some of the weaker episodes in season 1, or some of the ideas that just got cut short due to time constraint and really build off the concepts there. This is where I want to see them introduce some of those darker elements I mentioned before, raise the stakes for each individual episode, expand the world, and explore character relationships a little deeper (and not just the romantic ones! But maybe Sokka could get a little more time with Suki and Yue…). Granted, what Konietzko, DiMartino, and Aaron Ehasz were able to do with each episode in just 22 minutes is nothing short of astounding, no disrespect for them at all, but I definitely think this is a chance to spread their ideas a little wider than they were able to go in the animated series. Also, just throwing this idea out there, what if they could turn “The Great Divide” — a universally disliked episode — into a beloved masterpiece? It’s gotta be possible somehow.
I’m very excited for this remake, I’m excited to see what they will do with it, and I’m only going to get more excited as material continues to be released for it. This is my wishlist, but I know that whatever Konietzko and DiMartino decide to do with their new series, it will be great.
Tell Us: What do you want to see in the new A:TLA remake? Do you want it to stay perfectly faithful to the original, or would you be ok with some changes?