10 Things we want to see in Netflix’s The Last Airbender remake
The Last Airbender was a three-season long Nickelodeon cartoon full of heart, drama, intensity, great action, and humor. Thanks to its determined heroes and villains, beautiful animation, and a kick-ass score, it was a gem of 2000 television.
The 2010 live-action adaptation wasn’t quite the same thing. While M. Night Shyamalan went on to do way better things in the future, his film version of The Last Airbender took an epic Lord of the Rings-like story and crammed it into what felt like a depressing 90-minute audiobook. The movie was filled with exposition, cropped storylines, and missed the humor and character the show provided.
This year, Netflix announced a live-action adaptation of the story in the form of a show. (Those Paramount connections after Cloverfield and Annihilation must have really paid off.) Netflix has a real chance to make a show on par with Game of Thrones, one with a vast universe just waiting to be explored.
Here are some items we hope to see in the first season, or as it was called in the show, Book 1:
1. Real Bending
In the cartoon, fire benders used the energy of the sun as well as their own chi to create fire. In the 2010 film, they relied on lamps. What we want is quick and visually appealing bending, not six people swinging their arms around to lift a single rock. Both the original cartoon and The Legend of Korra showed that bending can make for awesome action and the remake should take advantage of it.
2. Zhao/Zuko Rivalry
The rivalry between Zuko, the banished son of the Fire Lord, and Zhao, a power-obsessed general, was one of the most dramatic parts of The Last Airbender‘s first season. What slowly began with friendly fights quickly turned to a ruthless challenge of finding the Avatar first. In the 2010 movie, Zhao (played by comedian Aasif Mandvi, because members of the Fire Nation had to appear to be of South Asian decent in that movie) simply states “it’s a race then” and that’s basically it. We want to feel the growing hatred between two devoted men unraveling from episode to episode until the big face-off at the Northern Water Pole.
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For the the 2010 film, Shyamalan had this idea of every bender being represented by a certain ethnic group. Air and water benders were Caucasian, fire benders were South Asian and earth benders were East Asian. None of that make much sense, nor did it align with the diverse representation the creators established in the animated show. Our heroes don’t have to be all-white and our villains don’t have to be all people of color. We want a diverse cast in the same way the show had one.
One of the biggest mistakes M. Night Shyamalan made was erasing the humor from his screenplay drafts to keep the story “serious.” Even epics such as The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter had serious themes as well as heroes who can have fun. Those aren’t contradictory.
5. Momo and Appa
When M. Night Shyamalan told his children (who inspired him to create an adaptation of the cartoon) that he might cut Momo from his film, the reaction wasn’t positive. Momo and Appa aren’t just comic relief, they’re how Aang and his crew move through a wide universe. Appa brings a close connection to Aang’s past while Momo serves as a useful (and funny) friend. They might be difficult to animate, but they matter to our heroes’ adventure.
6. Spirit World / Avatar Roku
The concept of the Avatar is one of a long cycle of people chosen to lead the way for peace in troubled times. Aang’s connection to previous Avatars isn’t just a cheap flashback, it’s a way for him to make choices in difficult situations.
7. Not Ozai’s Face
In the cartoon, Ozai is a slowly-revealed villain voiced by Mark Hamill. His face wasn’t seen in the first season. In the 2010 film, however, he just walked around talking. Let’s not do that again and keep Ozai’s face hidden for Book 1.
8. Katara Power
Not only was the cartoon diverse, it also featured a strong woman. Katara took on an experienced water bender and challenged patriarchy while remaining likable and fun. In the 2010 adaptation, she bowed down to her male brother and teacher. Let’s not repeat that and instead allow Katara be Katara.
9. Bigger and Better
One thing the 2010 movie did really well was the building of big and grand sets. The world of The Last Airbender allows for gorgeous landscapes and establishments to be explored, so let’s explore them.
10. Kyoshi Warriors
While they were shot for the 2010 movie, the editing room got rid of the noble Kyoshi Warriors, an all-female, all-badass group of rural defenders whose leader has a tendency to fall in love with Sokka. They’re fierce, make for great action, and should be included in Netflix’s show.