The Last Airbender is the worst of remake culture

Even Netflix has got it right on occasion. Last year’s One Piece, based on the pirate-themed manga series, allowed itself to embrace the earnestness of the original and the writer Eiichiro Oda’s cartoonish aesthetics, and the show has gone over well with new fans and old fans alike. It felt sincere, where Airbender feels cynical.

Indeed as much as remakes more generally may often be sneered at by critics and general audiences alike, the remake doesn’t necessarily have to be a product of moribund nostalgia. That much is true across mediums: only this coming week, the second instalment of the Final Fantasy VII Remake trilogy, Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, is being released on PlayStation 5. Game remakes have different motivations – the promise of improved graphics and mechanics, and the originals’ scarce accessibility among them. But the Final Fantasy VII Remake games’ narrative invention and admirably wild twists stand out in relation to the live-action Airbender’s dull facsimile. The characters in the FFVII Remake instalments fight against the idea that their path is predetermined – and so the games confront the idea of the remake itself. Why retread old ground, it asks? If you already know where a story’s path leads, wouldn’t it be more exciting to see a new one? 

There is a place for both remakes, and live-action takes on animation, but only if they have a clear vision of why the thing exists, beyond blankly giving people more of what they liked. The new take on Avatar: The Last Airbender doesn’t work as an entity of its own, not just due to its strange, stilted visual appropriation of animated craft, but also because of its refusal to move on from the past – in other words, it’s a show that has resolutely failed to grow up.

Avatar: The Last Airbender is streaming on Netflix internationally now

If you liked this story, sign up for The Essential List newsletter – a handpicked selection of features, videos and can’t-miss news delivered to your inbox every Friday.

If you would like to comment on this story or anything else you have seen on BBC Culture, head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *