Netflix's Avatar: The Last Airbender receives scathing reviews from critics

Kiawentiio as Katara, Gordon Cormier as Aang, Ian Ousley as Sokka in Avatar: The Last Airbender. (Netflix)
Kiawentiio as Katara, Gordon Cormier as Aang, Ian Ousley as Sokka in Avatar: The Last Airbender, which is out now on Netflix. (Netflix)
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Avatar: The Last Airbender is out now on Netflix, and alongside the show's release comes the reviews for the series, many of which don't hold back in its scathing thoughts on the remake.

The show adapted the beloved Nickelodeon animated series of the same name, which is set in a world where people can bend the elements —fire, earth, water, and air— and has been plagued by the ruthless campaign of the Fire Nation to dominate. There is one person, the Avatar, who can learn to bend all four elements and bring peace, Aang (Gordon Cormier), and to do so he sets off on a journey with friends Katara (Kiawentiio) and Sokka (Ian Ousley).

Critics were largely unimpressed by the series, with many saying that while it marks an improvement on M. Night Shyamalan's 2010 film adaptation that is a "low bar", and it struggles to distinguish itself when compared to the original.

Entertainment Weekly's Devan Coggan wrote that the new live-action adaptation "falls somewhere in the middle" between the Nickelodeon cartoon and the 2010 film. Coggan added that it was almost impossible for a remake to live up to "the charms" and legacy of the original.

Avatar: The Last Airbender. Daniel Dae Kim as Ozai in season 1 of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Cr. Robert Falconer/Netflix © 2023
Critics were largely unimpressed by the series, with many saying that while it marks an improvement on M. Night Shyamalan's 2010 film adaptation that is a 'low bar'. (Netflix)

"Part of what made the original series so magical was its lavish world-building, tracking Team Avatar as they journeyed from arctic oceans to bustling cities to lush, verdant forests. The Netflix show retraces those same steps, replacing hand-drawn animation with CG spectacle — and the effect is considerably less impressive," Coggan's review read.

Read more: Everything you need to know about Netflix's Avatar: The Last Airbender

While the critic acknowledges that the new version "is clearly a labor of love" that pays homage to the original as often as possible, it begged the question of who the show was aiming at. Coggan wrote: "A show needs more reason to exist than just retreading a fan favorite...Netflix’s Avatar is so faithful to the original series that it automatically invites comparison — a comparison where it inevitably comes up short."

The AV Club did not hold back in its criticism of the live-action series, with critic Jenny Scherer writing: "There isn’t much to work with in the terrible writing and acting that seldom rises above the level of small-town community theater."

Alongside this scathing observation, Scherer mirrored what Coggan said about the series — that it felt like it was struggling to figure out which audience it wanted to appeal to. Scherer wrote: "Fans of the original will be disappointed with the show’s charmless, uncanny-valley riff on the world they know and love. Newcomers may be put off in general."

Kiawentiio as Katara in Avatar: The Last Airbender (Netflix)
Avatar: The Last Airbender is full of references and Easter eggs from the original, which fans might enjoy but critics said meant it struggled to live up to the original. (Netflix)

Daily Beast's Coleman Spilde made a similar argument, writing that "to an outsider, Avatar: The Last Airbender screams 'adaptation,' with its rigid character archetypes and careful side-stepping of any notable or unique alterations."

The critic went on to say: "This adaptation’s writers are far more preoccupied with pandering to existing fans than they are with crafting distinctive and memorable ways for the show to communicate its do-or-die stakes. That problem isn’t helped by the show’s actors, who all do little more than recite their dialogue with striking amateurism."

Spilde claimed that the series "is lost in its fan service" and while it does right the wrongs of the 2010 film, the efforts to have as much of these references and Easter eggs as possible mean the show is "forever searching for any point to its existence."

Variety's Aramide Tinubu called the series a "beautifully crafted disappointment", saying that "it will leave fans wishing the streamer had left DiMartino and Konietzko’s masterpiece alone" regardless of the fact it is an improvement on the 2010 film.

While the critic said the first two episodes were well put together the condensing of storylines from the animated series and changing of characters like Sokka were an issue. Tinubu also wrote: "Cheesy acting and some Disney Channel-like dialogue turn what could have been a resounding epic adventure into a whimpering thud."

Avatar: The Last Airbender. Dallas Liu as Prince Zuko in season 1 of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Cr. Robert Falconer/Netflix © 2023
Dallas Liu did receive praise for his portrayal of Prince Zuko in Avatar: The Last Airbender. (Netflix)

Not all reviews were completely negative, though, with The Telegraph's Anita Singh opting for a more balanced review and commending aspects of the show, though the critic admitted having never seen the original because she's "just too old".

Still, the critic said: "It’s solid entertainment: fast-moving, action-packed, with decent fight scenes and some appealing performances, all done on a generous Netflix budget."

The Wrap's Karama Horne gave the series a positive review, saying that the show is "beautifully crafted" and that it "captures the original’s spirit while updating aspects that needed to be addressed better." The critic also said that the cast did an admirable job in their roles, particularly Cormier and Dallas Liu, who plays fan favourite Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation.

Horne also wrote: "Showrunner Kim and his team did an admirable job curating the most resonant storylines. However, the pacing could be better, spending more time than necessary in some areas while speeding through others to reach the next plot point."

Avatar: The Last Airbender  Gordon Cormier
Despite critics' response, fans of the original shared their positive reactions to the series so far on social media on release day. (Netflix)

Despite what critics thought, fans of the original shared positive reactions to the series after beginning to delve into it on release day.

One person wrote: "#AvatarTheLastAirbender is literally squashing every negative thought i had about it prior to the release! Every character is so good, the bending looks amazing, the settings and scenes look beautiful, just finished episode 2, and already want the 2nd and 3rd season!"

Another viewer shared: "The first episode of #AvatarTheLastAirbender is actually not that bad. I appreciate the change and how we saw Aang's life with the Air Nomads. Gordon Cormier makes a pretty good Aang, and Dallas Liu is good as Zuko. I dig it so far."

While one person said: "The new #AvatarTheLastAirbender is everything I hoped it would be and more. The adventure we enjoyed as kids feels bigger and grander than ever before."


Avatar: The Last Airbender is out on Netflix now, and the animated series is also available to watch in full on the streaming platform.

Watch the trailer for Avatar: The Last Airbender