The first trailer for Netflix’s live action Avatar: The Last Airbender adaptation is here, giving us our first look at Team Avatar and the world of the Four Nations in motion. Although fans of the classic 2005 Nickelodeon cartoon have worried about the Netflix adaptation losing original series creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko and the basic question of whether Avatar really needs to be adapted into live action at all (to say nothing of the 2010 film attempt from the otherwise talented M. Night Shyamalan that didn’t seem to please anyone), Netflix is hoping to win them over with this trailer, which teases a strong fealty to the visual design and iconography of the original show.
Today we’re going to break down the various characters, locations and scenes the trailer gives us glimpses of and what changes the adaptation hints it might be making. There’s already plenty to speculate on before the show’s eight-episode first season drops next February.
The Avatar: The Last Airbender Trailer Gets A Lot Right
We begin with a visual of a single red streak in the night sky. Although the next shot shows the Fire Nation army attacking with plenty of flaming projectiles, this first image is a reference to Sozin’s Comet, a powerful cosmic object in the Avatar universe that passes Earth once a century and increases the power levels of firebenders. We then see the Fire Nation assaulting a temple where the defenders are wearing the robes of the Air Nomads, peaceful monks with airbending powers, indicating this is a flashback to the beginning of the Hundred Year War where Lord Sozin, the ruler of the Fire Nation at the time, instigated a campaign to conquer the other elemental nations.
The genocide of the Air Nomads at the beginning of the Hundred Year War is an important event in Avatar lore and connects to the backstory of our main protagonist Aang (Gordon Cormier), but was not outright depicted in the original show. It appears Netflix is taking the opportunity to expand on the historical events of the Avatar universe and perhaps get away with a greater level of violence than Nickelodeon would’ve allowed. Given that one of the big questions surrounding the Netflix adaptation is what it can really add to the classic cartoon, this flashback might provide us with one of our first answers.
We then move to the present, where we see a large orb of ice. This is where Katara (Kiawentiio) and Sokka (Ian Ousley), a pair of siblings from the Southern Water Tribe, discover Aang inside the orb, which has kept him alive and in a state of suspended animation for the past hundred years. It was later revealed that Aang unconsciously created the orb after leaving the Air Nomads shortly before they were attacked by the Fire Nation, and during an intense storm accessed his Avatar powers before he could fully control them. After finding him, Katara and Sokka become Aang’s closest companions on his journey to master the four elements as the titular Avatar.
Following this we see several locations ripped straight from the first season of the cartoon, including the Earth Kingdom city of Omashu, which is ruled by Aang’s childhood friend King Bumi; Kyoshi Island, the home of the Kyoshi Warriors, an all-female elite fighting force led by Suki (Maria Zhang), who becomes a member of Team Avatar; and Crescent Island, an isle associated with the previous Avatar, Roku, who becomes a spiritual mentor to Aang multiple times during his journey. All of these appear to be very close to their designs from the source material, so it seems the creatives behind the show are taking fan expectations quite seriously.
We also get proper looks at the Fire Nation characters, primarily Prince Zuko (Dallas Liu) and his uncle, General Iroh (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee), both on their home turf and back-to-back during a brief action scene. Zuko and Iroh have a genuine family bond in the original show that humanizes both of them despite their connection to the villains. Speaking of villains, we also get a look at the more vicious members of the family, such as main antagonist Fire Lord Ozai (Daniel Dae Kim) and his daughter Princess Azula (Elizabeth Yu). Fans of the cartoon will recall that both Ozai and Azula only made cameo appearances in the first season, so them showing up in this trailer likely indicates they will receive expanded roles in this part of the story, which is a prudent move both for narrative cohesion and because they hired an actor of Kim’s caliber as Ozai.
After a montage where we get some more glimpses of action beats and bending powers, we end on Team Avatar soaring into the sky atop Appa, a flying bison who is Aang’s loyal companion and was frozen alongside him in the orb. We also see Momo, a winged lemur who joins the team at the Southern Air Temple a couple of episodes into the original show. Both Appa and Momo look quite accurate to their original designs, which appears to be pleasing longtime fans. However, although a lot of work has gone into matching the look and feel of the cartoon, the trailer still leaves us with a couple of questions about how this is all going to play out.
…But We Still Have Some Questions
First, aside from some brief narration, we don’t get any dialogue from our cast, so it’s hard to tell how these takes on such iconic characters will stand up to their original incarnations. There’s also the episode count, coming in at eight episodes for the first season versus the original show’s twenty, which made up a season called Book One: Water. Granted, the original show had 30 minute episodes and the Netflix episodes will most likely be longer, so it could all balance out, but since it seems this first season will be adapting the full story of Book One (one of the announced cast members is Amber Midthunder as Princess Yue, who only shows up for the final arc of Book One), the runtime question is worth asking. After all, one of the issues people had with the 2010 film was feeling like it buckled under the weight of trying to cram in an entire season’s worth of story material into a single feature, so hopefully the creatives at Netflix haven’t shaved off any important narrative or character beats when arranging their episode list.
Although this was a cool first look at the world of Avatar translated into live action, we’re hoping the next trailer gives us a better sense of how showrunner Albert Kim and company have adapted the characters. No matter how it shakes out, we’ll be very curious to see how this new take stacks up when the first season debuts on Netflix on February 22nd, 2024.
Carlos Morales writes novels, articles and Mass Effect essays. You can follow his fixations on Twitter.
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