Avatar: The Last Airbender is one of those shows that feels like the perfect conflagration elined into a giant bolt of lightning in a bottle that not even its sequel series could recapture. That makes the news of another live action retelling feel odd. It’s impossible to improve on a show that is just so tight and strong.
But, if it must be done then let’s brainstorm some ways to make the show better!
1: Expand on why bending developed: The series gives many reasons for how each bending style developed. In a less fantastical show I would call them myths, but as the show is it’s believable that bending came from the moon, or badgers, or dragons (I know Korra expands on this in a different way, ancient spirits and all). That makes sense with the show. What is never explained or expounded upon is why each nation only gets benders related to their nation. Some of it makes evolutionary sense. You live surrounded by water then developing the ability to bend water makes sense. Same if you surrounded by earth. This breaks down with places like the Fire Nation. The First Nation is essentially Japan, an island. Then wouldn’t it make sense they would develop water or earth bending in kind, or considering even less is told about the Air Nomads that breaks down as well. This could all make sense in the fantastical sense of keeping balance with the spirits and nature, but wouldn’t it make sense that bending develops all over to keep nature in an even greater balance.
Hey, did you get that, that was all spectualation? My point. Avatar is praised for its soft magic system, but treating bending like skin pigment or cultural heritage muddies the waters of the point the show is trying to make.
2: Connect more with the past: The Avatar is a spiritual leader that spans hundreds if not thousands of years, going all the way back to the creation of the four nations. It’s an intrinsic part of the show’s history and lore. It’s a shame that the series only ever focuses on the two most previous Avatar’s Kyoshi and Roku. They work fine in execution, but the show is missing out on important history and context.
The show realizes this at the end when Aang talks to past Avatars for advice, but it could have played a role earlier on. It could have been way more impactful if Aang got advice on big moments from past lives throughout the series. Like given the importance of control after seeing his air temple in ruin by a past air bending Avatar, pairing that with Katara calming him down would connect that emotion to his new life thus adding extra weight and history.
In addition, it’s strange that we only see the two temples for the respective Avatars. That too could be expounded on through the fact the Fire Nation destroyed them. This adds a sense of how dire the threat is, and their goals, complete conquest of the world and its history.
3: Dig into the Fire Lord: Out of all the fan favorite characters no one thinks Fire Lord Ozai is one of them. He is literally a glorified boss fight with a good actor propping him up. That has it make perfect sense then to expand on his motivations (hey remember how in Promare the Burnish literally need to burn and grow to survive, that’s a free idea to use). This could be tricky. Out of the myriad of reasons that is the one that sticks out to me is sympathizing a fascist (you don’t want the Thanos problem again).
A solution to that is to pair him against a character everyone loves, his big (in age and gut) brother Iroh. Iroh feels like such a different character and different person than any Fire Nation person encountered. Some of this comes from the loss of his son in war, but he was clearly more open, fun-loving, and free spirited than his brother before then. In retrospect it must feel like a giant missed opportunity that the writers never got to have any conversations between the brothers to set up what the family dynamic was like and possibly even inform why Ozai feels the burning need to finish conquering the world.
4: Setup the Final Choice: One of the biggest cop-outs the show has is how Aang skirts the need to kill the Fire Lord. It is the question Aang spends the most time contemplating, and actually talks to more past lives to do so (already taking one of my suggests), but it’s resolved through magic (yes everything in the show is magic, but specifically magic even in this universe). This ends up making the reveal Aang removing his bending feel cheap. Hence, the easy solution is to make that a power the Avatar already had, but takes more skill, training, spirit, and balance than anything else.
Part of Aang’s whole character arc is finding the balance in himself to help find the balance to save the world. Therefore, shouldn’t his reward for doing that be the ability to do something incredibly difficult? This does not have to be set up from seen one, but fitting into the show as it is now it should be revealed when he talks to the Guru/Swami guy. In that conversation it should come out why Aang holds back and then presented as a solution. It makes both of his arcs clear moving forward, and feels all that more satisfying when he does win.
5: Remember the show was goofy: It’s easy to forget this is a kids show for 10 year olds. It’s got strong action, themes of corruption, fascism, spirituality, tough choices made in wars, and problems with being complacent in life. Those themes are not usually found in children’s shows, but it’s often presented in a shallow way, and wrapped around the fact they have silly animals, broad comedic moments, a sense of wit, and sense of fun and enjoyment in their surroundings.
The point, though I have not seen the live action movie all the way through, all the clips I have seen have been incredibly dower and serious. The show can be that way sometimes, but that is not most of the show. Remember that the episode right before the finale was a fourth wall breaking play about how dumb the series is. Another example is the fan favorite “Tales of Ba Sing Se.” it has incredibly emotional stories of Iroh, but also fun moments like Aang making a giant zoo, or Sokka being secretly amazing at haikus. So, just as the Avatar preaches balance in the elements and society, the show needs a balance of fun and levity in order for the moments of gravity to truly be felt.
The problem with all of these suggestions is in execution. Look at BvS as an example of all the right ideas for a story twisted into the worst possible version of it. A series could make all of these changes, execute them in the worst way and end up making a worse show in comparison. However, these can at least be ideas to be kept in mind when crafting a great version of this experience considering the many creators and writers tried to copy their success with this show and failed to one extent or another.
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