When Netflix announced a new live-action reboot of Avatar: The Last Airbender this week, fans were split. Optimists were encouraged by the involvement of the original animated series' creators, looking forward to re-experiencing their favorite show in a new way. Pessimists, on the other hand... they can't pretend 2010 didn't happen.  

Released eight years ago, director M. Night Shyamalan's big-budget adaptation of The Last Airbender is perhaps one of the biggest letdowns for any fandom in modern history. The movie isn't just bad. It's abysmal. A black hole would spit this thing back out. So many baffling decisions had to be made, all in a row, for the film to hit the screen the way it did. At the time, critics were aghast -- a mere 6% of almost 200 RottenTomatoes reviews registered positive, and presumably that handful were a result of viewers huffing paint to keep from passing out in the theater. 

If you haven't seen TLA, you might not understand why fans are so cautious to embrace hope again. This video should give you a general idea of the vibe after folks first walked out of theaters almost a decade ago:

In the following years, Shyamalan has gone on to defend his work, cracking open the dusty George Lucas Playbook of Blame in order to handwave complaints about a movie made "for kids." Of course, the original cartoon was also made for kids, but unlike the film, it wasn't trying to talk down to its target audience with awful storytelling.

You don't have to watch a second of movie to recognize some of its worst sins. The studio infamously whitewashed the Asian protagonists, but kept people of color around to play the villains. This horrid "racebending" is still one of the first things people think of in reference to the movie, so much so that this tweet gained instant popularity in wake of the new announcement:

This cuts two ways. On one side we have the memories of Avatar's embarassing history being brought to the fore once again. And then there's Scarlett herself, who (along with Tilda Swinton, Emma Stone, etc) serves as a reminder that this kind of tonedeaf appopriation is not our past, but our present. To the showrunners' credit, they have been up front about having "non-whitewashed" actors. That's great to hear, but as the 2010 movie showed us, casting isn't the only thing you can mess up when it comes to The Last Airbender.

But alright, let's give this new show the benefit of the doubt and assume no one could possibly fuck up this bad ever again. There's still the matter of translating the animated world of Avatar into live-action -- all on a TV budget. 

By their nature, real-life benders are money pits of expensive CGI. The 2010 movie cost a staggering $150 million, and this was the best they could do:


Okay, this isn't fair. These GIFs are compressed for the internet, so there's a possibility the action scenes don't actually look like they're straight from a Redbox original movie. This was 2010, too, when we had different standards for cinematic visuals. Maybe no one back then found it hilarious that a floating CGI rock resembled a hunk of styrofoam being held by a string. 

Movie reviews are a perfect time capsule, however, and the record shows the critics roasted the film's special effects (along with everything else) on opening night. And no one put the screws to TLA better than roastmaster Roger Ebert, who delivered a scathing one-half star writeup:

Since "Airbender" involves the human manipulation of the forces of air, earth, water and fire, there is hardly an event that can be rendered plausibly in live action. That said, its special effects are atrocious. The first time the waterbender Katara summons a globe of water, which then splashes (offscreen) on her brother Sokka, he doesn't even get wet.  Firebenders' flames don't seem to really burn, and so on.

Ebert ended his review of The Last Airbender with the line: "I close with the hope that the title proves prophetic." A brutal mic drop, to be sure, but one that has diminished a bit with the reveal of the Netflix reboot.

A live-action A:TLA is coming, whether the audience is ready or not. Before the new show starts streaming, the production team will have to avoid the disaster that struck once before -- and that's just the baseline. The showrunners are literally working against themselves, and anything they put out will be compared not only to the 2010 shitshow, but to the now-classic run of the original cartoon. 

Fans want to have faith, but they've been burned before. Opening these old emotional wounds is dangerously close to heartbending.