Top Four Fight Scenes in the Avatar Franchise

If you haven't watched Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, you should do so at your earliest possible convenience.

The former has won several Annie Awards and a Primetime Emmy.  The Last Airbender's ancient, East Asian-influenced world feels expansive and thoughtful, while elements of Hinduism underpin the show's extensive exploration of spirituality. The show is one of the best examples of the hero's journey, with spectacular character development.

The Legend of Korra, also boasting Annies and Primetime Emmys, combines The Last Airbender's heart and action with some of the most nuanced sociopolitical commentary in children's media. That The Legend of Korra accomplishes this despite repeated sabotage (executives seemed determined to send the show to an early grave despite its popularity) and meager funding from Nickelodeon is furthermore impressive. The show is darker and edgier than its predecessor, built for older teens, with mature themes which prompted websites like Forbes to routinely review the show.

Both shows are action-adventures known for martial arts fighting with natural elements--earth, water, metal, etc. The creators and directors took their time with unique fight scenes which move the story forward with heart-thumping action. Here are some of the best fights in the franchise.

1. Avatar Korra versus The Great Uniter Kuvira, "The Last Stand"

This fight shows the evolution of Korra's character from hotheaded, selfish teenager to careful, deliberate, still courageous Avatar. Fighting in a tight space against the precise, mechanical Kuvira is an easy way to see the Avatar's character development because Korra demonstrates a level of restraint and thought which she didn't possess at the show's beginning. This fight ending in a stalemate demonstrates the show's central theme of learning from one's enemies.

To start off, Korra explodes through the hatch into Kuvira's control room, knocking out both her guards in a single move. The kick is so quick that I didn't even notice the guards go flying until my second rewatch.

This fight is all grit. There's no room to breathe. The confined space and creative use of surroundings add interest.

Although Korra's moves here aren't the wanton, destructive aggression shown in "Welcome to Republic City," she retains her signature ferocity and unpredictability. It's unique and interesting because viewers don't know when to expect restraint and when to expect unbridled fury. And, of course, Kuvira is her regular, efficient self with a bending style similar to Jeet Kune Do, a modern style influenced by Bruce Lee.

This scene is the hero versus the villain, but not in the Imma-kick-your-ass-Ozai sense of The Last Airbender finale. That this fight is controlled and ultimately a stalemate illustrates The Legend of Korra's central theme of learning from your enemies; the fight between Avatar and fascist dictator ends with a conversation and a resolution of the civil unrest that created the need for Kuvira's empire in the first place.

Hence the last shot of this fight is a yin-yang symbol.

Like everything else in this cash-stripped show, the scene is short. But it's powerful.

2. Fire Princess Azula versus Fire Prince Zuko and Katara, "Sozin's Comet, Part III: Into the Inferno."

Agni Kai is probably one of the most dramatic scenes in television history. This fight is a fiery conclusion to Azula's and Zuko's two-season sibling rivalry, as well as the closing of Zuko's hard-won redemption arc. It also seals the psychological breakdown of Azula, The Last Airbender's scariest and most intriguing villain.

Agni Kai is one of the most destructive fights in the franchise thanks to Sozin's Comet. Viewers can feel the heat from the giant walls of fire. The fighters' moves themselves are difficult to spot thanks to all the fire, but there's a lot of cool skating around on raging flames. Azula's graceful, unpredictable Chaquan fighting style unravels in this fight as she becomes hell-bent on killing Zuko. Her brother remains calm and focused, clearly influenced by his beloved uncle.
The comet-enhanced Agni Kai

And let's not forget Katara's surprise takedown of the Fire Princess. The Water Tribe peasant grows into a versatile, creative fighter by the series' end, and the way she traps Azula in sewer water is a final reminder of Katara's resourcefulness.

Katara taking down Azula.
Azula's breakdown, crying in chains and screaming her signature blue fire, is difficult to watch. The score's understated elegance directs attention to the fight's emotional impact rather than on flashy moves, which is fitting for a scene of such significance.

The Last Airbender fans will probably call for my death because I didn't put Agni Kai first. And it is dramatic and powerful and important--the scene has its own name, after all. But as beautiful as Agni Kai is, it lacks the adrenaline-pumping nature of Korra/Kuvira's rematch. The #1-ranked fight simply has more, cooler moves. In addition, "The Last Stand"'s final fight ends in a stalemate, and the conflict is resolved via empathy and maturity. That is a more powerful ending than Agni Kai's depressing but simple take-down of a terrifying sociopath.

3. Avatar Korra and Chief of Police Lin Beifong versus Amon and the Equalists, "And the Winner Is."

This fight is cool. It's a mid-season finale, so it had better be, but still. Amon and his highly efficient terrorist organization take over and blow up the pro-bending arena to show the world that non-benders are tired of being second-class citizens. And he's right: they are lesser in both shows, both culturally and physically. Blowing up a celebration of bending prowess symbolizes both the Equalists' righteousness and why they need to be stopped.

Look the harbor is burning

Lin moves the cables so quickly that it took me five minutes to get this screencap.
The Avatar and the Chief of Police fight the Equalists on the roof in an attempt to stop Amon's central ship. There are two separate fights here, and the scene does a great job focusing on each.

Korra and Lin do some badass bending, but what makes this fight so cool is the physicality. The Equalists are extremely skilled fighters who hold their own for quite a while. Korra is a muscular, athletic human who uses her body as much as her elemental control. Check out those masterful Kung Fu moves and the way she elbow-strikes the Lieutenant off the roof. She also does that "I landed on my head so I'm going to use all my ab strength to flip back over and kick you in the face" thing also seen in that Bourne scene with the French guy and the ballpoint pen.

These perspective shots add a personal feel to this one-on-one battle. They add some nice visual variety. Such thoughtful additions set The Legend of Korra above Avatar: The Last Airbender in terms of fight quality.

He got elbowed in the face eheheh
And Lin is quick-thinking, cartwheeling Spiderman with those metal cables. Such aim. Very wow.

It's very quick, but Lin bends the metal roof to flip the two guys into the sky.
I also love the juxtaposition of Korra's yellow fire with the Equalists' blue gloves. It's a classic conflict of benders' natural but oppressive abilities versus "evil" technology, a conflict which is further explored and complicated in later seasons, particularly in Book 4.

Korra and Lin fail to stop the Equalists, which makes for an ominous and suspenseful ending. It's also a foreshadowing: stopping the terrorists with fists does not work. Disbanding the Republic City Council in favor of free elections does.

And you gotta love fighting on giant domed roofs.

Republic City in the background

4. Fire Prince Zuko and Fire Princess Azula versus Katara and Avatar Aang, "The Crossroads of Destiny."

Pretty much everyone loves the finale of Book 2: Earth. It's some serious writing prowess. Azula tries to take Ba Sing Se from the inside using Dai Li agents, using everyone else as pawns: Zuko's loyalty to the Fire Nation is toyed with, the Gaang is sent on a wild goose chase, and Katara chats with Zuko while imprisoned. It all culminates in a battle in a crystalline cavern underneath the palace, where everyone shows off their fighting chops and Zuko switches opponents back and forth.

This battle is pure eye candy with an epic two-on-two. We get plenty of Azula's signature Chaquan style, with its quick sweeping moves delivered at odd angles, and Zuko's more run-of-the-mill Kung Fu. Katara shows off her creative Waterbending mastery, and Aang seems to pull off every move in his arsenal. It's epic and fun. I love the contrast between the water and fire animation styles.

Katara versus Zuko, after Zuko's betrayal.
And it's an impending win for the good guys until the Dai Li shows up, at which point the four-way battle falls apart: Aang lets go of Katara to enter the Avatar State, Azula zaps him and disables his Avatar State, Zuko betrays his uncle, and Katara rescues Aang. The Gaang barely escapes alive. The battle is a fast-moving conclusion to Book 2 of The Last Airbender, and sets up a grim tone for the series' final season.

Aang plunges to the ground after Azula zaps him with lightning.
Honorable Mentions:

5. Su versus Great Uniter Kuvira, "Operation: Beifong."

This is the only fight in the entire franchise between two metalbenders (not including Avatars.) It's well choreographed. Su's quick thinking really shines with the metal shield and throwing that shipping crate at Kuvira's head. But Su is ultimately not enough to unsettle Kuvira, whose calm, mechanical moves send the matriarch of Zaofu flying off the platform edge. The fight's setting is entirely mechanical, which is fitting because both women embrace technology and change.

How someone made a gif this long, I don't know. Also this gif speeds up the action.

The victor.
This fight is quick, but deadly. And it also has an emotional depth: Su essentially adopted Kuvira, and their new relationship as adversaries causes pain for both characters. Su felt betrayed by Kuvira, who in turn felt misunderstood and hindered by Su's short-sightedness. That's quite a lot of material for one minute of combat.

6. Hama versus Katara, "The Puppetmaster."

"The Puppetmaster" is by far the creepiest children's animated television episode. In it, readers learn about Hama, a waterbender captured during the Fire Nation raid on the Southern Water Tribe. Hama invented bloodbending--controlling the water inside a person to manipulate the body--to escape her Fire Nation prison, and has been capturing and torturing Fire Nation villages ever since. Decades later, Hama rescues the Gaang from a forest and takes them in, teaching Katara waterbending. Eventually, the Gaang exposes Hama as the person behind the disappearing villagers, and Katara confronts her.

The ensuing showdown shows off Katara's combat prowess. She picks up bloodbending in roughly thirty seconds and gradually chips away at her opponent with classic Tai Chi moves. It's cool seeing the fighters pull water directly from plants. Hama also uses Aang and Sokka as puppets against Katara and each other, which somehow lightens the mood a bit.

Hama is also a waterbending master.

Katara being bloodbent. Accompanied by some nasty sound effects.
In the end, the villagers lead Hama away, her terrifying cackles echoing off the trees. This fight introduces bloodbending as a tactic used repeatedly throughout the franchise to signal revenge and cruelty. Katara's newfound bloodbending mastery posits her as the only known character to master all the sub-skills of waterbending. This skillset helps move along Katara's character development when she, too, later uses bloodbending to torture Fire Nation soldiers in revenge. In The Legend of Korra, the three villains of Book One all use bloodbending to torture and sneakily oppress others in some of the franchise's creepiest moments.

Katara bloodbends, without the aid of the full moon.

In the sequel series, an antagonist manhandles our hero into a prison.


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