The film is absolutely gorgeous. But it caused a lot of head-scratching.
Following the events of 2009’s Avatar, we see Jake Sully’s avatar at peace with his family; two sons, a daughter, an adopted daughter, and an adopted human son, as well as Neytiri. But when the humans return to Pandora, he sees that they are the target, and uproots his family to live elsewhere and spare the lives of others.
Unsurprisingly, this doesn’t work.
Director James Cameron has so much good karma with cinema audiences, with perhaps the grandest blockbuster track record of any director in the last thirty years. Terminator, Terminator 2, Titanic, Aliens, and to a lesser degree True Lies and The Abyss. For many, the man is an exceptional talent, and while 2009’s Avatar was a strange creation that did bring some ire, it was a technical marvel and was perhaps the only (and this remains to this day) example of exceptionally well done 3D film-making.
Then he went and praised Terminator Genysis, Terminator: Dark Fate… and announced at least four sequels to Avatar. Audiences and critics were becoming sceptical, especially when the sequel would arrive thirteen years later. THIRTEEN.
What can be said for Avatar: The Way of Water is that it is a gorgeous, gorgeous movie. It is frankly astounding how this film looks, and perhaps those thirteen years are evident in the looks alone. Cameron merges his two passions: motion-capture technology and underwater filming, and this film positively reeks of near-maniacal attention to visuals.
Indeed, these blue people are very, very convincing… and they needed to be.
The film, unlike the first film, is entirely set within the Na’vi tribes, with the aliens taking nearly the entire run-time. There is less of the juxtaposition of Na’vi and humans; with our focus entirely on the endangered Na’vi and their world. Graphically, the film is safe; the characters come through as if they were human, with the performances from Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana and a host of others shining through with extremely accurate motion-tracking technology.
The pacing is slow; it follows the Na’vi and their way of life. If that bored you in the first film, you might want to reconsider seeing the sequel. The middle of the film drags, becoming a cookie-cutter teenage adolescence story as Jake Sully’s kids struggle to get on with the water tribe (damn Nickelodeon Avatar references!) kids. But also there is a huge focus on the Na’vi’s connection with nature. Again, stunningly beautiful visuals all, and, some really good dialogue. Levity, more natural than most Marvel movies (the forbidden comparison) is present and got a good chuckle from the audience.
The third and final act is incredible. We see James Cameron’s action-directing chops on full throttle here. It is incredible work! Characters in peril. We understand where everyone is at all times, the editing is pin-point sharp, the visuals (again) are tremendous. Villains get wonderful comeuppance which get more chuckles from the audience. Cameron is a great director, you find yourself remembering. It is, mostly, worth the wait.
But… what is happening in this film? The story-writing is all over the shop. Not only does the film expect audiences to remember details from a long film released thirteen years ago, details like: Sigourney Weaver’s character died and got absorbed into a tree, but it also expects audiences to not think about details. An example? Oh, maybe the villain of the first film having a son.
Oh, you don’t remember that, huh? What, you didn’t read the comic book? The comic book that was written as a sequel to Avatar, and basically became non-canon after the movie sequel was green-lit?
What is wrong with Hollywood and the inability to write a cohesive story? Cameron had full control of this project, too. Did he expect us to not notice? Moreover, this character, named Spider (for some reason) does literally nothing for the entire movie. Literally nothing. Why is he even shoehorned into the movie? Oh, you’ll see if you make it to the end…
This is becoming a rant, but details in story are often difficult to relay. Sufficed to say, the film has writing problems. Whooping great big writing problems. Problems which all the expensive motion-capture and digital work and underwater work will not hide. You cannot hide bad writing.
It is a gorgeous bauble. A technical achievement. It’ll win all the awards for special effects. But this isn’t the makings of an epic saga; it has already stumbled into problems that the recent Star Wars trilogy suffered from. If films like John Carter or Valarian are going to be lost to the sands of time and Avatar does not… that seems wrong.
I really, really wanted to like Avatar and believe in its storyline. It isn’t often we get a new IP that isn’t based off a comic, isn’t a remake, and has big budget appeal. But if this is the best storytelling they have… I’m not excited for more.
Additional Marshmallows: As beautiful as it (and its sequels will be) is, I kinda wish Avatar stayed as a one-off movie and Cameron took his skills elsewhere.
Additional, Additional Marshmallows: Is this a new means for actors to play younger versions of themselves?