By Jose Anguiano – Cinematic Bandicoot
December 18th, 2022
That’s half the planet’s reaction to James Cameron’s “Avatar” in 2009 – a wonderous technical achievement with an unoriginal “Dances with Wolves” retread.
In spite of its elementary school writing, the movie broke box-office records and secured a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars. Afterwards, Cameron spent a decade prepping the next installment while slamming Marvel movies as the film industry changed around him. 13 years later the sequel is upon us, and it’s safe to say that there is more to this Pandora vacation if you dive beneath the waves.
Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) are raising a family on Pandora while being hunted by a clone of Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang). They seek shelter with a water tribe who teach them how to survive in a new environment.
Like the first film the 3D is necessary to get the full experience, though some screenings utilize the high framerate option which may lead to sea sickness. To be fair, it has come a long way since “The Hobbit” trilogy and because most of the film is computer generated, it feels more natural with all the crips 4K detailing. Thanks to the evolution in motion capture technology, the Navi and humans blend seamlessly together, unlike other movies where cg character never occupy the same reality. Thus, the action sequences are flawless as both clans clash for the fate of Pandora. Combining his experience from “Terminator”, “Aliens”, and “Titanic” with the digital tools of modern cinema, Cameron ups the battles with militaristic perfection and flawless animal encounters as the waves in 3D mimic the splash zones from SeaWorld.
Because the story has more investment outside of just repeating “Dances with Wolves”, there is more at stake when the final battle commences and blows everything out of the water. Jake Sully is a better father character than a blank slate as his kids try to deal with the changes in their lives. If only his narration would let the visual storytelling convey the ongoing conflicts. Zoe Saldaña slips back into her role as if nothing has changed, though she does get less attention with the branching storylines. Even Sigourney Weaver is unrecognizable as her Navi offspring. This narrative contains less cliches compared to the first outing even though it treads familiar territory, right down to the villain returning for revenge. However, the filmmakers cleverly expand the universe. Since the Navi now use human weapons, it makes sense for the villain to become a Navi in order to level the playing field. It also goes to great lengths in addressing some of the criticisms of the first movie. There were other tribes in the original, but nothing made them stand out from each other. Here, the water tribe Navi have distinct characteristics – longer tails, different colors, unique markings, and bigger arms for swimming. That’s not even mentioning the amazing creatures that serve multiple functions in the ocean. As much as the forest was a spectacle to behold in the air and on the ground, the ocean holds more original wildlife as the camera swoops from one set piece to another. School of fish swim by as the Navi train with the ocean creatures and the audience is mere centimeters away from reaching out and touching the scales.
The environmental message is subtly downplayed, but some of the dialogue is unintentionally funny, especially from the villains who are more cartoony than any comic book antagonist. Some narrative choices also don’t make sense. In the first movie the humans are sent back to Earth after they’re defeated, but they immediately return in the beginning to continue the war against the Navi. If that’s the case, why were they sent back to Earth in the first place? Given that the ending sequel baits the story for what’s to come, it feels like a last-minute way to continue the conflict, especially with one character who goes back and forth on their loyalties.
Unfortunately, the pacing takes a hit with the runtime clocking in at over three hours. These branching storylines take up too much time that could’ve been cut down for the sake of moving the plot along. The first movie is cliched, but the tight pacing made up for the shortcomings and gave its audience a better reason to take a bathroom break. For all his technological knowledge, Cameron fails to comprehend the idea of a pause button when people stream three hours of television at home.
Other than that, “Avatar: The Way of Water” is more enjoyable than the original for adding more character and drama that’s not too predictable. Sure, it has more pacing issues, but the expanded universe, branching character paths, flawless action sequences, and improved technology elevates this above its recycled predecessor. That being said, it’s not clear how well this will hold up after it leaves theaters since the 3D is one of the main attractions, which is why it’s best to see it on the big screen while there is still time. If you could not get past the story cliches before, nothing will win you over this time. But if you’re willing to put up with some unoriginality for an immersive water tour, then dive right in and let the water take you on a thrilling ride.
“elementary school writing”, lol!
I might wait to watch it at home since it’s a 3+ hr movie.
It’d be a great test to see how well it holds up without the 3D 🙂
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