After many years of rumours of somewhere between 5-10 avatar movie sequels all packaged up and ready to go. James Cameron has finally released the sequel to what he would have you believe is his magnum opus. Much time has passed since we were last on Pandora and Jake has been settling into his new life as a Na’vi. The humans in the mean time have re-doubled their efforts, landing back on Pandora to bring the fight to Jake, whether he wants it or not.
If the idea of following a story of Jake that has responsibilities and things to lose which now make him question his role as de-facto fighter of the sky people sounds interesting. Just go ahead and lower your expectations, same goes if you were thinking about any kind of character complexity exploration of how the Na’vi people treat an alien who has possessed a body of one of their own, or perhaps that of how the human psyche would even adapt to life entirely outside of its own body. Nope, Cameron instead would rather tell the exact same plot as the first film with some slight changes to the drapes. Instead of Unobtainium we have Whale brain juice that magically prevents aging (Cameron winking at the audience as to some character that is going to be revealed to be alive in Avatar 15 no doubt) and once again the humans are attacking the Na’vi but this time…it’s personal. No joke, instead of money driving the attack they just decide to let loose a vengeance machine to start a war that they lost a few years prior.
I know some may be thinking that this is perhaps too much of an intense read of shooty sci-fi. But the fact of the matter is, Cameron is rolling this out as though it were the Godfather two and that just kind of rubs me the wrong way. I went in open minded, I really did. I came out thinking Cameron might be cinema’s biggest criminal. He has somehow, much how he did in 2009, convinced hundreds of thousands of people to go and see this movie, that it was important and deep. But much like in 2009 it’s all spectacle talk with barely any substance to speak of. That’s one of those cliched tag lines I never thought I’d use but it’s the best way to describe a movie like Avatar The Way of Water. The style mind you is all there, Cameron to give credit where it is due, did not lie about the spectacle of the technology behind this movie.
The CGI, the world as well as the motion capture all look phenomenal, genuinely impressive and shows no signs of potential of aging anytime soon. The characters all look very tangible, weathered almost and so precise that a few do enter the uncanny valley stage and let’s not even talk about whatever the hell is going on with Sigourney Weavers CGI. To top it off the set pieces really elevate the atmosphere of the action scenes, most notably in the films climax. There were moments I could feel the same masterwork from the likes of Terminator 2. Cameron at least has not lost that edge.
Before anyone gets too offended that I called their most beloved sci-fi franchise dumb. The movie is not without substance but personally I found that substance to be inside the films world building rather than the narrative itself. I personally found the story behind the whale species rather intriguing, a collective switch to pacifism and then an endearing tale of how pacifism can ultimately get it wrong as some things are worth fighting for. This likely would have been a perfect pairing for the imagined story of Jake Sully having to reconcile his concern for his family to his duty of protective the Na’vi. That story is partial there in Way of Water but sadly Cameron was not concerned with it and tells it in a way that doesn’t make sense in the slightest, hiding to protect his people then watching hundreds get abused, not quite sure that adds up.
I think the Way of Water had some interesting ideas and I admire Cameron greatly for his determination and creative ability to build this world, there’s no doubt in my mind that he believes this is his Star Wars. He is doing justice by that, he is building an IP from the ground up that much is certain. But The Way of Water lacks any drive to meet it’s potential, Cameron would rather bank on the same of schtick of marine types destroying a planet and its wildlife for the sake of..*reads notes* Humankind? What’s wrong with that, oh right Cameron wants you to hate humanity. His thinly veiled metaphor for indigenous people is not much better either, a white saviour that completely integrates with them immediately and takes over entirely, hmm. None the less, Avatar is mostly an entertaining albeit too long and poorly paced film that cares more about style over its substance. There’s lots to chew on in regards to the world building if it interests you and if it doesn’t, well, buckle up cause Cameron’s got plenty more coming whether you like it or not.