The sequel to James Cameron’s Avatar is here at last, to round off 2022. While also simultaneously putting every other 2022 blockbuster to shame because it’s an over 3-hour-long epic and the special effects aren’t total garbage. Avatar: The Way of Water is essentially a movie that wants everyone on the entire planet to see to not just make up for its insanely costly budget, but to also live up to the box office impact the original made over a decade ago and I guess so we can also justify the release of four more Avatar movies in the next five years or so. (Not as insane as five movies coming out in the same year.) It is of course up to everyone to decide if they want to return to Cameron’s impressive-looking alien planet of half-naked blue people for a third of their day, but in the meantime, I’ll share my cinematic experience of Avatar 2.
It probably helped I had already seen the first movie about 10 months ago for a class, so I was able to remember the aliens are called the Na’vi and what even happened at the end of the first Avatar. That’s a thing to note with Avatar (2009) it’s a technically impressive movie, but the story is criminally uninspired and basic. The world of Pandora and the things in it are interesting to look at, but the story is very predictable and it’s essentially space Pocahontas. Jake Sully has to go down as Cameron’s blandest protagonist and the best characters in the movie were the evil humans, as they are the living epiphany of uncompromisable cartoony villainy. Otherwise, Neytiri is the best character in these movies because she is an absolute legend at firing off those giant arrows into those stupid humans.
13 years later do we have a better story for the sequel? Yeah, sort of. Jake is running the show now; he and Neytiri are the parents of six different kids: One of whom is the human son of the bad guy from the last movie, another is the disappointing youngest son to Jake and we also have a weird Sigourney Weaver sounding kid. They’re the main kids and they take up the largest amount of screen time besides the return of the evil humans and Jake who now suffers the disease that all the animated Disney sequel dads share of being overprotective and grumpy towards their children. For the most part, the character stuff is pretty good as you actually sort of care for these people and the longer runtime certainly helps with their development. The only characters I don’t think benefit from this are the evil humans as the length just exposes how one-dimensional they are.
Where I start to tune out is when we reach the new tribe of catfish Na’vi people that Jake and crew hang out with midway through. This is where they learn the ways of riding on the water eels and one of the kids has his Free Willy moment of learning to love and protect the alien whale creatures. These whales also factor into the new rare resource that the bad humans want, because the first movie had a very on-the-nose environmental message so this must have one too. From here the plot essentially builds up to the main characters befriending this tribe, which leads to a confrontation with the military-obsessed humans where they have to work together to beat them. James Cameron you mad genius! You tricked me into seeing the same movie again and you managed to numb out my anger by making your entire movie so goddamn gorgeous!
Where Way of Water deviates from the first movie is whilst that was standalone this new story clearly isn’t. This makes this a little hard to judge as the story has some very obvious lingering threads that will likely be addressed in the sequels. You can still watch The Way of Water and feel like you watched a complete movie, but it’s obvious James Cameron wants his five Avatar movies to tie up these ongoing character arcs. I guess that’s a toll I could pay as I never disliked watching this and I’m kind of interested to see where we’re going. This movie just needed to be less than 3 hours, as that middle portion is a big bloated space whale. I feel more convinced James Cameron only made it this long because he wanted to make a point he can. His first movie overthrew up-and-comer Avengers: Endgame as the highest-grossing movie of all time less than a year of its release, and who knows what this man will do if his new movie overthrew both of those movies. Although most of that middle portion takes place underwater, which apparently the filming of those scenes is what held Cameron up for the last five years or so (Disney buying out 20th Century Fox would have also contributed to that) and skyrocketing his budget, because he had to invent a brand new technology for these scenes. The delay certainly paid off as the underwater scenes are a marvel to watch. The backgrounds of the ocean floor, the coral reefs, and aquatic plant life look so real and highly detailed. Also, the swimming animation of the characters and the sea is never distractingly fake. It’s the most impressive underwater shots, I’ve seen put to film that was created entirely on a computer since before they used to just go out in the ocean and do it for real.
As I alluded to at the start the whole movie is a technical achievement, in an era where I felt pretty convinced we have reached the limit of computer-generated images could muster. Avatar: The Way of Water proved me wrong as it is so refreshing to see a CGI world look convincing enough to trick me into thinking that Pandora is a real place. The characters from the Na’vi people and even the animals have a lot of detail into making them feel like flesh and blood, which makes me sort of regret that I didn’t see this in 3D. (To those who saw this in 3D are the glasses still annoying as hell to rest on your nose?) This is easily the best visual effect work of the year and is pretty much a reason on its own to see this movie if a run-of-the-mill story isn’t too distracting for you. One last note before we wrap up on the technical stuff is the film has a killer score to get you more sucked into the visual cinematic porn that James Cameron spent the last decade putting together for you.
If we must conclude this post my overall thoughts on Avatar: The Way of Water is I think I like this more than the first movie. Mainly because it’s not just about Jake, but about family. A beautiful film with effects that outdo the first movie. The only downside to this is that the length doesn’t justify the very simplistic script, but it did work for the characters who are currently as basic as the story, but perhaps that will change with the sequels. This brings me to a realisation of if we’re getting a new Avatar movie every 2 years then how will the sequels top the technical marvel that these first movies have offered. It’s James Cameron and the man has a talent for surprising you so I’m going to be curious about what he has planned for us for the next couple of years. Anyway if you’re going to see this you’re best to see it now and on the best screen, you can possibly find. Otherwise, it’s not really the same.
It’s also about that time of year to make the best of and worst of lists of the year, so stay tuned for that, sometime after Christmas. Speaking of which have a Merry Christmas and I have been the Blog Complainer, signing out.