I’m back with another movie review of James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water. I titled it that way on purpose to distinguish this series from Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra because the title alone will confuse people. First, it’s been a while since I’ve seen the first Avatar on DVD, and I thought it was okay albeit headache-inducing. Nothing special but an okay clone of Princess Mononoke. Secondly, I have a couple of lengthy critiques that I just needed to point out. Areas in which this movie does succeed and areas where it bothers me. So keep in mind that this article may get a bit longer than usual. Anyway, let me get down to business.
A decade has passed since the RDA (Resource Development Administration) was forced off of Pandora. Former Marine Jake Sully’s (Sam Worthington) life as an integrated member of the Na’vi has been going great. The humans are gone while a good majority of the kind and less prejudiced people stay and ally with the Na’vi. He and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) are an item now that they have kids and adopt a human child named Miles “Spider” Socorro (Jack Champion) into the family. It’s not long in their decade montage that the RDA comes back in force. This time, to permanently rid all Na’vi life on Pandora to make way for a new home for mankind. All the while being hunted by a resurrected Colonel Miles Quartritch (Stephen Lang), Jake and his family take residence with the water Na’vi clan known as the Omatikaya led by Tonowari (Cliff Curtis) and Ronal (Kate Winslet), to hide and learn the way of and defend against the renewed invasion.
Okay, first and foremost I think it looks cool. Cameron took his time with technology, specifically filming in water to make sure everything looked good. A lot of cool sweeping vistas and underwater sequences will make people feel jealous. I also get the other point of what Cameron was trying to talk about. The new Na’vi clan has family members who are whales which is a big metaphor for us real-life humans to protect the oceans from poachers and learn to respect nature. The CGI technology is pretty decent as well since everybody is pretty numb to computer imagery at this point.
Going back to the technological aspect is the first issue with this movie. I compared this movie to video games like the Battlefield franchise where the development studio DICE took time, money, and energy to develop and utilize their Frostbite game engine to make pretty cool-looking environments and destruction for multiplayer matches. Similar to Battlefield and another Frostbite-developed game Need For Speed: The Run is that the story feels underbaked, half-forgotten, and 3 unnecessary hours of just constantly padding out the annoyance in this movie.
The cast did okay, nobody stood out to me except Saldana’s Neytiri and Sigourney Weaver’s Kiri. Neytiri was the emotional core of the movie while Kiri was the explorative and inquisitive side of the story wherever she went. She also reminds me of Daisy Ridley’s Rey from the Star Wars sequel trilogy which also gains new powers that the script just implants and rushes along. Besides Kiri, all of the Sully kids feel as if they came out of an 80s movie. They act almost gun-ho thanks to their dad who was a former Marine and they stick around where the danger is when humans are trying to kill them. Not to mention the fact that they brought the war to the water tribe’s doorstep, which makes me wonder “Why do we need a sequel?”
The addition of “Spider” in the Sully family is one I can do without. He’s annoying and shoehorned in for some kind of manufactured conflict because Colonel Quartritch was confirmed to be his dad…sort of. He never mentioned having a son in the first movie if I can recall. I just don’t think he ever needed a son or a pre-existing family to begin with. Maybe in the prequel comic series titled Avatar: The High Ground, they’d explained a little more about Spider’s background, but if I were writing the script, I would cut him out of the picture.
I cannot relate to anybody, nor can I relate to the new Na’Vi clan either. Maybe it’s because they’re stealing pages from Nickelodeon’s Avatar franchise for the main characters to visit other tribes as humans are chasing them. (sigh)…I’m doing my best here. I like the themes of what this franchise revolves around parallels to European colonization of the Americas, racism, militarism, patriotism, corporate greed, spirituality, religion, and family. Almost similar to another sci-fi franchise by 20th Century Studios that I grew up with which was Planet of the Apes. What makes this franchise difficult for me to like is Worthington’s Jake Sully. His character is not memorable or relatable enough for me to care for or show investment in the franchise. He’s also another trope of the “white savior” archetype among a group of indigenous people whom they are cautious, suspicious of, and often hated for a couple of days until he’s forgiven and welcomed into the clan. I can’t be blindfolded and brainwashed into that kind of obscurity the sequel’s marketing tried to convince people. So that’s a huge mark against this franchise.
Avatar: The Way of Water is indeed a technological masterpiece that can inspire up-and-coming filmmakers to make something of this caliber. It does have great action-set pieces and sci-fi escapism that will somewhat make the three-hour runtime worth people’s time. It comes at the cost of sifting through mildly interesting to mediocre dialogue, padding out reckless to questionable character choices/characterizations, and obvious corporate sequel baiting that does make a person think “This should have been just a one-and-done series”.