AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER [2022]

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Directed by:
Written by: , , , ,
Starring: , , ,

USA

IN CINEMAS NOW

RUNNING TIME: 192 mins

REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera

It’s been a decade since the Na’vi repelled the human invasion of Pandora, and Jake Sully now lives as chief of the Omaticaya clan and is raising a family which includes not just his biological children but also adopted daughter Kiri who was born from Grace Augustine’s inert Na’vi avatar, and a human boy named Spider, the son of Colonel Miles Quaritch whom Jake killed but whose mind has now been placed into a Na’vi avatar. Quaritch is ordered to lead a group of similar “recombinants” to wrest Pandora from its native inhabitants. When Spider is captured, aware of the danger Spider’s knowledge of his whereabouts poses to their safety, Jake and his family exile themselves from the Omaticaya and retreat to the home of the Metkayina reef people. They’re given shelter, though not everyone welcomes them, and they must learn “the Way of the Water”….

When was it when writer/director James Cameron became, to want of a better expression, a bit rubbish? There’s a small school of thought that he never bested The Terminator way back in 1984, and it’s one that I’d agree with. That film really is near-perfect after all, but I feel that his work exhibited considerable quality for a long time afterwards. Maybe True Lies perhaps marks the first example of his decline, but it was still insanely fun after all, and for good or bad both the spectacle and the slushiness of Titanic worked for me. But then along came Avatar. Cameron declared that it would show what 3D could really do, seeming to think that this was the most important thing about it, but in the end it showed that 3D couldn’t really do much more then it already had, and the vividness of the depiction of the planet Pandora failed to compensate for the cobbled together Dune / Ferngully: The Last Rainforest / Pocahontas plot which showed a distinct lack of originality. While one could certainly tell that Cameron was sincere about his ecological and socialogical messaging, his writing had degenerated to an almost childlike simplicity. Yet the film was definitely an “event movie” which everyone had to go and see, and I will say that it does improve when seen a second time, which I finally did so a few days ago. Will this belated sequel also improve in such a fashion? It’s hard to say, but then again right now I certainly can’t imagine myself wanting to watch it in 22 years time, let alone 12. It’s an astonishingly tedious production which partly remakes its predecessor, but now with virtually all of its issues ramped up. Cameron may have needed to wait until technology enabled him to do convincing motion capture underwater, but surely that’s no excuse for literally half the three-hour-plus film to consist of blue people swimming, either with others or with sea creatures, and surely all that time should have allowed for a script that didn’t seem like it written by eight-year-olds, while the much touted visuals mostly ain’t that special.

Granted, the fact that the first Avatar had its macguffin called “Unobtainium” is hard to beat. It really does seem there that that name existed in early drafts, with the idea that it would eventually become something else, before Cameron said, “Oh what the hell, I’m employing so much cutting edge technology nobody will care”. But maybe he did regret it, because for the sequel “Unobtainium” is never mentioned. Never. Despite it supposedly being the reason that the “Sky People” were on Pandora in the first place. I guess that Cameron couldn’t win here whichever way he went. We do soon learn that Earth hasn’t got long to last, so its surviving inhabitants need to go live somewhere else. Well, it’s a cliched but plausible excuse, but much later Cameron decides to give us another reason for why the humans are fussing about Pandora, and it’s suddenly given to us in the most cack-handed fashion. Anyway, Jake Sully, who was once a human charged with infiltrating the Na’vi for the benefit of Colonel Miles Quaritch, is now living as chief of the Omaticaya. He has his wife Neytiri, his sons, Neteyam and Lo’ak, and his biological daughter, Tuk. But we also learn that Quaritch had a son and Grace Augustine had a daughter, both of whom are now part of Jake’s family. Oh, okay then. Kiri was born from Grace’s inert Na’vi avatar, while Spider was born on Pandora and was unable to be transported to Earth in cryostasis due to his young age. To the Na’vi’s dismay, humans have returned and erected a new main operating base named Bridgehead City to prepare Pandora for colonisation, as Earth is dying. Among the new arrivals are recombinants, Na’vi avatars with the minds and memories of deceased marines, with Quaritch’s recombinant as their leader.

The opening act is actually paced pretty well, and there are several short but solid sequences of action soon resulting from things hotting up. Jake initiates a guerilla campaign against supply lines, so Quaritch and his recombinants hunt down Jake, capturing his children. Jake and Neytiri arrive and free most of them, but Spider is taken by Quaritch, who recognises him as his son. He decides to spend time with him in order to draw Spider on his side, while Spider teaches Quaritch about Na’vi culture and language. Because of this, Jake and his family exile themselves from the Omaticaya and retreat to the Metkayina reef people clan at Pandora’s eastern seaboard, but really this is just one of countless examples of lazy screenwriting from Mr. Cameron and his co-writers Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa. “The forest has been under attack for years, right, so now let’s leave because I’m sure that the humans will then leave the Na’vi totally alone without the Sully clan around”. Okay, whatever. Then we then never see the rest of the Omaticaya again! Yep, they’re not considered important any more. Some of the younger Metkayina don’t take kindly to these refugees, especially the half-breed ones, so there’s lots of rivalry between these kids and teenagers. This is obviously supposed to be real dramatic stuff despite the hopelessly simple minded dialogue which absurdly overuses the word “Bro”. Then Way of the Water has to be learnt, so we get more bonding with and riding of creatures along with endless yelps to remind us that what we’re seeing is supposed to be exciting, while the Way itself seems to be little more than being told stuff like “water connects all things”. The extremely repetitious and turgid nature of the proceedings does eventually lead to an action finale where Cameron shows that he hasn’t fully scratched that Titanic itch yet.

The very straightforward character development of some characters only provides minor emotional involvement in some big scenes, partly because nearly everyone is now blue. Indeed there are so many virtually identical looking characters it’s hard to even tell them all apart, while the performances, even from the likes of Sigourney Weaver and Kate Winslet, don’t come through much unlike, say, Andy Serkis with Gollum. After not having seen a 3D film in ages, I chose to see this in the format, but, after some impressive shots near the beginning, the majority of the film may as well have been not in 3D at all, while there are some astoundingly cheap looking CG explosions. The underwater sequences look nice, but that’s the thing – they look nice, everywhere in Pandora looks nice, but there are few visuals of the truly “wow” nature, while Pandora just isn’t as interesting as Cameron thinks it is. The creatures look convincing, are well designed, and appear frequently, which just about kept boredom at bay for this monster lover, but a subplot featuring the largest of them ends up making little sense. At one point Lo’ak is saved by and befriends Payakan, a “Tulkun”, an intelligent and pacifistic cetacean species whom the Metkayina consider their spiritual family. Payakan is an outcast among his own kind, and we later find out that this is because he did something which is against their ways which was very bad, yet he later on repeats the same actions and nothing is said about this. But then this is a film where subplots are introduced or hinted at and then get thrown away without resolve, while big plot points are rushed so we can get to savour, at length, a whale hunt, or indeed all that underwater stuff. Now actually, I like underwater stuff, I’m somebody who doesn’t think that Thunderball spends too much time underwater,  but you could lose at least twenty minutes of such footage in Avatar: The Way Of Water with no damage to the story, while the 007 flick also had lots of cool stuff happening on land. This doesn’t.

Sometimes it’s as if Avatar had never taken place. Jake eventually utters “Now I know, this is where we take a stand”, but didn’t he learn that there comes a point where you have to take a stand from before? But then again he keeps repeating “A father protects his family, that’s what gives him purpose”, even throughout the movie he fails to protect his children over and over again, while said children constantly fail to communicate and understand things. Of course there’s virtually no character nuance throughout, especially concerning the bad guys, even though Quaritch is apparently going to be a major character in each film [one has visions of him amusingly fighting Jake at the end of each one]. Cameron also tells us that Quaritch will “Evolve into really unexpected places“, but we’ll believe it when we see it. So far he’s shown no sign of exploring the fascinating possibilities of the unusual nature of his characters or the science which enables them to be this way. It’s obvious that one’s meant to think of the appalling way that the West was really won, and similar examples in history of an indigenous population being virtually decimated by an invading force, while Cameron is clearly sincere with his environmentalist theme, but, as before, he’s on iffy footing when he tries to go mystical in a half-baked fashion, and especially in this sequel where he appears reluctant to really offer anything new besides  -well you know of course – lots of water. I guess he wanted to keep things simple so that kids can understand it all, but there’s a lack of true imagination on display. At least the skirmishes and the final battle show that Cameron has most definitely not lost his ability to bring exciting and coherent [no flash cuts or “shakycam” here] action to the big screen, but it’s surprisingly small scale and not really thrilling enough to warrant everything that came before. We’ve been so spoilt with such spectacles that it’s hard to raise the bar, but Cameron doesn’t even try here, despite some really cool crab-like submersibles.

Simon Franglen’s musical score does a good job of retaining the sound and style of James Horner’s work for the original; we even hear the Horner “danger motif” a couple of times, but then again Horner didn’t seem to have been inspired much by the original anyway. Still, despite its many issues, Avatar had distinct notability; the only really notable thing about this is how poor it is. I don’t actually enjoy criticising so much a film which was essentially birthed by one man and which is undeniably something which he’s passionate about, a film that isn’t yet another one of those soulless, “made by committee” blockbusters which dominate today’s cinemas. But it’s quite clear that Cameron has lost his way. In telling a story which essentially celebrates nature, not to mention previously having written and directed two films which warn us of technology gone wild and technological control, he’s ironically been taken over by technology himself, and to the detriment of seemingly everything else. James, I know the third film is almost completed too, but, after that, please – say goodbye to Pandora.

Rating: ★★★½☆☆☆☆☆☆

 

 

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About Dr Lenera 1987 Articles
I'm a huge film fan and will watch pretty much any type of film, from Martial Arts to Westerns, from Romances [though I don't really like Romcoms!]] to Historical Epics. Though I most certainly 'have a life', I tend to go to the cinema twice a week! However,ever since I was a kid, sneaking downstairs when my parents had gone to bed to watch old Universal and Hammer horror movies, I've always been especially fascinated by horror, and though I enjoy all types of horror films, those Golden Oldies with people like Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee probably remain my favourites. That's not to say I don't enjoy a bit of blood and gore every now and again though, and am also a huge fan of Italian horror, I just love the style.

1 Comment

  1. I think you pretty much hit the nail on the head with this review. Hard to believe all the years of development under conditions most film makers would give their eye teeth for given the end product with this one.

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