Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Avatar: The Way of Water

2009's Avatar made its way into my list of that year's best films by delivering an unique and wholly immersive cinematic experience quite unlike anything released in theaters in years. 13 years later, the return to Pandora feels a bit more well-trodden than I'd like. Not learning from the mistakes of The Matrix sequels, writer/director James Cameron chooses to resurrect the same villain despite having an entire world in which to discover newer (and far more interesting) ideas and conflicts.

Set years after the original film, the plot of The Way of Water focuses on Jake (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) and their family being chased from their home by the return of the invading humans (this time chasing an entirely different supernatural MacGuffin) led by the resurrected Quaritch (Stephen Lang) in a Na'vi body along with his soldiers.

As with the first Avatar, the sequel doesn't strain itself too hard in terms of plot or character with each being a basic archetype. Nor have the Na'vi ideas of living in peace with nature versus the humans destroying nature for precious materials become any more subtle a second time around (in fact just the opposite as the film also tackles the destructive nature of whaling this time around). Where the film succeeds is exploring a new area of Pandora in the seas and underwater world of the Metkayina Clan. And while the 3D doesn't have nearly the same effect this time around, the world of Pandora is still wonderfully rendered and explored over the course of the film.

The Sully clan includes the dutiful older son Neteyam (Jamie Flatters), his screw-up younger brother Lo'ak (Britain Dalton), their youngest daughter Tuk (Trinity Jo-Li Bliss), and the adopted daughter Kiri (Sigourney Weaver) of the deceased Grace who was apparently impregnated by Midichlorians at the time of her death. Jack Champion also stars as a human child left by the colonists, and raised by the remaining human scientists, who has grown into an unofficial member of the family. In true kid movie tradition, complete with the sci-fi equivalent of bullies at a new school, the group find themselves constantly getting into dangerous situations.

At nearly 200 minutes, Avatar: The Way of the Water is still a vibrant and interesting movie, if a bit long and plodding at times, but it's really just a shadow of the original. When it sticks with its new characters and locales, and when it avoids being overtly preachy, there's plenty to be excited about. Sadly, too much of the film feels like an unnecessary retread of the original and a missed opportunity to more fully discover other aspects of Pandora. The fact that there are two more sequels, likely suffering from the same issues, make me more tired than excited about the prospects of Cameron's attempts to recapture the magic of the first Avatar.

Watch the trailer
  • Title: Avatar: The Way of Water
  • IMDb: link

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