‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ review: This sequel seems less like an act of love and more like a material achievement

Who cares Avatar? Nobody seems to know. The giant of 2009 James Cameron, highest grossing movie in the world so far Avengers: Endgame a decade later, it’s been at the center of a bit of a culture spat in the run-up to its covid-19-delayed sequel. One half of the Internet has fervently defended the film in the face of claims by the other half that, as actor and podcaster Griffin Newman once put it, it’s only “memorable for being unmemorable.” Where is your brand in the world? Where are the legions of strutting fans in blue body paint and wiggly cat ears? Where are the imitators? Shouldn’t there have been a million more similar movies about aliens fending off colonization?

I am not the most qualified person to answer these questions. But, sitting back 13 years later to see Avatar: The Way of WaterAfter years of Cameron promising that his sequel would make us “f**k with our mouths open,” I began to wonder if we’ve been looking at things from the completely wrong angle. These films, which are largely identical in tone, don’t feel like acts of love, but rather a material achievement. They exist more to be respected than to be adored; they are road signs in film history, marking the end of one era and the beginning of another. Avatar redefined the notion of spectacle with CGI. hollywood it has spent the years since churning out extended cinematic universes just to try to match its sense of grandiose importance.

Avatar: The Way of Water, once again, challenges the industry. I can’t say I cared much for the story, themes, or characters, but the impeccable special effects work made me feel like I was staring into the future. It’s an achievement of such technological clarity that I’d instantly buy any flat-panel TV showing it in an appliance store. The plot, if anything, is an inconvenient distraction from the true pleasure of watching and laughing out loud. In the first film, human Marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) changes sides and betrays his fellow colonists on the moon Pandora to join the alien Na’vi. In the final scene of Avatar, definitively transferred his consciousness to a Na’vi body. A decade later, we meet him and his life partner Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), who have already formed their own family. They have three children and adopted teenager Kiri (Sigourney Weaver), who was born, like Jesus, to the “avatar” of Dr. Grace Augustine (also Weaver) from the first film. Then there’s “Spider” (Jack Champion), a dreadlocked white human boy who hangs around like a hobo and gives us a solid preview of what Disney’s inevitable live-action adaptation of Tarzan will be like.

His paradisiacal bliss is short-lived, since (give it a chance to rain) the very bad humans return to try to colonize Pandora again. And they do it for more than three hours. The script offers us three separate reasons: Earth is on its deathbed and humanity needs a new home; there is a new, extremely rare and expensive substance on Pandora in addition to the energy-conducting mineral “unobtanium”; and somehow they’re still mad at Jake for betraying them. This time, the previously dead Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) cloned his consciousness into a Na’vi avatar. Jake and his family are forced to flee, seeking refuge among the water-dwelling Metkayina, also Na’vi but a different shade of blue, and their leaders Tonowari (Cliff Curtis) and Ronal (Kate Winslet).

That’s where “the way of the water” comes from, which is actually Cameron’s excuse to stun the audience with underwater sequences that are so indistinguishable from reality that the events of Matrix seem even more like a terrifying plausibility. Yes Avatar spawned the documented phenomenon of “Pandora depression”—a malaise stemming from the disappointing realization that Cameron’s world is an illusion—who knows what might awaken The Way of Water on the viewers. The film’s controversial use of a higher frame rate, going from the usual 24 frames per second to 48, is certainly disconcerting at times, but it also removes the lack of sharpness typical of recent CGI-laden blockbusters. . There’s always been a barrier to full immersion in CGI worlds, but Pandora seems so tangible that it’s the humans here who seem fake.

However, that’s where the beauty ends. The Way of Water. It’s hard to find much wit in his compositions, which seem to borrow mostly from basic video game technique, complete with excessive POV (point of view) shots. And there’s little heart to its story, which complicates the narrative problems of the first film by once again leaving the glory of anti-colonial resistance at the feet of a white man who “went native.” The Na’vi are nothing more than a vague and exotic mix of real indigenous cultures, with some superficial overtones of Polynesian traditions by the Metkayina. The latter is especially strange in charge of Kate Winslet.

Curiously enough, Saldaña’s Neytiri is completely left out. Most of the time she cries, and then her burly action hero love tells her to stop crying and pull herself together. The dialogue is full of false spiritualism or typical Cameron jokes like “it’s called a punch, bitch”. The two extremes never mix in a way that feels compelling. But these are exactly the same criticisms that the first of these received. Avatar and often the rest of the director’s filmography. Cameron, at this point, seems more interested in being a pioneer of cinema than an artist. That’s the point of The Way of Water: It is not about what the film has to offer us now, but about what it tells us about the future.

Directed by: James Cameron. Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Kate Winslet, Cliff Curtis, Giovanni Ribisi, Edie Falco. Classification 12A, 192 minutes

Avatar: The Way of Water opens in theaters on December 16

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