Avatar: The Way of Water | Gorgeous, Simple, Perfectly Executed | #reviews
James Cameron tricked us all back in 2009 when we thought he had some crazy idea to tell a random standalone story about a bunch of blue aliens that was basically just a rehash of Pocahontas on a planet no one cared about called Pandora.
Little did we know that was just the pilot episode, a proof-of-concept if you will, for his own epic series that would be told using proprietary technology he had to build which he is now using to create some of the most breathtaking imagery you can manufacture today with a computer.
Avatar: The Way of Water is a story about a family. Not in the way Fast and Furious talks about family, but an earnest and heartfelt portrayal about a family trying to hold strong together while on the run. Jake Sully is being pursued yet again by General Quaritch (yeah, he's back and I'm totally here for it) across Pandora as the Sky People are trying to ultimately thwart the Na'vi from being able to fight back by targeting their most important general. The bulk of the movie is the cat and mouse chase that unfolds as Quaritch and his squadron of Avatar marines are on the hunt for the Sully family.
That's it. That's the story. That's somehow sufficient for 3 hours of entertainment. 3 hours of a movie that, for me, felt like an hour and a half because of the unbelievably quick pacing.
Even though I try not to read reviews before I see a movie, I've already seen criticism over the story's simplicity and I can't help but assume that's because there was nothing else to criticize...not that I don't think there was nothing else to criticize...but maybe they don't?
The sequel to 2009's Avatar is an improvement over its predecessor in almost every way but still contains some of the same frustrating issues. Some dialogue still feels under-developed, although Way of the Water is MUCH more consistent and less heavy-handed than what we saw before. The entire character arc with Spider, the only fully human character left in the Sully family, felt lacking or perhaps it could have been the fact that the actor, Jack Champion, can't act...or at least can't act through a mask (which he wears for almost the entire movie). That being said, I wouldn't be surprised if this is where some of the cuts of the movie were made to keep it as close as it could be to 3 hours. Obviously Spider's character and his relationship to our main antagonist will be something that is revisited in future films, so I'm assuming we will have time to flesh that out (and hopefully Champion can see the choices he made here and fix some of his performance for the 4th and 5th movies, lolz).
One of the mysteries of this film is why the choice was made for Sigourney Weaver, who is 73 years old (holy shit, she's 73?! She looks incredible.), to play the hybrid teenage daughter of Dr. Grace Augustine from the first film. Hearing a mature woman's voice come out of the body of an immature teenager, Na'vi or otherwise, is ridiculously jarring.
Mr. James Cameron still seems to be making these films as a love letter to environmentalism, but this time the commentary is more bearable and subtle. Instead of being a main focus, the Sky People's abuse of the flora and fauna on Pandora is mostly in the background and only discussed as something that is upsetting to the Na'vi. There's less time spent on the humans complaining that they don't approve of these actions through fruitless fuming about a problem they can't fix. Instead Cameron focuses on the effect these destructive actions have on the Na'vi people, creating a more compelling vehicle for his commentary that is tied to their suffering and the suffering of their friends in nature.
The Sully family, again with the exception of Spider, are all incredibly well written and fully fleshed out. When tragedy struck the family in the climax of the film I was not the only one whose eyes welled with tears and that is because Cameron makes you feel like you know everyone individually and their family dynamics intimately before he plays with those stakes.
The new Na'vi people, the Metkayina, are fun additions to the types of Na'vi that you can find on Pandora. I really enjoyed watching the Sullys learn their ways and integrate into the Metkayina culture, although I couldn't stop holding my breath when watching some of the underwater sequences. There was a lot of undue stress as I remained consistently concerned that they were just going to drown themselves.
It's at this time that I state another overwhelmingly positive thing about the movie...
I also enjoyed the new human characters that were introduced on the side of the Sky People. Jermaine Clement (from Men in Black 3, obviously...or Flight of the Concords for those uninitiated) shows up as a marine biologist and doesn't make NEARLY enough jokes, if any. His boss, Captain Mick Scoresby, provides some comic relief every now and then by being extremely boorish in all of his scenes and I LOVED when he received his poetic justice in the final battle.
Stephen Lang played my favorite character in the first movie (no, I don't care how over-the-top it may have seemed to you...he's perfect...) and comes back in this movie to continue to provide a scene-chewing, almost cartoon-like villain in General Quaritch. A lot of the bad guys in this film are pretty one-dimensional, but we live in a world where villains are no longer villainous enough for me and Lang is doing WORK to try and bring the bad boys back to town. If you think about it James Cameron has a history of ensuring that the bad guys in his movies are most definitely the bad guys and the good guys are undoubtedly the good guys. Why waste time with nuance when we could be watching things blow up? That being said, there are some moments that make us question how bad of a guy this Avatar Quaritch actually is but not too much time is wasted on this and I find that refreshing.
I saw Avatar: The Way of Water in IMAX 3D and I highly recommend it. This movie is made to be seen in the IMAX format and the 3D is James Cameron's special flavor of 3D that is not at all intrusive but wholly immersive.
I went into this movie with super low expectations but came out wanting to see it again. James Cameron is a master storyteller and while this plot may be simple in nature, the world that he is creating is unmistakably gorgeous to look at and becomes more compelling the more time we get to spend with the characters he's filling it with. I am definitely looking forward to the 3rd installment of this fledgling franchise.