April 7, 2023

AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER: Very Pretty, Very Long

2022 / 193 min
Review by Stinky the Destroyer😼

If I were a betting man, I’d never have wagered on Avatar: The Way of Water being another gazillion-dollar juggernaut, to say nothing of getting another Oscar nomination for Best Picture…which, like the original 2009 film, it did not deserve. 

Not that it’s a bad film or anything. But it had been 13 years since Avatar knocked everyone’s socks off in theaters with its groundbreaking visuals and, for once, justifiable use of 3D. I was initially blown away, too, but unlike James Cameron’s other films (of which I’m a big fan) never gave the film another thought after leaving the theater. In fact, when I later tried watching it at home, I had forgotten most of the plot and eventually fell asleep. Ultimately, Avatar was more of a virtual theme park ride than a movie and far less engaging at home.

Despite Cameron’s endless self-confidence in his own world-building abilities and the blank check handed to him for Avatar: The Way of Water, original storytelling and complex characters were never among the director’s strengths. That the new film would be another visual wonder was never in doubt, but I’ve been on this ride before and didn’t feel particularly compelled to revisit Pandora in a theater. Just as the current slate of MCU movies no longer wow audiences like they did when the iron was hot, I assumed the general consensus meeting this one would be “been there, done that,” especially in this post-COVID era when theater attendance is down everywhere. 

I was wrong about that, of course. Apparently, more of the same is exactly what people wanted.

"I thought you were bringing the weenies."
But having finally seen it at home, my overall assessment of Avatar: The Way of Water is similar to that of the original: Pretty to look at, with impeccable special effects and first-rate action (especially the climax), but waaaay too long when you consider the derivative plot and - Stephen Lang as Miles Quaritch notwithstanding - lack of interesting characters. Adding a batch of rebellious teenagers to the mix - Sully & Neytiri’s new family - only serves to pad the running time, with a great deal of the meandering middle act focusing on them. Cameron does introduce a new Pandora clan who, as water dwellers, are different from the blue Na’vi, but other than creating a gorgeous new setting for them - alongside beautifully-rendered sea creatures - they’re given little to do but provide exposition and fight alongside Sully.

Only Lang manages to transcend the inherent limitations of motion capture to deliver a memorably vicious (and often amusing) performance. Despite much of the original cast returning for this one, their roles could have been played by anybody. Storywise, The Way of Water never pushes the envelope - the primary plot being Quaritch’s Ahab-like obsession with destroying Sully - but in typical Cameron fashion, the film is driven more by aesthetics than narrative complexity. 

And in that respect, I suppose it works well enough. Though undoubtedly jawdropping in theaters, the visual impact of Avatar: The Way of Water is severely diminished at home (even in HD), which tends to exacerbate its aforementioned shortcomings. But like the original, the film’s technical aspects and exciting action sequences are probably enough to make it worth enduring the bloated length (at least once, anyway).


FEATURETTES - “Acting Underwater for Avatar: The Way of Water”; “Building the World of Pandora”; “Capturing Pandora”; “The Undersea World of Pandora”; “The Challenges of Pandora’s Waters”; “Pandora’s Returning Characters”; “Pandora’s Next Generation”; “Spider’s Web”; “Becoming Na’vi”; “The Reef People of Pandora”; “Bringing Pandora to Life”; “The RDA Returns to Pandora”; “The New Characters of Pandora”; “The Sounds of Pandora”; “New Zealand: Pandora’s Home.”

“MORE FROM PANDORA’S BOX” - Casting (screen tests); stunts; “The Lab”; “The Troupe.”



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