13 years later Avatar blew minds and smashed box office records, its sequel has finally arrived. As James Cameron has long promised, Avatar: The Way of Water is an extravagant return to Pandora, where action and eye-popping visual effects abound in a new adventure, bursting with new characters, new creatures, and an ardent environmentalist message. It is brazenly stuffed with the kind of splashy spectacle that beckons audiences to movie theaters, the siren song of “see it on the biggest screen possible or miss out!” But is it possible Cameron has swung too big, making a movie that can’t support its own ambition?
While the initial wave of critics’ responses has been a flood of praise, I found Cameron’s much-ballyhooed adventure to falter for its lack of focus. While there’s plenty to awe over, there’s not enough to cling to.
What’s Avatar: The Way of Water about?
Set years after the conclusion of Avatarthis sequel sees Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and his wife Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) as the leaders of their Na’vi tribe, living peacefully in the forests of Pandora, where they’re raising a clutch of kids. “sky people” (colonizing humans) return, razing a swath of lush forest to put up a military-industrial complex of concrete, then plotting their next strike against the native population. Spearheading this violent scheme is Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), whose death in the last movie won’t get in the way of getting vengeance on the jarhead/avatar who betrayed him.
Quaritch’s resurrection forces Sully and his family to flee to live among the native islanders, known as “reef people.” There, cultures clash and new friendships are born, including a bond with Cameron’s version of a majestic space whale. Together, the Na’ vi and their animal allies will band together to push back the sky people’s invasion one more time.
Sam Worthington takes a backseat in Avatar: The Way of Water.
Despite headlining one of the biggest movies of all time, Worthington made little impression as a leading man in Avatar or the other big-budget action movies (Clash of the Titans, Terminator Salvation) that tried to make him a star. Perhaps this is why the sequel splinters its story so that three characters are all protagonists, with arcs that echo Sully’s story from the first film.
First up is Quaritch, whose dedication to his Pandora-hurting mission will be challenged by a newfound appreciation for the Na’vi. This internal struggle binds him to our second Sully variant: Spider. A human boy raised on Pandora, Spider (Jack Champion) ) is essentially a skater bro, running around with white-boy dreads, a loin cloth, and stripes of blue body paint, because he so desperately wants to be like his Na’vi friends.Like Jake in Avatarhis identity as a human and his affinity for the Na’vi’s culture make him a misfit in both realms. But no misfit’s story is so intensely rendered as Lo’ak (Brian Dalton), Jake’s second son, who inherited his father’s hardheadedness, impulsiveness, and the chip on his shoulder for not being the golden child. (Remember Jake’s deceased, science-smart twin?)
Ironic, that with all the money and energy put into making photo-real fantasy, Cameron shoots himself in the foot with one gimmick too many.
While Avatar: The Way of Water its spotlight with a small army of characters, Lo’ak’s has the most grit and grip to it. His motivations are clear, as he strives to attain his father’s approval, but by playing by his own rules. Lo’ak’s shares emotions are radiant Fittingly, his physicality is the jangly yet stiff brand, worn by angsty teen boys the world over like an ill-fitting leather jacket And his dialogue — spiked with “bro,” “cous,” and “shit” — has a zip of youthful tryhard.
With this blend of masterful motion-capture animation, earnest performance, and compelling storytelling, Avatar: The Way of Water stands on solid ground when Lo’ak is at its center. Regrettably, he’s not at the helm enough to keep this behemoth of a movie cruising smoothly.
Avatar: The Way of Water Wastes its star power in thinly sketched characters.
Part of the problem is that several character arcs feel truncated — or sacrificed — in service of setting up Avatar 3So, where burning questions and internal conflicts might begin to blister for some of these Jake Sully substitutes, Cameron is making the audience wait for answers, leaving us to simmer with whispers of character development. next movie. But “until next time” is not a satisfying cinematic novelty, especially for a three-hour-and-ten-minute movie.
Elsewhere, Cameron brings in celebrated actors to play Na’vi folk familiar and freshly introduced. And while his VFX team has done a remarkable job blooming emotion on their green and blue visages, the lackluster writing gives these performances suffocatingly little to play with. likes of Zoe Saldaña, Sigourney Weaver, Kate Winslet, and Interview with a Vampire scene-stealer Bailey Bass are squandered in paper-thin roles, of women who are either beatific in awe of nature or baring their teeth in tears. These are not people but poster girls either of bliss or pain. And so their emotional journeys feel hollow , even as we can see their worlds falling apart.
Cameron’s lust for cutting-edge tech makes Avatar: The Way of Water a dizzying eyesore.
Undeniably, there is plenty of beauty and splendor in Avatar: The Way of Water. Venturing into Pandora’s islands gives Cameron and his team an incredible opportunity to interpolate the director’s deep of love of the ocean and its awe-inspiring inhabitants with a fantasy/sci-fi twist. As the Sully family takes the plunge on their life on the run , we get to swim alongside them through a wondrous underwater world of creatures, adorable, bioluminescent, slick, snarling, and mighty.
Cameron explores the possibilities of spacey sea spectacle with high-speed races, furious fights, and even sentimental scenes of cross-species bonding that recall Free Willy or SeaWorld performances. But these creatures, this setting, the Na’vi, and their battles might all be marred by Cameron’s fascination with 48fps, meaning 48 frames per second, being flashed across the screen. This is twice more than the standard movie theater rate of 24 frames per second. Avatar: The Way of Water is being screened at 48fps. In October, speaking at the Busan International Film Festival, the director teased that a “hack” allows him to mix it up with 24fps and 48fps in 3D screenings.
This is how I saw the film, not being told (warned?) ahead of time. Avatar 2 went from looking extraordinary to looking offmy brain spun to make sense of why my eyes were abruptly angry. Behind my 3D glasses, I lost the thread of where to look. And over and over, without warning, this fps change essentially booted me out my suspension of disbelief, ejecting me from of Pandora and into the reality that I was sitting in a theater blinking furiously. Far from making the action or environment feel more real or more enveloping, the switch-up distanced me from the sequel’s story, reminding me over and over of the Artifice. Ironic, that with all the money and energy put into making photo-real fantasy, Cameron shoots himself in the foot with one gimmick too many.
Certainly, we can debate the merits of higher frame rates. video games have been exploring them, leaping as high as 120 fps. Perhaps it’s not the high frame rate or Cameron’s multiple fields of action that’s the problem, but the switching from one fps look to the other. Maybe it’s the immensity of the movie theater screen in conjunction with the doubled frame rate. Maybe it’s all that plus the 3D, which makes probing fingers, floating mist, and swimming fish already trip up our perceptions. In retrospect, it’s difficult to parse what in Cameron’s frantic collision of visual effects and camera tricks was tripping me up. on, my fluttering eyelids pulled me back from his vision, struggling with my own. The so muchness of it all became an exhausting eyesore. As my eyes didn’t know where to focus, increasingly, my heart just wasn’t in it.
In the end, Avatar: The Way of Water is groundbreaking, ambitious, and even overstuffed with cinematic wonder. But Cameron loses track of his characters, snarls his story, squanders his star power, and then dizzies 3D audiences with so much whiz-bang that they might feel attacked in lieu of awed. So, amid its wonders, this sequel sinks by its own grandeur.
Avatar: The Way of Water opens in theaters Dec. 16.
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