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Avatar: The Way of Water

****
2022

‘…much, much more of an action film that its predecessor, and James Cameron still has the stones when it comes to creating outrageous sci-fi spectacle that looks like a Frank Frazetta/Chris Achilleos poster on acid…’

Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) in 20th Century Studios' AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

If you’d told my teenage self that the big tent-pole movie of 2022 would be a $200 million James Cameron sci-fi epic, then I’d have felt the future was bright enough to invest in some shades. But while Cameron’s Terminator and sequel, plus Aliens and Titanic were all bona fide pop culture sensations in their day, his Avatar project has had a more troubled birth. The first film reigned as the most financially successful (adjusting for inflation) for a decade, a long enough gap to generate a substantial backlash of those who didn’t care for CGI blue people, and missed the old JC cyber-punk sturm und drang. The good news is that the first sequel to Avatar, The Way of Water, is much, much more of an action film that its predecessor, and James Cameron still has the stones when it comes to creating outrageous sci-fi spectacle that looks like a Frank Frazetta/Chris Achilleos poster on acid. That’s why it’s raked in a billion dollars in just over two weeks.

So the jury was out. What I didn’t want to see here was more po-faced diplomacy, Dances-with Aliens metaphors, subtitles, spirit trees and ecological subtext. What I wanted was a full-on weapons-grade colonists vs Na’vi actioneer, using the Pandora pretty-ass setting as a sandpit for gruelling action, and that’s pretty much what we get. It’s over a decade since the first film, and in an easily-grasped Cape Fear scenario, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) decants his new family to a reef on the eastern seaboard, but their respite is unlikely to be tranquil. Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) embraces the new technology to re-emerge as a pumped-up avatar on Pandora, and even creates his own affinity with the wildlife to ride into battle alongside a high-tech action play-set of military space-ships. That mid-section slows the pace, although it’s not dull; Jake’s family are well differentiated, Sigourney Weaver turns up in blue, Kate Winslet too, and Jermaine Clements looks almost as surprised to be in this as I was to see him in it. The finale, however, is a good fifty minute rip-the-arse-out-of-this-CGI greatest hits package as Jake and his family roll with the punches through some undeniably impressive action highlights in and around a sinking vessel of enormous proportions. You can see the difference that Cameron’s absence made to Terminator and Alien franchises from his signature work here; I guess I’ve finally learned how to stop worry and love Pandora.

‘Don’t you think I couldn’t kill this kid?’ says Quaritch as he takes a hostage, ‘…we’re not even the same species…’ So we’re firmly on the side of friendly natives against racist colonists here, with Cameron making Pandora less of a Vietnam flashback but a universal setting that resembles a number of historical settings for occupation and uprisings; that’s kind of the theme of the Avatar project to date. ‘The way of water has no beginning and no end,’ is one of the key lines here, but Cameron’s film has both; it’s not franchise building if the film engages and squeezes the audience’s emotions in the old style, and Cameron is just the storyteller to do it. Scenes like Quaritch fighting a dragon on a cliff-top make CGI look amazing when the same kind of moments looks so tatty in other movies. I can’t say I was really looking forward to my tour of duty in Pandora, but The Way of Water turned out to be a far better film that the traditional bloated epic. It’s a lot more fun that a Marvel tag-team bang-about, an over-stretched Hobbit movie, the Tron reboot or the last Star Wars trilogy, making it the best festive hit since Rogue One. Something of a throwback in terms of the narrative to the crowd-pleasing 80’s, Avatar-The Way of Water works as a pumped-up balls-to-the wall action movie, and to quote from a range of tough-guy tech-talk, ‘If you can’t get out of it, get into it!’

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  1. I thought Avatar was just ok. As many movies as I see out…didn’t even see it in a theater. After seeing The Way of Water in all its 3D Imax glory, I can finally say I “get” Avatar. This movie blew me away, and I want to see it again as soon as possible. My wife didn’t like the original at all, and she was blown away by this one as well. A simplistic storyline to be sure, but a story whose execution is A++. Loved the movie.

  2. I only got up to the bit where the kids are rescued then had to leave for other reasons unfortunately.
    I saw it in IMAX 3D and it was just freaking me out with sensory overload, too much, and not exactly cinema, it was so strange.
    I might go back for a plain old 2D showing with some vanilla ice-cream… what do you think?

    • Yes, you missed the best bits. I went for 2D and that was the best way to appreciate Cameron’s framing. Worth a second crack, but 3D IMAX can be too much to handle for sure…

    • I feel that the midsection established lots of plot points that paid off in the big action scenes. Neither a dream or a nightmare, it’s just a good,, huge festive blockbuster and should be enjoyed as such.

        • Yup, but I was concerned about this franchise until seeing this; as someone said, don’t bet against Jim Cameron…

          • There is that. If it had gone down the self-conscious philosophy woke route it would have died the death. I’m just getting a bit immune to these 40-50-minute slam-bang action climaxes. Bear in mind I didn’t rate it two-star so it was passable enough. Luckily, Jim doesn’t have to consider my opinion.

            • Was it better than a Hobbit borefest, or the garbled Star Wars universe? Tron Legacy? Cinematically, yes. And that mix of first and second climax hasn’t worked so well since Avengers Assemble, it felt relentless. Aside from those not liking CGI, Cameron’s showmanship makes it bombproof. I’m sure he’ll be reading this.

              • Fact! He is one of your followers, under a pseudonym of course. I think if I hadn’t been so annoyed by all the SOS business I would have enjoyed it more. He does bang-bang well.

  3. Since I never saw the first one, and have zero desire to, I highly doubt I’ll ever get around to this one.
    Glad you were able to enjoy it though. And what’s better, it was in an actual cinema. How’d that work for ya?

      • Well, the first one, I suspect was because of a mix of the following:
        1) It was popular and I always have an instinctive push back against something that is popular that I am not familiar with. The contrarian in me coming out
        2) I hate movies that have eco\anti-war\social justice messages built in to them and that was all I heard about for the first one.
        3) It was long! At just under 3hrs I believe, I needed something familiar to get me to commit that much time to the screen. Even though I watched the Zack Snyder JL cut that was over 4hrs, that was because I like Superman and I already knew the rough storyline from reading the comics. Avatar though? Brand new to me.

        I do like a lot of Cameron’s stuff, but Avatar just doesn’t interest me at all. Or its sequel.

        • Avatar is a new IP, but that’s no bad thing for me. Felt that the first one was so pervasive, wildly over-rated and po-faced in messaging, that I’d never be interested. But this one is a different kind of fish, much more phat action! You can learn to love the Na’vi!

    • I think I gave the first film two stars. This is way better. No subtitles, a lot less hanging with the Na’vi and a lot more big scale action set-pieces. Cameron knows how to build a wild set-piece, and I guess I’ve just learned to stop worrying and love Pandora…take some snacks and sit back and enjoy!

  4. To me, Frank Frazetta on acid means booty and boobs for days. Is that what’s on tap?

    To be honest, the trailer looks terrible to me. Just looks like a big video game.

    Sturm und drang. Unless there’s a joke here about characters in drag? Not sure.

    • I’d imagine Weaver and Winslet would kill for the kind of booty they have here. Firm, taut buttocks, like a coal-miner’s.

      Didn’t fancy the trailer or the film, but proved wrong by watching it.

      Not a fan of JC?

      • The ladies here do look like JC’s ideal, the lean and taut action women that he likes. Frazetta’s women are cut from a different mold though, with all sorts of exaggerated curves.

        I think Cameron is a quality engineer of spectacles like this. I rate him alongside Peter Jackson in that regard. You just get the feeling that these guys lost something human along the way. Del Toro is the same way.

        • I rate Cameron higher than the two you mention. Better this than pixies and elves.

          Chris Achilleos would have been closer, that was the first name I thought of…

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