Friday, January 6, 2023

Avatar: The Way of Water. A Review



Thirteen years after Avatar took the world by storm, we get another journey to the magical world of Pandora. Avatar: The Way of Water is very pretty, but it has nothing there apart from its prettiness. 

Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and his Na'vi wife Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) have three children (two boys and a girl), as well as an adopted daughter, Kiri (Sigourney Weaver), daughter of Dr. Grace Augustine (Weaver again). Who exactly Kiri's father is or how she came to be conceived we know not.

Humans or "Sky People" are still trying to take over Pandora, which forces the Sully family to take refuge with the Metkayina, seafaring Na'vi who are a lighter shade of blue. The Metkayina are not thrilled to have the Sullys with them, but nevertheless give them asylum.

The Sky People are headed by the avatar of Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang), who is technically dead but now not only is still alive but has a son, Spider (Jack Champion), who has lived with the Na'vi due to him being too young to join the other Sky People forced off the planet. It becomes a battle between Jake and Quaritch, with the various beings being taken hostage and fighting to save or destroy Pandora. It is a battle where not everyone will survive.

Avatar: The Way of Water is unashamed of running almost three hours and fifteen minutes as it is convinced it is this sweeping epic, rich and deep. Out of all those, I would say it is rich visually. The Way of Water is a very pretty film, with some pleasant imagery that should keep you entertained. 

Pretty pictures, however, do not a good film make, and The Way of Water suffers from the same issues plaguing the previous jaunt around the fields of Pandora. I was not surprised to see three credited screenwriters (Amanda Silver, Rick Jaffa and director James Cameron). I was, however, astonished to see that there are five "story by" credits (the screenwriters plus Josh Friedman and Shane Salerno). A lot of The Way of Water feels so padded, a case of someone loving something too much.

The entire opening could have been cut or trimmed, summed up in less than fifteen minutes versus what I think was close to an hour. There was no need for the Sullys to take that long to get to the Water Na'vi. The same goes for the ending, which to my mind brought back memories of Titanic. THat Tuk got captured twice seems close to parody. Other elements, such as who Kiri's father and Spider's mother are, I suppose, will be touched on in future Avatar films. Yet, you are left wondering things like "who and when could either have been conceived?"

There are two other elements in The Way of Water that left me less than impressed. First is how forgettable the characters were. Once Jake Sully or Colonel Quaritch disappeared, I completely forgot they were in the film. It might have been better to have let both Jake and Quaritch die altogether. It would have allowed for the next generation to take center stage. Instead, the film bounces between the old and new group. The end result is that you do forget whom is who once they are off screen.

The second is in the strange shift between elevated and common speaking. We shift from grand statements such as "The Sea is around you and in you. The Sea is your home before you were born and after you are gone" to "Don't be a wuss, bro" and "It's called a punch, bitch!". You go from eloquent (if pompous) words about The Sea to hearing things that stereotypical teenagers would say. 

The best example I can think of to use for this criticism is in how one character says "Father" when referring to her male parent, while the other says "Dad". That, I figure, sounds like a strange criticism. For me though, the tonal shifts between eloquent and idiotic speaking were maddening.

I do not think people see an Avatar film for great performances. Sam Worthington apparently has not learned how to act in the thirteen years between Avatar and The Way of Water. To be fair, I did not recognize Kate Winslet as Ronal, the Water Na'vi Warrior Queen. Whether that is a good or bad thing, I cannot say. As for the younger cast, to be honest I could not tell who played what role. I don't even think I could recall almost any of their names. They were all pretty much interchangeable and indistinguishable. 

Curiously, even passionate supporters of The Way of Water could not tell you the names of the Sully Brothers. Like me, they know them only as "the older one" and "the younger one". 

Avatar: The Way of Water is a very pretty looking film. I concede that. I, however, cannot go by "pretty" alone. If you like looking at pretty pictures, then I might recommend watching Avatar: The Way of Water in the largest screen possible. I would also recommend not bothering to think about things like "plot", "performances" or maybe even "logic". Just drown in the pretty world, and you will leave satisfied. 


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