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Avatar: The Way of Water review: James Cameron gives us the greatest “video game movie” of all time

Avatar: The Way of Water review: James Cameron gives us the greatest “video game movie” of all time

Avatar: The Way of Water review: James Cameron gives us the greatest "video game movie" of all time

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Avatar: The Way of Water – now playing in cinemas around the world – has a gargantuan task on its hands. (And I’m not even talking about the sequel needing to make over $1 billion at the box office to turn a profit.) James Cameron, the returning director, co-writer, co-editor and co-producer from the second The Avatar Movie, must prove to audiences that its world of Pandora is worth revisiting thirteen years later. The original Avatar was both a showcase of 3D cinema and otherworldly visuals. One of them is on its last legs, while visual effects and scale are seemingly everywhere these days. The show alone – Cameron had little to offer on story and characters at the time – cannot carry Avatar: The Way of Water. More is needed.

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Additionally, the first sequel is an audition for other Avatar sequels – slated to open every December through 2028 – one of which has already been filmed, one that has a script in place. and another with the fruit of an idea. Cameron doesn’t just need you to be invested in Avatar: The Way of Water today. He has to sell you the grand plan he’s been cooking up for over a decade. But all of that is pointless if this new chapter doesn’t work out. (This is where the business aspects come in more, with Cameron attempting to hedge ahead of release, noting that he’s ready to end on the trilogy mark if the new movie underperforms.)

For better or for worse, Avatar: The Way of Water is modeled after its predecessor. It is structurally built like the original, with heavy initial exposure, followed by immersion in a new culture, leading to a major confrontation between humanity and the natives of Pandora. The finale is better than all that came before. There are even callbacks to the first movie, not that anyone will spot them given the huge time gap and Avatarlack of re-watchability. And the sequel’s visuals are paramount, with Cameron apparently pouring more VFX money into certain scenes than the entire Bollywood film budget. Avatar: The Way of Water is a fascinating dive into alien waters, where every aspect of the new world shines gloriously.

Everything you need to know about Avatar: The Way of the Water

But Avatar: The Way of Water also shares some of the original’s problems. The story is paper-thin, the dialogue clunky and cringe-worthy, the background score utterly forgettable, and the character development downright laughable. Cameron paints so broadly with his themes that one wonders if he is trying to make an overall point or if he lacks the skills to be specific. (He is credited on the script alongside Rise of the Planet of the Apes duo Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver. Two other scribes contributed to the story alongside Jaffa, Silver and Cameron.) In addition to all of this, the return Avatar director – known for his fascination with cinematic technology – has made a choice that threatens to undermine everything.

For reasons I don’t understand, Cameron decided to show Avatar: The Way of Water at varying frame rates: 24 fps standard and 48 fps high frame rate. Most dialogue scenes use the former, while the action is rendered entirely in the latter. Sometimes though, the Avatar sequel switches between the two on the fly, in the same scene, in what is both unnecessary and jarring. The best way I’ve found to describe it is a low-budget computer struggling with a new-age video game, and thus dropping frames to maintain fidelity. Cameron thinks this solves the HFR problem, but I’m not convinced.

A decade after the events of Avatar, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) are raising four children: eldest Neteyam (Jamie Flatters), second son Lo’ak (Britain Dalton), adopted Kiri (Sigourney Weaver) and youngest Tuk (Trinity Jo-Li Bliss). A fifth, a human boy Spider (Jack Champion), is also part of the group. But their family happiness is shattered when the “Sky People” return and establish a massive new base of operations in record time. With Jake and Co. being a constant pain in the background for humans, Commander-in-Charge General Ardmore (Edie Falco) resurrects evil old Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang) and company from the dead, putting their memories into avatar bodies. .

Cirkus to Avatar: The Way of the Water, the Biggest Movies of December

Kate Winslet as Ronal, Cliff Curtis as Tonowari – both of the Metkayina clan – in Avatar: The Way of Water
Photo credit: Disney/20th Century Studios

Realizing he and his family have a target on their backs, Jake decides they must leave their adopted forest home and seek refuge with the Metkayina, the Reef Clan, near a cluster of islands. Everyone and everything associated with Omaticaya, the forest clan, is rejected except for Neytiri. It’s a smart reset in some ways, as both protagonists and audience are thrust into a new world. For nearly 45 minutes or so after the Sullys arrive in the waters, Avatar: The Way of Water becomes a mix of exposition, ocean wonder, and characters adjusting to their new surroundings. It’s the longest second arc of its kind I’ve seen in a blockbuster movie in years – even if that’s partly because Cameron has no real plot to offer.

Along the way, Avatar: The Way of Water tries to navigate what the sequel wants to be. Cameron noted that he wrote the script for the first Avatar in 1995 when he was barely a father. Having started the second Avatar in 2012, as the father of several teenagers, he incorporated more of the family into the story. But intentions do not guarantee results. Cameron’s views on family are traditional and his exploration of it is superficial. His depiction of teenagers is not unique: they rebel, bicker and get into trouble. Heck, they get kidnapped so often that the movie ends up leaning into self-referential humor. (That said, the movie isn’t all that funny. It’s more interested in wowing you and pushing your emotional buttons.)

Cameron’s attempts at commentary are more successful. With the first film, the Avatar the writer-director was making a film about Iraq and Afghanistan after 9/11 in some ways – in addition to being inspired by a thousand other things, from Pocahontas to Princess Mononoke, and from cyberpunk literature to Hindu gods. Avatar: The Way of the Water does not rely on American interventionism, whether it is the failed 20-year occupation of Afghanistan by the United States, the failure of efforts to nation-building during the Bush and Obama years, or the disastrous withdrawal under the Biden administration.

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A tulkun, a whale-like sea creature, in Avatar: The Way of Water
Photo credit: Disney/20th Century Studios

closest to new Avatar The film comes to make every meaningful comment regarding humanity’s attitude towards other life forms. (In Avatar: The Way of the Water, Earth is said to be desolate, with humanity in need of a new home.) We hunted species after species to near extinction – some were lost to for good – and while conservation efforts have produced results in recent years, scientists are warning that we are in for a sixth mass extinction caused by human activity. And Cameron sketches our inhumane practices on an IMAX canvas, with a long, heartbreaking scene depicting the murder of a highly intelligent marine mammal.

Cameron spends so much time with these Pandora creatures that one of them becomes the “hero” of the tumultuous – albeit repetitive in places – third act of Avatar: The Way of Water. It was the first time in a movie theater that I had heard an audience applaud the chops of action and intelligence of a sea creature on the battlefield. (Take that, Aquaman.) This crowning is part of the new Avatar the best stretch of the film, as it moves quickly and seamlessly between surfaces, displaying a fluidity and understanding of choreography that was sorely lacking in the oceanic climax of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. During parts of this home stretch, Cameron’s technological embrace meets its Terminator 2 climax, overwhelming you in a way that’s almost enough to push you past the film’s flaws.

In those moments, the 48fps HFR presentation works in Avatar: The Way of Water’s favor. But while the quality of visual effects has come a long way since the days of Avatar – the original hasn’t aged well and looking at the film today a lot of things seem wrong – problems exist. It’s virtually impossible to tell what’s real and what’s fake about Cameron’s surroundings. The whole film looks like CGI, whether it’s the sky, the water, the creatures, the warships, and even the characters (whose performances rely on motion capture).

Sure, it could technically be a live-action movie, but it’s more like The Lion King to restart. Except it was rendered as a movie (24fps). Avatar: The Way of Water is closer to a new-age PS5 game, as I’m only used to seeing such smooth visuals in said medium. And that feeling that you’re watching 192 minutes of video game cutscenes is heightened by the constant frame rate switching and Russell Carpenter’s cinematography (which uses instant zooms). Avatar: The Way of Water is therefore, in some ways, the biggest and most expensive “video game movie” in the world.

And we might see three more like that – all with Jake Sully versus Colonel Quaritch. Oh, Eva.

Avatar: The Way of the Water releases Friday, December 16 worldwide. In India, the second Avatar movie is available in English, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada.


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