So, as cineplexes prepare to deck their halls with acts of folly and seasonal cash-ins along comes a monster long-in-the-waiting: Avatar: The Way of Water.
Back from a time when wearing dark glasses in a cinema was meant to usher in a new cinematic age, the first and only decent exponent of 3D MkII, Avatar, has finally gotten the sequel everyone’s been hungering for – but is it any good? Well, the first thing to say is that it’s a flagrant mix of new and old. The CGI effects in Avatar: The Way of Water are even more lustrous and detailed than they were in 2009. As a spectacle, it’s another beautiful-looking film without obvious peer or rival.
… it’s another beautiful-looking film without obvious peer or rival.
After a hasty preamble at the beginning that sets both the scene and covers what’s been going on Pandora in the intervening years, director James Cameron’s latest speeds off into break-neck storytelling mode. Sam Worthington’s Jake and Zoe Saldana’s Neytiri have had several kids, two boys and a girl, and have also adopted Sigourney Weaver’s mystery child, Kiri, who seems to possess unknown powers. However, much more pressing than this is the return of Stephen Lang as the formerly-deceased Colonel Miles Quaritch. Re-animated and inserted into a Na’vi body he has one simple mission – to kill Jake Scully and fast-track Earth’s invasion of Pandora.
As Quaritch tries to hunt down Jake, the family retreat to the water kingdom of Metkayina whereupon the second act spends time ironing out the cultural differences between the land and water residents of Pandora. Kate Winslet as Ronal, their queen, doesn’t care much for the new forest dwellers and warns of trouble to come and she’s not wrong because a) she’s read the script and b) Stephen Lang Miles Quaritch will stop at nothing until he kills Jake. So, in short, the ships are bigger, the bangs are bangier and broad brushstrokes (when it comes to its characters) have been duly dunked with paint.
Mind you, tipping the scales at just over three hours, this isn’t as deep a story as the original Avatar. The premise is simple. The big bad is coming and there’s going to be a huge fight coming afterwards too. However, that’s not the real emphasis of this film or even Avatar for that matter. You see, James Cameron is a passionate conservationist and seen through the lens of his earlier movies like The Abyss, the motif here is just the same – mother nature has a message for us if we’d only just stop and listen. With this in mind, there’s a decent subplot involving Jake’s wayward youngest Lo’ak (played by Britain Dalton) befriending a whale-like creature who’s been ostracised from his clan. However, when we learn that his kind is being hunted down by the humans using big, shiny harpoons on the prows of boats, the metaphor of Pandora being like Earth becomes a bit wafer-thin.
That said, if there is an overt ecological message here, it has been wrapped in the most impressive special effects that money can buy. As Cameron takes us underwater, the aquatic diversity of marine life, as seen in 3D IMAX, is pretty mind-blowing. Yet, if there is a concern here then it is in a handful of scenes which look more like computer-game cut-scenes. And that’s a legitimate concern for the movie if not the franchise moving onward. This is because when Avatar came out 23 years ago, there was nothing that even remotely looked like it. Now, with the advent of computer games and regular offerings from the likes of Marvel, that gap doesn’t feel so wide. Don’t get me wrong, Pandora still has to look like Pandora for visual continuity’s sake but then, in expanding the medium, this isn’t Citizen Kane part 2 either. If the first Avatar film was an introduction to Pandora, then Avatar: The Way of Water is a straight-up war movie set in Pandora, albeit in a different location.
If you loved Avatar then you’re going to love this. If you liked Avatar then you’re going to like this but if you’re [somehow] new to Avatar, then you really need to start over because this one’s been purpose-built to be the second act for the next movie to come. Think The Towers before we get to Return of The King and whatever else the fourth Avatar movie might give us.