Avatar: The Way of Water

Insipid Sequel

By Sara Danial | February 2023

Exciting and intriguing were the describing words when Avatar, a 2009 epic science-fiction film directed and produced by James Cameron, hit the cinema screens across the world. However, none of these words can come close to the 3-hour odyssey of James Cameron’s blockbuster sequel Avatar: The Way of Water. The long-awaited, rather dreaded sequel is nothing short of a disappointment. Truly tech-driven, yet humourless slow-motion picture, it is one of the highest grossing films of all time. So one can easily imagine the viewers’ frustration when they find the film building upon major qualms, with an extremely patience-testing dirge that is excruciatingly longer and more ineptly scripted than the last one.

The characters were haphazardly and awkwardly developed with rather underwhelming action scenes. In the water. Literally.

In the far-off world, Pandora, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) went native to raise a family with Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña), to morph into the inhabitant and populate his alien avatar (watch the previous film). When people from the sky, belonging to the Earth, start a battle, the foresters are forced to escape their homelands and find a residence with the water tribes. Of course, they must let go of their tree-hugging ways of life, and adapt to the lifestyle of the reef, whose populace possesses thicker tails and are turquoise-colored.

The Metkayina tribe is led by Tonowari (Cliff Curtis) and his partner, Ronal (Kate Winslet). The couple’s kids don’t get along with the Sully lot. The banter between the two led one to believe that one was watching a teen-film-style internecine bickering with predictable bromance bonding.

The turquoise heroes learn to ride amphibious skimwings (imagine How to Train Your Dragon as retold by the writers of Star Trek and Stingray). They try their hand at the language of the ocean. They attempt to befriend an injured, whale-like creature (think Free Willy in space), who subsequently plays an integral role in the film’s emotional baggage handling. If you haven’t left the theatre already, you will find subliminal underlying insipid anti-imperial/anti-colonial/eco-friendly representation. Some thrilling moments only find an exciting spot when the characters shout “Woohoo!” like the young Anakin shouted “Yippee!” in Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace.

Tragically, the inhabitants of Pandora were maladroitly crafted, with wide-eyed, earthly wonder intermingled with fairytale heroism. We also find a wild human child, who speaks normally and growls occasionally. Its presence is not only annoying, but it reminds one about a fictional character Mowgli in Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Jungle Book’ stories. While the watery wobbling does not keep you hooked and the sky people come calling, leading to an action-packed showdown, the film has little to offer.

With collapsing metal structures and the marine world overturned (a lot like the second half of Titanic), the only element that allows you to immerse in is the harsh realities of the Chinese theatrical marketplace, where spectacular stereoscopy still rules the roost.

So with only a handful of notable exceptions, such as Creature From the Black Lagoon, Flesh for Frankenstein, and Gravity, I believe 3D has done little to “enhance” cinematic experience. However, when the financial stakes are elevated, such as in The Way of Water with reportedly around $2bn, it simply did not make business sense for Cameron to abandon a gimmick for which he has become an ambassador.

With everything that gave the first Avatar the illusion of gravitas, it is difficult to not look through how much Cameron toys with action sequences, peppered with rough physicality that play in parallel to the floaty computer-game visuals of the rest of the film. In the face of it all, let’s hope that things will improve over the course of subsequent films (two more sequels are already in progress). With the same trajectory, I doubt it.