- Run Time: 3 hours 12 minutes
- Studio: 20th Century Studios
- Director: James Cameron
- Where to Watch: In Theaters
A decade has passed since the human colonization effort was expelled from Pandora by Jake Sully, a human turned Na’vi, and the native clans. In that time, Jake and Neytiri have started a family and are living happily in the forest with their clan. But it appears that their sacrifices for peace were not enough. The humans have sent a second wave of colonists back to Pandora with more vicious demands. Jake begins to train the clans and lead skirmishes against humanity to keep their advances at a minimum. But when an old enemy returns, Jake and Neytiri must flee their home to keep their friends and family safe. They seek sanctuary amongst the sea clans, but it is soon apparent that the Sully family cannot ignore the conflict.
As I mentioned in my Avatar review last week, I had never seen the original in theaters and made it clear I didn’t have a ton of hype surrounding this release. It still earned an 80/100 from me, which is pretty good. That said, I’m a still a decent fan of director James Cameron. His work on Terminator and Aliens are some of the best contributions to sci-fi in the past 40 years. Avatar was such an interesting cultural phenomenon and the months and weeks leading up to the release of Way of Water have been filled with hot takes and ballsy statements from Cameron himself. But it’s finally out and the internet has been set ablaze with Avatar fever.
Most of the original cast members have returned for the second go-round on Pandora. Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña, and Stephen Lang all return to their original characters with varying degrees of success. Sigourney Weaver is back as well, but she’s playing a different character (Jake and Neytiri’s adopted daughter) with an interesting mystery surrounding her origins. Worthington and Saldaña have the same level of chemistry that they had in Avatar and seemed to slip back into the roles seamlessly. I liked their performances better this time around because it wasn’t all set up and tear down of their relationship. They’re united as a couple and parents and they behaved like it. Lang returns as Quaritch but in a slightly different form. He’s a much more robust villain this time around and I like where his story is going. Weaver’s new character, Kiri, is an enigma and I’m curious to see what Cameron has in store for her. I do think it’s a little weird to have a 73 year old woman playing a de-aged teenager, but maybe there are some time jumps in store that will make it less weird and we just have to start somewhere.
Joining the cast are some new faces including Kate Winslet, Cliff Curtis, James Flatters, Trinity Jo-Li Bliss, Britain Dalton, and Jack Champion. Winslet and Curtis play the clan leader couple of Ronal and Tonowari. Together they make quite the power couple and are perfect for their roles. They want to help others, but not at the expense of their clan members. They’re largely relegated to moments of conflict and don’t have much screen time without the main characters but they do impact the story significantly when given the chance.
Flatters (Neteyam), Bliss (Tuk), and Dalton (Lo’ak) play the rest of Jake and Neytiri’s Na’vi children. Everybody played their heart out and were very relatable as they were all spread out across different ages. Watching them fight, argue, but also support each other was like watching a real family with interesting and familiar dynamics. It’s not an easy feat and it all starts with great casting and direction from Cameron.
Now we get to Jack Champion as Spider. He’s a human child left behind from when the Na’vi beat the humans the first time. The explanation given was that the humans who stayed on Pandora weren’t able to send an infant back to Earth in cryo-sleep. Spider grew up on Pandora, assumed their cultural identity, and befriended some of the Sully children. Champion is fine as far as the performance goes. But the character is unnecessary. He’s written as this annoying kid that just gets in the way and makes a lot of poor choices just to try and fit in. It’s an archetypal role that didn’t really need to be part of this story. He existed to push the second movie into the third with one of his decisions and he just doesn’t work for me. The main characters even abandon him at one point and couldn’t care less about him. I couldn’t care less about him. The character is one of the biggest flaws in this movie, but the performance by Champion was fine.
Now it’s time to talk turkey. The visuals of Pandora look better than ever. There were so many jaw dropping moments that just dazzled everybody in my theater. Everything on screen looked polished and meticulously crafted. The motion capture and CGI was so absurdly good that it makes everything Marvel has done in phase 4 look like it was made of modeling clay. What Cameron was able to accomplish with his new Venice cameras and motion capture technology is nothing short of transcendental for the industr.
I didn’t bother with IMAX or 3D, just went to a normal screening. Either my theater is so old that they couldn’t show the movie in VFR or I’m not as detailed oriented as I thought because I didn’t notice anything out of place. Your mileage may vary. That said, I was checking my watch at about the 2.5 hour mark waiting for it to be over. It does get a little long in the tooth and no amount of impressive motion capture can change that. While Cameron indulged his ego (rightfully so) on the visuals, he needs to sit back down with some writers and reign this beast of a franchise back into 3 hours or less. I love long movies, but it can’t all be just visual showcases. Modern audiences need a really engaging story to keep them vested or interest in subsequent sequels may drop off due to fatigue.
I saw this movie at a 9:40 PM showing on the Thursday night pre-release in my theater. I didn’t get home until 1:30 in the morning and since then, I’ve been thinking about this movie non-stop. Initially, I was not overly enthusiastic about it. But as I’ve let it sit over the weekend, I’ve been warming up to it. The story is overly derivative (again) with clunky plot devices, character choices, and awkward dialogue. But the in between moments with the Sully family fighting then rallying around each other and the insane visual feast on display really won me over. It’s improved over the original in every way possible. There are a few other flaws that get in the way of it being perfect, but I think that in spite of his overly confident remarks, James Cameron did what he set out to do and made me give a shit about his movie.