It was 13 years ago that James Cameron, still riding high on the success of the terrible Titanic, broke his own records with the surprisingly dull Avatar, a movie which can be explained quite simply as two hours of tree hugging and the final act where they blew up the trees! I wasn’t holding my breath for the long-awaited sequel, Avatar: The Way of Water. Then, entering the IMAX for a three-hour assault on the senses, my expectations were low. And they weren’t disappointed, for a while, the new film may be lovely to look at, that’s about it as the plot is wafer-thin and it could easily be called James Cameron’s Greatest Hits!
Years after events from Avatar, Jake Sully has embraced life on Pandora. He has a family and has become a leader of the Na’vi race. All is good until the humans return to colonise the planet on their own. Leading the attack is Quaritch, Sully’s former marine commander, now a Na’vi himself. Fearing his presence will lead to the destruction of the Na’vi, Jake and his family head off from the forest to find refuge in the water world, where they have to form a new life and understand the way of water. That is until Quaritch, wanting revenge, hunts Sully down.
Let me get the positives out of the way. It does look spectacular. The design is bright, colourful and mystical. This is a film where the computer-generated world does work, where the attention to detail is first-rate. Moving from the forests to the water gives the design a completely different approach, and the lush sea scenes are beautiful. I do dop my cap on the overall look of the film. However, if I wanted to look at a thing of beauty, I’d go to an art gallery. What I want from a movie is to be emotionally involved, mainly if I invest 3 hours plus.
The plot is lumbering. Nothing pushes the story on. We start as if the previous film happened just last year without reminding us what happened in Avatar. The characters from the first film have been extended as Sully and his bride, Neytiri, now have a family, including two males, a young girl and another girl who, for some unexplained reason, seems to be adopted and is the daughter of a dead scientist, Dr Grace Augustine. We also get a human boy called Spider, who has attached himself to Sully’s clan. We get the awkward second son who wants to fight like his dad but gets everyone into trouble, and the adopted daughter who seems to have telepathic powers with sea creatures.
Nothing is explained clearly in this film. The characters who died in the previous film are back; Quaritch, who wants Sully to kill him, is now a Na’vi avatar himself. When the clan arrives in the watery world, there is a rivalry between the children, which goes on forever until the second son, Lo’ak, befriends an injured whale and then goes from being unable to understand the creature to speaking fluent whale-ish!
We get nothing of great excitement for over two hours until Sully and his family are discovered. We get Cameron’s love of technological design, with large whaling ships and submarines with hands and legs. At this point, we have the long-awaited action sequence where Cameron takes a piece from each of his previous movies and throws them into an explosive finale. We get the technology from Aliens, the underwater spectacle of The Abyss, the furnace finale of Terminator 2, and the sinking of a ship from Titanic (with The Poseidon Adventure thrown in for good measure). Thinking about it, he even blows up a bridge early in the movie (al la True Lies!). Then we get the most stupid character decision to carry on the story in Avatar 3, 4 and 5! Plus, what happened to everyone? The whole of the water people, who started off the fight, seems to just disappear once the ship begins to sink.
All this is played without any character arcs, development or tonal changes. Hindered even more by Cameron’s lack of producing good dialogue and a hefty slice of environmental fist-shaking. We’ve seen the teenage child who wants to be like dad a hundred times and in far better films. We’ve seen the outsider torn between his real family and the family that has cared for him. We’ve even seen this film before, and it was called Avatar! It is the same movie set in a different location.
The performances are difficult to comment on as they are all the same. Flat, intense and sometimes incomprehensible. Kate Winslett appears, but it’s hard to distinguish her from anyone else. She is wasted as the queen of the waterland and is given nothing to do. Winslett is one of this country’s finest actresses, and it angers me to see her with nothing to do.
I tried to get on board but failed. Avatar: The Way of Water is a bore. Three hours I will never get back again. If you want to see pretty colours, look inside a bag of Skittles. Otherwise, there are plenty of other films you can see that you will get so much more from in a much shorter time.
2 out of 5
Director: James Cameron
Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Salanda, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Kate Winslett, Cliff Curtis, Joel David Moore, CCH Pounder, Edie Falco, Brendan Cowell, Jermaine Clement
Written by: (also story) James Cameron, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, (story) Josh Friedman and Shane Salerno
Running Time: 192 mins
Release date: 16th December 2022