Avatar: The Way of Water

Avatar: The Way of Water ★½

Bro they don’t even know about the balance or the way of water, bro. Baby girl I’m just trying to protect my unit. You’re my baby girl. 

I probably got myself too hyped up for this and this is with the caveat that I did not see this in 3D or HFR. I saw it at a work event where my office took us to a 2D screening in a theater with a probably less than optimal projector and a tear on the screen. So I did not see what everyone else is seeing when it comes to the beauty of the movie and the lush visuals. 

So, as I was watching it at first I was thinking I would need to go see it again in a different format, the way my everyone else is experiencing it. But after sitting in this world for over 3 hours, I’m good. I don’t need to come back. The story, writing, and acting are all either awful from the get go or muddled by less than lousy dialogue and the mocap elements. I couldn’t tell any male Na’vi apart and can not tell you still who Kate Winslet played. Zoe Saldana, a real stand out in the first one from my memory, is reduced to a complete nothing alongside Jake Sully. Jake was always bland but his wonder and amazement at the world of Pandora and being able to walk again made it much easier to attach yourself to him. I can’t pick him out of a line up now and his status as a former human who has permanently become a Na’vi is not touched upon in any kind of meaningful way. Very early on we get a good line about when marines die they just regroup in hell, about how the nature of a Marine is unkillable. So is Jake’s story about trying to get over his military past, that even though he now has this new life and new family he still has these brutalist teachings inside of him? No it’s just about being a good dad. 

There’s a very easy and interesting story path where we get further into the idea of divorcing our minds and spirits from our bodies. Jake and the Colonel have both left their humanity behind. We never really get a sense of how they feel about this. The Coronel should be angry about this. He’s a colonizing, warmongering killer hellbent on taking the planet from these creatures for humanity. He learns they killed him and his entire outfit, all of his beloved unit had been Frankensteined into the enemy. And he’s pleased to suddenly be one against his own will? Aside from bonding with a banshee, what do they actually do with making him a Na’vi now? He just sort of increased his power level. They attempt to add nuance with his son, Spider, but this attempt is completely crippled by Stephen Lang not being able to emote through the mocap and Spider not being able to emote like a human being at all. 

The kids are all fine I suppose, but just…the writing!! They never stop saying bro. They never stop with corny-ass cornball jokes, with inauthentic ribbing of each other, with just the most basic and played out characterizations of plucky teenagers. I get that I would have enjoyed this more if I was seeing it how it was meant to, but good visuals would not have excused the extreme lack of interest I had in anything happening here. Sigourney Weaver’s character is fine but again something about the writing was so basic to me I never felt moved by it. 

I enjoyed the first movie a lot when I saw it in 2009, and though I hadn’t seen again in full since theaters my thoughts on it remained fairly positive even as I started seeing the backlash and the criticisms. I’ve read criticisms of the way Cameron utilizes native imagery and culture, but hey, at the very least it’s all an anti-colonial message about how we need to protect the environment and nature and all that good stuff, right? Something about the excess of indigenous fashion and culture that this film was using started to wear on me. The Na’vi stopped feeling alien when you spend so much time with them in this movie and started to come off to me as just people playing Indigenous. In the first film, and I could be wrong, they were primarily played by Native and non-white actors. That’s not the case anymore and I’m not decrying or condemning the movie for this, just I dunno, starting to get a tad uncomfortable with the nature of the entire thing. It’s a weird territory that Cameron is playing around in. 

13 years in development and this is the script they went with. I guess we’re sea people now.

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