By George Bate and Josh Reilly B.
The sequel to the highest grossing film of all time finally hits theaters after 13 years have passed since the original, and many questions linger. Do audiences actually want an Avatar sequel? Will Avatar 2 have the appeal of the first film that brought so many people to movie theaters? Is Avatar the next Star Wars or Marvel for Disney? Does Avatar have the emotional substance to accompany its impressive visuals? Well, Avatar: The Way of Water manages to answer these questions and more, and the answers are far from straightforward.
Avatar: The Way of Water picks up with Sam Worthington’s Jake Sully and Zoe Saldaña’s Neytiri, who have started a family on Pandora and are living happily. This peace is disrupted, however, when human military forces, led by Stephen Lang’s Colonel Quaritch, return to Pandora to subdue the native Na’vi people and colonize their planet.
The lasting cultural impact of Avatar is an interesting topic, one that could encompass an entire article or more unto itself. Regardless of one’s stance on the film, Avatar was objectively successful, grossing nearly $3 billion worldwide, and proved groundbreaking with its state of the art visual effects and technological advancements. Avatar: The Way of Water now makes its way into theaters 13 years later, with an entirely different film industry at play. Ultimately, is Avatar: The Way of Water successful in the vein of its predecessor? Sort of.
Without a doubt, Avatar: The Way of Water is a beautiful film from start to finish. The visual effects on display are incredible to say the least, and are made even better if viewed in IMAX. Unfortunately though, the film simply doesn’t come together. Think of a new dish by a world renowned, elitist chef. The dish is undoubtedly beautiful and visionary in its novelty, but is it enjoyable? Yes, it’s impressive, but enjoyable? Not really. That’s the experience watching Avatar: The Way of Water. At a grueling 3 hours and 12 minutes, the film presents hollow visual after hollow visual with little emotional substance to offer. Viewing Cameron’s film feels akin to watching prolonged cutscenes of a video game with great graphics that ultimately isn’t all that fun to play. All this conveys a central point, which is that technological advancement is not solely sufficient for an enjoyable movie going experience. There needs to be more.
And does Avatar: The Way of Water have more? Again, not really. The narrative that unfolds is frustratingly simple and, especially given some recent comments by director James Cameron, questionable to say the least. The family at the core of this film is largely difficult to care for, with the exception of a few of Jake and Neytiri’s children. With the emotional bandwidth of a lesser Fast & Furious or Marvel Cinematic Universe installment, Avatar: The Way of Water fundamentally lacks the emotional substance and intimacy that other sprawling, sci-fi epics have in abundance. Again, think of a visually stunning, yet unenjoyable video game. Or, an objectively impressive novel dish that ultimately doesn’t taste that great.
And, even more frustratingly so, the film painfully overstays its welcome. The final battle alone encompasses well over an hour and will undoubtedly have some audience members counting the minutes on their watches from time to time. What could’ve been a film that stamped Avatar’s authority as a big hitting franchise is instead a bland, boring theme park ride.
Avatar: The Way of Water makes technological strides like few films do, but these advancements are not enough to foster an enjoyable, enthralling movie going experience. An emotionally hollow narrative and under-developed characters fail to compensate for 3 hours and 12 minutes of video game cutscene-like visuals. Simply put, the impact of seeing Avatar in a theater in 2009 is not replicated with its sequel. Yes, people will buy tickets to see the return to Pandora. But will it be an enjoyable experience?