“Avatar: The Way of Water” is the long-awaited sequel to the 2009 mega-blockbuster. This time writer/director James Cameron takes Jake Sully and his family to the land of the water people (I have no idea what they’re called), who say that the Way of Water is “forever.”
It’s trendy to call the original “Avatar” overrated, yet James Cameron still planned four sequels nonetheless. Considering that there’s been a thirteen-year-long gap between movies, Avatar 2 needed to justify its existence and Cameron’s choice to dedicate the rest of his career to Pandora. Unfortunately, the film completely fails at this. Of course, it’s gorgeous, but visual effects can only hold my attention for so long. There needs to be a solid story to support the visuals, and Cameron seemingly forgot about that. This is a film riddled with plot-holes, cringe-inducing dialogue, and, worst of all, predictability.
Before I start ranting, I want to make it clear that I don’t hate this film. In fact, I don’t even dislike it. Ultimately, it’s a fine movie that’s balanced out by its good and bad elements. But there is no excuse for this film to just be “fine.” With thirteen years to work on this and an unlimited budget, Cameron should have crafted nothing less than a masterpiece.
The first central issue here is Cameron’s self-indulgence. Why is this movie three hours long? Avatar 2 has far less plot than its predecessor but is somehow thirty minutes longer. Sully moves his new family to SeaWorld, Quaritch clone (I’ll get to that later) hunts them down, they fight, Jake’s oldest son dies, and Quaritch escapes. That’s the entire story of “Avatar: The Way of Water.” That’s it. The film should really be a clean two hours, but Cameron couldn’t allow that. I understand that he wanted to explore a new part of Pandora to promote an environmentalist message, and while I have the utmost respect for that, he still didn’t need three hours. How many shots of Na’vi swimming do we need? Must we see the exact same vistas over and over again? Does the final battle need to run on for 45 minutes? How many times must Jake Sully talk about family like he’s Vin Diesel?
To add insult to injury, there are aspects to the film that still feel underdeveloped. Jake’s eldest son gets three minutes of screentime. Unobtanium, the poorly named McGuffin from the previous film, is never mentioned. Jake and Neytiri’s marriage is never fully explored. There are no memorable action sequences. The romance that’s implied between Jake’s youngest son and the SeaWorld princess is largely forgotten. Where did all the time go? James, you had three hours!
Another continuous problem is the dialogue, which is reminiscent of the Star Wars Prequels. I don’t expect James Cameron to be Quentin Tarantino or Aaron Sorkin, but he can at least make his characters sound like actual humans. He’s so out of touch with modern dialect; the most commonly used word in this film is “bro.” Seriously, it must be said more than “the.” When the kids aren’t broing it up, the adults are spewing goofy one-liners, out-of-place macho phrases, empty platitudes, or exposition. Anyone could predict the next words out of characters’ mouths.
There’s yet another central issue reminiscent of the Star Wars Prequels: Spider, this film’s Jar-Jar Binks. Words can’t express how annoying he is, but I’ll do my best anyway. Space Tarzan is given far too much screentime in the film, to the point where he drives the plot forward. I kept asking myself why Quaritch’s team holds onto him. I understand the father-son dynamic, but when that little beast is bashing their skulls in with a fire extinguisher and ramming their boat into rocks, there must be a point when they realize he’s no use to them anymore. Why keep him if he’s going to kill all of you? Just drop him off somewhere. Also, the actor who plays him is profoundly terrible. He sounds like he’s reading all of his lines off of a teleprompter and appears to be lost half the time, as if he has no idea what movie he’s in.
Now let’s get into some plot-holes. There’s too many to list, so I’ll just discuss the three that annoyed me the most:
1) Where did this cloning process come from? Why wasn’t it mentioned in the first film? Could Quaritch have been cloned into his original human form rather than into an Avatar body? Why is the clone born over a decade after the original Quaritch was killed rather than immediately afterward?
2) Why was the space-whale-juice McGuffin never mentioned in the previous film? How does it have the ability to preserve human life forever? Does it work on all species, including the Na’vi? How come it can be sold and traded on Earth, and why for the low price of $80 million? Considering inflation and how the “Avatar” films are set 100 years into the future, $80 million would be worth millions less than it is today; the economy would’ve changed from the massive technological innovations like cloning and interstellar travel. Even if there wasn’t any inflation $80 million would be too low. Again, this shouldn’t even be a substance that could be bought. Wars across Earth, likely even across the galaxy, would be waged for eternity over this. Unobtanium would be completely irrelevant compared to immortality.
3) Where was the SeaWorld army for most of the final battle? They were present at the beginning, but where did they go when Jake’s children kept getting captured over and over again? Did they pull a Daenerys and forget about the enemy’s whereabouts? Quaritch could’ve been defeated, and the children could’ve been saved far sooner.
This leads me to another gripe: the third act. What a travesty. It was just a game of freeze tag between Quaritch and the Sully children: Oh no! They have Jake’s son. It’s okay, he’s safe now. But wait! His other son was killed. Also, his daughters were taken. But it’s alright, the Sigourney-Weaver-looking one escaped with Spider. But wait! The youngest daughter is now trapped under the boat with Neytiri. How are they going to escape this predicament? Oh no, now the boat’s falling over! What are they going to do now? It just goes on and on like this forever. It’s like the end of “Man of Steel,” droning on way past its expiration date, becoming tedious rather than entertaining.
At the time of writing this, “Avatar: The Way of Water” is about to gross $2 billion, which is just… sad. It’s obviously lightyears better than most modern blockbusters, especially the sewage pumped out by Marvel, but so what? Again, this had thirteen years. Thirteen years to craft an intelligent narrative, thirteen years to choreograph memorable action sequences, thirteen years to plan character arcs, thirteen years to expand the world of Pandora. This should’ve been one of the greatest blockbusters of the 21st century, not just some boring sci-fi adventure.
Better luck the next three times.