The Movie Guru: ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ a visually stunning retread of the original
Grade: One and a half stars
If the visuals were all that mattered in a movie, “Avatar: The Way of Water” would win all the awards.
Even if you’re not up on all the technical marvels James Cameron and his team used, it’s easy to see even from the first few minutes that the new “Avatar” is a feast for the eyes. The forests of Pandora are even more gorgeous than you remember, and once the characters move to the planet’s oceans the beauty only increases. There’s a depth and richness to the images I’ve never seen out of CGI, and if Cameron ever wants to do a fake nature documentary or video tour for Pandora I will be the first to buy a ticket.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a nature documentary or visual tour. This is a dramatic narrative movie, which means that Cameron also needs things like plots, character arcs, and believable continuity. Ideally, these things should at least be reasonably well done, and if there’s at least a shred of originality than so much the better. George Lucas was a fantastic visual storyteller, but he was at his best only when he had an excellent film editor (Marcia Lucas) and a whole team of people working on his scripts.
In “Avatar: The Way of Water,” Cameron has none of those things.
I won’t bother telling you too much about the plot, because it’s literally a poorly done photocopy of the original movie’s plot. They go so far as to bring back the original movie’s villain, even though he was very definitively killed at the end of the last film, in such a way that ruins some of the subtextual nuance of the original movie. Also, they invented an infant son for him that was supposedly born on Pandora at some point during the last movie, even though anyone with even a passing knowledge of that film knows that’s completely ludicrous.
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That is, sadly, not the only ridiculous narrative leap the movie makes. At least twice, a major character makes a decision that is completely nonsense given everything else we’ve seen but is necessary for the creaky machinations of the plot. Cameron was far more interested in showing us the world of the water people than he was worrying about character motivations, and if you think about any of it too hard it all collapses into a pile of duct-taped cliches. Even though the movie runs more than three hours, you can predict literally the entire plot after the first half hour.
In fact, you can probably predict huge chunks of the plot of the next few movies, which Cameron clearly still has extensive plans for. This movie is stuck with a soft, incomplete ending because he’s clearly planning on keeping the same villain alive for at least the next few films. This also means he’s probably planning on recycling the same plots as well.
If he does, I’ll just re-run this review.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.