Avatar: The Way of Water
Scott Hardie: “It was ok.”
This review contains spoilers. Reveal it.
If I were to judge this movie solely on how good it looks, it would be the film of the year, hands down. An enormous amount of money has been lavished on making this fantasy look photo-realistic, with countless jaw-dropping images that could only have been created after a decade of work on the technology to make them possible. And on top of that, James Cameron has always possessed an exceptional visual flair for action scenes. The big action finale possesses so much dynamism, originality, and intensity that you are reminded just how generic other blockbusters have become.
Unfortunately, even if the visuals are worth the time and money it took to create them, the rest of the movie is not. The story fans out into several more subplots than the original Avatar but each of them feels just as formulaic. The dialogue was written with a tin ear and is far too burdened with exposition; the characters never once seem to have a conversation about anything other than the plot at hand or setup for future sequels. And worst of all, the villains are both intensely repellent and one-note; your heart sinks every time they appear because the movie is so clearly not interested in developing them beyond basic archetypes who do monstrously cruel things to get us to root against them. Thirteen years and a billion dollars, and this was the best that they could write? (Actually, the high budget may have made the story worse. This movie was so expensive to produce -- think on the order of inventing motion-capture again from scratch -- that it forced the development of additional sequels to recoup its cost. And those sequels mean that little of consequence can happen to the characters here, and that some of their subplots go unresolved.)
The villains aren't the only thing that Cameron seems to care little about. The opening and closing of the movie are rushed compared to the luxurious middle act, in which the characters learn to live underwater. Cameron has now spent so many movies going into the ocean (sometimes literally) that it's safe to call the subject his personal obsession, and it's in this superior passage that The Way of Water develops a kind of reverie. Some of it is far-fetched, like the quick friendship between a whale-like creature and one of the Na'vi, but all of it is breathtakingly beautiful and a joy to watch. I wish that the film had ditched the awful villains and their boring story and instead focused entirely on this material, but alas, it has a frustrating tendency to keep shooting itself in its very expensive foot.This review contains spoilers. Reveal it.
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