BLUE GRINGO II: MOBY DICK AND THE SPACE MAORI*
“Why do we need an Avatar sequel?” seems to be the question for many. Why not? The first did not close the story and it’s an ample world ready to expanded from a very successful filmmaker. So, 13 years later, James Cameron brings us the second film (out of 4 sequels) and all the buzz from 2009 has returned. I was very young back then but I still remember how big of a thing the first film was. I am going to be completely honest here and tell you that the first time I watched it was in 2011 from the halfway point, and I never watched it from start to finish until a day ago. I am not a fan of the Avatar universe. It never meant anything to me and it never absorbed me. I watched the sequel out of obligation, to support James Cameron (T2 is a masterpiece), and curiosity. And as someone who isn’t a fan of this series/world, The Way of Water was an equal experience to the first, if not slightly superior.
Avatar: The Way of Water was an unjustifiably long film that didn’t bother me - being too long - and gave me no reason to dislike it or love it. The result is an almost clean spectacle and experience that felt like a national geographic documentary about a fascinating alien world and culture within crumbs of a story about family within a structural rehashing of the first.
The 13 years of technological advancements really show and it’s incredible what they have achieved. The water simulations were incredible, even the character animation (or transfer since it’s all motion-capture). The Na’vi’s movements and facial expressions were really good and better than the first which felt slightly like a video-game. Their skin textures and the way it reacts to light and interacts with the environment (water) is brought up to incredible details and accuracy. I didn’t really like the creature designs that much but they were executed to the last minute details. Throughout the film it gets pretty clear that nothing was done haphazardly or was left unfinished; Cameron went all out to bring this universe and ecosystem to life and you sometimes forget it’s computer-generated. The technological advancements also showed in the way the film was shot, as Cameron’s camera felt more relaxed and unbound by any limits to capture the events on-screen.
The performances were good with no specific standout performance (unlike the first where Zoe Saldana carried most of the film) as the film focused on many characters instead of a central one driving the plot (Sully). I should mention that Sigourney Weaver playing a child was slightly bizarre. Kate Winslet was sadly underused.
I had a few issues with the film’s story, especially the villain whose "resurrection" wasn't convincing even though they really justified it within the film - I just did not get behind the creative choice to do so even though it helped making the villain slightly more complex instead of a flat one. The plot reminded me of the first: the first act is almost entirely set in an environment we know, second act about an outsider fitting in and discovering a new culture and environment, and the third is the climax as all plot threads come in together – I know this is vague but I do not want to spoil anything. There were many parallel between this films and its predecessor that were slightly repulsive.
The first act is a quick recap of the past 13 years and some set-ups and threat-establishments (and one of them was weirdly abandoned? can’t specify it to keep things spoiler-free). Then the setting jumps to the water tribes - a new Pandoran culture to discover and watch characters learn about it.
Discovering a new culture in the second act is the reason the film exists because if it wasn’t about discovering the culture, the runtime would’ve been 120 minutes long. The film’s likeability and enjoyment-factor hang upon whether you’re into discovering the way of the water. For almost 40% of the runtime you discover the new culture which is visually beautiful and interesting felt like a nature documentary - visuals, details, and, sadly, exposition (I’m not a nature fan, so). But the water scenes were really absorbing and gripping that they made me thirsty and crave a swim.
On a character-level, I enjoyed the more personal aspect of the story and it felt intimate on occasion. You get attached to most of the family members as each one has a different personality and dynamics with other characters.
The finale of the film was almost 40 minutes long and I found it to be better than the first’s. It was slightly stretched out with a lot of Titanic flashbacks and parallels (it was a bit annoying).
While the first film was about colonialism and invading tribal people to extract resources (and a white savior story and the political complications that come with it), this one drops this cause and goes for saving the oceans and sea animals with some interesting points being made about the people involved. Sadly, I also felt the superficial romanticizing of “mother nature” that was reeking out of the first in here too.
There were some stupid character choices at a few points in the film that were made for the plot’s sake and weren’t totally justified, and even the completion of one character’s arc.
I found the music to be an improvement over the first film.
Overall, Avatar: The Way of Water was a unique experience that was slightly over-indulgent for its own good. It was mostly fresh and different from the films being released nowadays. I’m not excited for more, but I’d certainly watch more because there is nothing like it out there, and this series doesn't seem like something assembled by an algorithm, but rather by a passionate storyteller who actually wants to make good films instead of cash-grabs and fan-baits.
Go watch it on the biggest screen possible.
*BUE GRINGO: MESSIAH is the better title for the first film