Poffy The Cucumber

The Way of Resting On Laurels, Bro.

James Cameron’s AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER, like its predecessor, AVATAR (2009), will leave you agape at the superbly realized world it envelops you in; will leave you stunned at the scintillating imagination running wild on the silver screen, and yet will have you scratching your head at the lazy screenwriting and banal dialogue, bro.

When AVATAR was released, the parable about Jake Sully the human (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri the Na’vi (Zoe Saldana) meeting cute in 10-foot tall, blue-skinned, frazzle-tailed harmony on the numinous alien moon Pandora was such a wondrous cinematic cultural shift, that we let slide the unoriginal story, bad acting, cheap exposition, and cliché plot points. This sequel is made with much less wonder, much less inspiration, and much more cash. Yet all the cash in the world does not make up for much less story. There’s a helluva lot of copying-and-pasting going on from AVATAR…. Oh, and James: 1996 called and said to dial it down with the teen slang, bro.

Still, the worst offense/conceit of this movie is writer-director Cameron (and screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silva) shamelessly using the SAME VILLAIN from the last movie – even though he died. Over a decade in pre-production and they couldn’t come up with a new bad guy?! Instead, vomiting out a clunky backstory of Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang) having transferred his consciousness into an avatar, a move that reeks of doing your homework on the day it’s meant to be handed in.

When you can’t think of a good villain, just re-use the dead one.

And blue Quaritch still has a hardon for ex-marine Jake, who has committed to Pandora, and is fully avatar now, with Neytiri by his side and a clutch of half-breed kids—[record scratch]—immediately a thousand questions: Didn’t Jake have to mind-link to his avatar from his human body? How is he totally inside his Na’vi catboy now? Did that Eywa mother-tree do this? And why is Quaritch pursuing him? Jake led the resistance during the first movie, but now he has fled to the Sea People and is zero threat to military ops. Even if Quaritch just wants revenge for Jake killing Quaritch’s human body, aren’t Quaritch’s superiors aware of the resources he is squandering chasing an enemy that isn’t active anymore? How is this even the plot? As Drax might say, “WHY is this plot?”

Sigourney Weaver: spent her life fighting aliens. Now – IS one.

I thought maybe the character journeys might provide some substance, but Jake’s journey is a simple realization that his younger son Lo’ak (Britain Dalton) has become a man (the most touching moment in the film is when Jake acknowledges his son as a warrior like him, but through a more compassionate trajectory: “I see you”); Lo’ak’s journey to manhood sees him do what he believes his warrior father would do, and yet gets his older brother Neteyam killed (Jamie Flatters); enigmatic eldest girl Kiri (voiced by Sigourney Weaver) grows to embrace her powerful link to the mother-tree; Jake’s adopted human child Spider (Jack Champion) learns his father is Quaritch, and goes through a strange Manchurian period where he is captured and sympathetically groomed by Quaritch – which ultimately doesn’t lead to anything interesting, except for Spider surreptitiously rescuing Quaritch from drowning when Jake leaves him to die, thereby guaranteeing a boring return of Quaritch in the next film.

Quaritch himself almost arcs to being a father-figure for Spider (but it’s a very, uh, watery payoff), and both Jake and Neytiri seem like afterthoughts, shunted to the background while their kids create all the conflicts in the story by disobeying their parents at every turn.

AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER is made to flex muscles no filmmaker needs, to tell a story every filmmaker has told. Can I have a little plot to go with my advertisement for a special effects suite of tools?

Cameron goes through the same beats he did in AVATAR, but this time, the focus is on Jake’s kids discovering a brave new world: “If you want to live among us – you have to ride these things and connect your ponytail and learn the ropes and–” It’s a fish-out-of-water tale again – IN WATER. And now the romance beat is Jake’s son Lo’ak having a tween Way of Wetness with the Sea Chief’s daughter (voiced by Bailey Bass – coincidence that she’s named after a fish?!).

Edie Falco is General Hardass, with the new mission: “Earth is dying – tame this frontier, pacify the hostiles, and make Pandora the new home for humanity.” Copy that. And General, can you tell me why Colonel Quaritch wants to commandeer a gunship, 20 mech-suits and a million rounds of ammo to fly to the other side of Pandora and hunt some fugitive? Does he know that whole transferring-consciousness app cost a billion dollars? So that WE could utilize his expertise for THIS unit – not for him to run off and play Tommy Lee Jones! Get that insubordinate, wasteful asshat back here!!

Cliff Curtis and Kate Winslet are the chief and wife of the Sea Na’vi, with Maori-like markings on them, with Maori Curtis breaking out the haka war dance with his troops at one point! (The detail of the Sea Na’vi having evolved flattened tails and forearms is a nice touch.)

In the last film, the unobtainable substance was called unobtainium (again, the balls on Cameron to just smash this idiocy in our faces); here, the unobtainable substance is amrita (no idiotic etymology this time?), harvested from the brains of Pandora’s “whales.” Brendan Cowell is the whaler and CONCHORD Jemaine Clement is his reluctant adjutant – very cool in this empathetic role, but I’m wondering what the hell accent he’s trying to do. (And WHY is this sub-plot?)

THE WAY OF WATER lacks for nothing in visual hedonism – James Cameron has won another victory with his cutting-edge tech and special effects mavens, and Cameron knows how to stir our base limbic instincts with notions of good and evil, displaying them simply and purely; there’s even a little tribute to his greatest triumph – TITANIC – as the giant crashed gunship fills with water and tilts sideways with our heroes trapped in it… but the devil’s in the details: I wonder how Jake has all his military tech still operative; where is he plugging in to recharge all his comm batteries and cameras on a moon with no electrical grid? And how much stolen ammo do his human friends supply on the down-low? I mean, he’s got machine guns, bazookas, unending rounds…

Oh, fishy fishy fishy fish! And it went… wherever I… did go…

And the biggest flaw of all in this wannabe epic battle movie: Why did all the Sea Na’vi disappear during the final battle? Jake is with Sea Chief and his tribe as they face down Quaritch’s gunship. Then they all charge. Then we find ourselves exclusively following the fates of Jake and Neytiri as they rescue their kids from Quaritch and his military avatars – but there is no background battle to be seen between the military and sea people. They just – disappear! I thought there would come a moment where the enemy has the hero dead to rights – no way out – and from offscreen comes the Sea Chief’s spear. Nope. No cutaways, no mentions. Nothing.

WHY is this plot?

Then we see Jake burying his eldest boy at the Sea Na’vi graveyard, as a casualty of war, while the Sea tribe all watch – waitaminute! – Jake’s son was the only casualty in the battle? Didn’t any Sea people die valiantly defending their homeland? Did they all just bugger off home when they figured it would take too long to render them in the background if they wanted a release date for Christmas?

Jake ends the film stating: “This is where we make our stand,” and, like the end of the last film, in closeup, his eyes open. But… has the AVATAR series devolved to The Jake vs. Quaritch Show? This time it was Sea Na’vi. In III, is Jake going to flee to the Desert Na’vi, and kill Quaritch there, only to have him resurrected again from an endless supply of clones? And in IV, do we meet the Plains Na’vi? With Quaritch once again killed and surviving for no reason? And in V, does Jake lead Quaritch on a wacky cat and mouse game with the Nakatomi Tower Na’vi?

Yippee ki-yay, bro!



Avatar_titleAVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER (Dec 2022) | PG-13
Director: James Cameron.
Writers: James Cameron, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Josh Friedman, Shane Salerno.
Music: Simon Franglen.
Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Kate Winslet, Cliff Curtis, Joel David Moore, CCH Pounder, Edie Falco, Brendan Cowell, Jemaine Clement, Jamie Flatters, Britain Dalton, Trinity Jo-Li Bliss, Jack Champion, Bailey Bass, Filip Geljo, Duane Evans Jr., Giovanni Ribisi, Dileep Rao.
RATINGS-06 imdb
Word Count: 1,460      No. 1.619
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