Avatar: The Way of Water
Director: James Cameron
Date Created: 2022-12-16 00:00
It doesn’t take more than 2 milliseconds after asking what my favorite movie is before I enthusiastically respond –
“Avatar – the one with the blue people.”
So you can imagine my immense excitement when I heard the long-awaited sequel was finally coming. I nearly cried in the movie theater when I unexpectedly watched the first trailer for Avatar: The Way of Water.
Avatar: The Way of Water (Avatar 2) follows Jake Sully and Neytiri as they start a new family in Pandora together. When old enemies from Earth ressurect threatening Sully's life and Pandora's safety, the Sully's must escape to a new land to seek refuge for however long it lasts.
In preparation for my first viewing of Avatar 2, I popped my contacts in to make room for my 3D glasses (a luxury I didn’t have 13 years ago as I awkwardly balanced my 3D glasses over my prescription glasses) and merrily drove through the chilly rain to the theater. However, there was a wrench in my excitement on the way – a sinking feeling caused by this question: “What if this movie doesn’t live up to my Everest expectations?”
After what felt like 5 hours and 21 minutes later, I left the theater, my doubts affirmed. Avatar 2 is disappointing.
Don’t get me wrong, I will forever admire James Cameron’s genius but this is not his best work, especially narrative-wise.
Given that the early reviews of Avatar 2 are so overwhelmingly positive, I really want to dissect what exactly it is about this highly anticipated sequel that made it fall short.
5 Reasons Why Avatar 2 Is Disappointing
1. The Bar Was Set Too High
Avatar (2009) is the highest-grossing film of all time, racking in over 2.9 billion dollars at the global box office.
It was groundbreaking in its inception, the use of 3D, and its impeccably captivating world-building. The storyline, actors, and direction were nothing short of perfection.
The novelty that Avatar (2009) brought to the film world was absolutely unheard of at that time making it the spectacle of the decade.
Avatar 2, having been in the works for the last 13 years means that there were 13 years to create a film worthy of following the world’s #1 film. Because it took so much time to make, that means there were 13 years of built anticipation, 13 years of time to perfect this craft, and 13 years to fine-tune any errors.
Yet, this film was riddled with moments that didn’t quite hit. If this film was rushed, the weak emotional impact of Avatar 2 could more easily be forgiven.
2. The Acting Is Subpar and the Characters Are One-Dimensional
All of the recurring characters are phenomenal, most especially Zoe Saldana. She has one heartbreaking scene that gave me chills due to how gutturally she delivered her emotional lines.
Other recurring actors did well although resurrecting Sigourney Weaver as the adopted teenage daughter of Jake and Neytiri was quite the stretch. There is something so incongruent about her voice and her body. The unrealisticness of it all creates such a disconnect that the believability of the character is diminished. Her face sometimes folds into the face of Weavers in a way that is jarring and makes you think – “She’s not really a teenager. She’s not really young.”
The kids are not the best actors. The most cringe of the actors is Spider (AKA Tarzan). Every time he is on the screen I feel a bit uncomfortable. Not only because he’s barely wearing any clothes but he feels like such a wannabe in more ways than one.
The two male sons of Sully’s also have some pretty inconsistent accents. It felt as though there was no consensus reached concerning what their dialect should sound like which made their speech come off as artificial.
Having such a varying range of acting chops really cheapens the quality of the film.
Going beyond the acting abilities is the character creation itself. All of the characters feel very one-dimensional. We have the responsible kid, the rebellious kid, the weird kid, the innocent kid, the bully, the fierce mother, the disapproving father, the coy love interest, the ruthless villain… There is not much nuance or depth to who each character was which makes it more difficult to become emotionally attached to them.
Where Avatar (2009) had a lot of growth, learning, change of heart, and character development, Avatar 2 had a lot of the same character traits played on repeat.
3. The Script Is Kind of Cheesy
Watching Avatar 2 a second time with my siblings made me experience a feeling I didn’t expect – secondhand embarrassment.
The “young, hip, modern” dialogue of the Sully kids, Spider, and the Metkayina teens feels a bit awkward at times. Unnatural. Like adults assuming how teens talk.
There are also moments that feel overly sentimental but combined with subpar acting it comes off as cheesy. The intended profundity doesn’t come through.
Their close relationship with the Tulcan (large whale-like creatures) as soul brothers and sisters created a bizarre interspecies dynamic unlike what we’ve seen in Avatar before. It’s more intimate and personal. It almost works but at the same time, it’s borderline comedic how ridiculous it looks.
4. Avatar 2 Is Too Long and not Consistently Engaging
In an interview with EW, James Cameron speaks about the balancing act that was maintaining audience engagement while also preserving the beauty of this new world that Avatar 2 brings the audience into.
Cameron argues that the over 3-hour runtime was worth it, I argue that this film could have had a more engaging pacing if an hour of narrative fluff was shaved off.
He does state that a lot of the details in Avatar 2 lays down the foundational groundwork for future Avatar installments. So, in a way, we’ll have to wait to see the big picture before we can conclude that the full 3 hours are worth it. But if Avatar 2 is viewed as an isolated movie, 3 hours is superfluous.
Having seen this film twice in 2 moderately full theatres, I noticed that there was not much audience engagement. I had to look around to make sure no one was asleep.
There are a few chuckles here and there but there were no moments in the film that had you biting your nails to stubs, laughing your tail off, or sobbing your eyeliner to goo.
You could tell when certain characters entered the film with specific skill sets that those skills would be used to save the day later. The film is very predictable in that sense. There is no real surprise factor.
It felt like a long sequence of the kids getting in trouble and then getting scolded. A series of children disappointing their parents repeatedly.
Not enough questions arise that kept you wanting to watch.
No strong force driving the plot. Nothing to keep you mentally engrossed in the film. You know where the conflict comes from and you know how it’s going to end.
When I finished Avatar (2009), even after over 3 hours in the theatre, I was not ready to get up. I was like give me 3 more hours now!! Take me to Pandora!!
With Avatar: The Way of Water, I was like – I want to get some chicken nuggets. I’m kinda hungry. How much longer do I have to wait to get myself something to eat?
I was not taken to Pandora, I was just passively viewing it.
5. It’s Not As Novel Anymore
Yes, the underwater world, the visuals, and the realism of the Na’vi people are beautiful and very impressive. It’s mind-numbing trying to comprehend how the creators made it happen. But – it’s not anything I haven’t already seen before.
I couldn’t help but be constantly reminded of other movies or scenes that resembled what I was seeing on screen.
There are some shots in the film that looked like they were copied and pasted from the first Avatar movie.
There are several moments where the family has to save the smallest Sully child from danger in a way that reminds me of another James Cameron classic, Alien 2. Narrative-wise, it felt like an effective emotional tactic being recycled.
Near the end of the film, we find ourselves on a sinking ship where water, just like the tension, rises steadily. The craned necks, gasping for air while chin-deep in water, trapped in tight cabin spaces reminded me of yet another James Cameron banger, Titanic.
The underwater world, ripe with colorful creatures and beautiful structures reminded me of the very recent film, Black Panther 2 which also featured an underwater world.
And finally, the relationship between the second Sully son and the whale-like creature named Payacan reminded me of the relationship between the little girl and the giant red sea creature in The Sea Beast. Both large creatures are misunderstood as ruthless killers but really are super intelligent, gentle-hearted heroes.
There is no doubt that Avatar 2 is visually a stunning work of art. I would not say that Avatar 2 is bad at all. However, if I wanted to just see beautiful moving pictures underwater I could watch a National Geographic documentary or go to an aquarium.
What makes a good movie is a compelling story with thoughtful, engaging pacing, and a mind-grasping emotional involvement in the narrative that suspends all disbelief. Avatar 2 failed to do that.
The pacing is awfully sluggish with a few mildly exciting climaxes, the acting as a whole is mid, and the world-building, although beautiful, did not present anything strikingly new.
The deja vu ending of Avatar 2 did not leave me with the same strong emotional pang and burning anticipation that the first film did. I’m okay waiting another 5,10,15 years for Avatar 3 and I’ll be sure to bring some chicken nuggets with me next time.
What are your thoughts on Avatar: The Way of Water? Did it measure up to the established Avatar brand? Let me know in the comments below!
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Peace, love, and lots of popcorn,