Review – Splish, Splash (“Avatar: The Way of Water”)

Bring a box lunch ’cause in this 3 hour and 12 minute movie you’ll be sitting on your butt for a loooong time! Yes, writer/director James Cameron is back after 13 years to give us a sequel to his visually stunning epic. Strap in, everyone, here we go!

Life is finally good for Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) on the planet of Pandora. The bad humans have been kicked out, he’s been made chief of the Na’vi forest tribe, and his beautiful warrior wife Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) has given him three kids: fun-loving eight-year-old Tuk (Trinity Jo-Li Bliss), middle son Lo’ak (Britain Dalton), older son Neteyam (Jamie Flatters), plus his adopted daughter, the gifted 16-year-old Kiri (Sigourney Weaver) who’s parentage is something of a puzzle. Anyway, life is good UNTIL Earth sends more bad guys again but this time not to gather Unobtamium, but to extract some special liquid from Tulkuns, huge whale-like creatures.

Worse yet, they’ve managed to clone Na’vi bodies and insert the memories of dead officers from long ago; memories of “Kill ’em All” Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) and his bloodthirsty team! Their objective? It’s payback time, baby! They’re gonna find Jake and kill him no matter what. After a brief skirmish in the forest with Jake’s kids, Team Quaritch manages to capture Miles “Spider” Socorro (Jack Champion), the only human allowed in the Na’vi tribe, and besties with Jake and his family. Oh, and he’s also the son of the previous dead Miles Quaritch! It’s not safe anymore, so Jake & family hightail it to safer pastures. . . er, waters, in this case; the green-skinned Metkayina clan located within hundreds of islands. Tonowari (Cliff Curtis), the leader there, allows them to stay with his people as the lengthy second act deals with the Family Sully trying to adapt to their new water life while their kids make new friends.

Meanwhile, Quaritch isn’t slowing down and coerces his “kid” to track down Jake, using the Tulkun hunters as their cover. The amazing third act is where Cameron really shines. Using his epic set-piece, Jake attempts to rescue his kids from Quaritch and it’s just plain jaw-dropping. You’d think after his 2009 film, people would have grown bored of his sci-fi opus but Cameron, along with writers Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver (Rise and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) have come up with another eye-popping, glorious-looking, cinematic event, to be sure, but that worn-out plot leaves little to be desired. And does Cameron even know what a transition is, ’cause I didn’t see any! Scenes change from one to another with bad edits and no dissolves, wipe cuts, or other transitions to ease us into the next scene. At times it looks like a badly stitched-together job where one scene cuts to the next with no explanation and then BOOM, back again. WTH?

Did I mention this is a loooong movie? The story meanders and drags in act two after a nice set-up and a one-two punch in act one, and there are several deus ex machines, plot holes, and fantastic coincidences that make your eyes roll. The only saving grace, once again, is Cameron’s extraordinary camera work, all those CGI creatures, and that exquisite CG motion-capture in turning his actors into the blue-skinned, 10-ft-tall Na’vi. That stuff is remarkable. If only he could have put a little more effort into the story. Character-wise, they’re pretty uninteresting and interchangeable, with the Na’vi growling at each other or those teenagers acting like kids at a Disney get-together. Even the villainous Quaritch is just your typical dime-a-dozen bad guy you’d see in any B-movie.

It could have been because of all the mo-cap CGI going on. Only the humans in this movie seem to show any real emotion, while all the CG’d Na’vi all look pretty much the same and exhibit a limited amount of facial movement, much like Disney’s “live-action” Lion King animals. Therefore, their “acting” doesn’t always read on camera, making it hard for you to really care about them. You better get used to it, as Cameron has three more to come! Yup, his Avatar 3 is scheduled for release on December 20, 2024, with two more sequels to be released on December 18, 2026, and December 22, 2028, respectively.

**Now showing only in theaters

Avatar (2009)

Thirteen years later and this movie still holds the record as the highest-grossing film of all time at $2.9 billion (Avengers: Endgame is #2 highest), even though the story is a rip-off of both Dances With Wolves and Ferngully: The Last Rainforest.

Shot in IMAX 3-D and using cutting-edge CGI, there was no doubt this movie wowed audiences with its eye-popping graphics and stunning visuals that were nothing less than jaw-dropping. The story and dialogue, however. . . well, that was something completely different. In the year 2154 Earth depleted all its natural resources, and so we went to other planets to rape them of their precious materials. On the planet Pandora, the super-valuable mineral called Unobtanium is found there, but there’s a problem. The indigenous people, 10-ft-tall, blue-skinned aliens called the Na’vi are living there. Yeah, they’re exactly like our Native Americans, and yeah, we treat them the same.

Anyway, to ingratiate humans into their culture and spy on them, ‘avatars’ (Na’vi bodies with human minds) are used, thanks to scientist Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver). At least she cares for these people, while the head of the RDA mining company, Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi), could care less and just want his Unobtainium at any cost. That’s why he’s hired Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), a racist die-hard soldier that regards the Na’vi as animals. Enter into this fray innocent Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a disabled vet who’s chosen to merge into a Na’vi avatar and scope things out. This works out great as he meets local native Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), and the two hit it off with Jake even getting to meet her tribe.

With a deadline of three months, Jake has to convince the Na’vi to leave Pandora so the RDA can mine the Unobtainium, but the inevitable happens. Jake falls in love with Neytiri and switches sides! Gee, didn’t see that coming, huh? The third act is the requisite final battle of the Na’vi vs the evil corporate humans and all their military might. Written & directed by James Cameron (Titanic, Terminator), his skill with a camera and shooting a feature film is impressive, and the proof is right up there on the screen. However, the story and dialogue were in need of a complete overhaul.

Anytime you’re watching Pandora, it’s awesome: the floating mountains, the dazzling world-building with its alien people & their culture, the wide array of animals, their tail connections, the mind-blowing colors, and all the forest scenes are all breathtaking. But when you get to the real world of humans spouting ridiculous and clichéd lines you’ve heard a million times in B-rated movies, it loses all its sparkle. The bad guys are SO cookie-cutter 2D it’s laughable; Stephen Lang is a hoot as the “kill ’em all” Colonel who calmly drinks coffee as the Na’vi are incinerated. Ribisi is your generic evil company boss who sees only $$$, not loss of life.

Not to mention every one of the plot points are telegraphed. Example: Neytiri tells Jake that Toruk (a special dragon-bird) cannot be ridden, so you know instantly that Jake is going to ride Toruk someday, which he eventually does. This happens throughout the movie, like Chekhov’s gun, and it gets really annoying when there are zero surprises. Still, from a purely aesthetic POV, this movie is the definition of epic with its beauty, sheer majesty, and for that reason, I can see why it’s the number one worldwide box office winner. For now. 

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