Inevitably, the Sky People return to Pandora after the events of Avatar. Jake Sully, the human marine gone native who became Toruk Makto, the great war leader, organises the native Na’vi resistance – but he can’t prevent the humans from gaining a foothold. When he finds out an old enemy has returned, and the humans are specifically targeting him and the family he has built in their absence, he is faced with another choice. Jake decides that the best way to protect his family and the clan that adopted him is to move far away, to where the human’s can’t find them. Or can they?
We went to see Avatar II: The Way of Water in cinema having just re-watched the first instalment. We knew what to expect: visual spectacle over a paper-thin story, some cool worldbuilding and utterly forgettable characters. We knew where the bar was set. Unfortunately, Avatar II still managed to disappoint.
Avatar II does deliver on the visual spectacle. The CGI is amazing (markedly improved from 2009), and the art department outdid itself with beautiful designs on both the (sea) creatures of Pandora and the human (naval) technology. As with Avatar, Avatar II has breathtaking establishing shots of the jungles, floating mountains, and oceans of Pandora. Especially the first half of the runtime at times feels like a nature documentary – all that is missing is David Attenborough narrating the behaviour of the Pandoran wildlife. And I mean that in a positive sense – I actually think the moments introducing the marine ecosystem of Pandora are the movie’s high point. I would probably have preferred that imagined Attenborough documentary over the movie we got.
Where Avatar could still be saved by its originality, this time we know what to expect when we sit down. The sense of wonder is gone. The second instalment needs to go beyond to achieve the same result as the first movie – and instead, it feels like we got a really similar (worse?) movie. Because where the story and characters of Avatar were thin but functional, the plot and characters of The Way of Water are just plain bad – there’s no sugarcoating it. Utterly predictable, jarring in juxtaposition and horribly paced, Avatar II at times was a chore to sit through, even in cinema.
I feel like this movie’s script writers were asleep at the wheel. For some reason, Avatar II combines a ‘settling into a new community’-type plotline with kids getting into petty fights and bullying one another (such as would be fit for pre-teens) on the one hand with a brutal, gruelling, hour-long fight at the end on the other. If I’m not mistaken, some of Jake’s kids get captured and are freed no less than four times over the movie – leading to multiple deja vus, and in my case, eyerolls.
There is no catharsis at the end, because this movie drips the need to set up an Avatar-cinematic universe, so literally no plotlines are resolved whatsoever, and the world – and characters – are in exactly the same place before the movie as they are after. Whatever part three will be, I am sure we could have fit the events of this movie into a ten-minute montage at the start of it.
So, why still 2 stars? That seems pretty high for an over-three-hour-watch with a plot this bad. Well, the first thing I would say is, don’t shell out 15 bucks to go see it in cinema – it’s not worth it and I think we shouldn’t encourage this kind of filmmaking.
On the other hand, I think the movie probably does what it intends to do: it delivers a string of mindless action sequences that look amazing, glued together by a semblance of a plot that nobody is expected to care about. And it is really good at that! I am convinced there is an audience for this. Surprisingly, it’s just not me. I can usually stomach a movie with a lot of emphasis on the action, but in Avatar II: The Way of Water, the balance has tipped in the favour of pretty pictures and violence a bit too much.
In a way it doesn’t really feel fair to review this movie, because I pretty much knew going in that it wouldn’t be my kind of thing. While watching the first Avatar movie I fell asleep right as the action started, which should tell you something about my level of investment.
Let’s start with the positive: the underwater scenes were quite breath-taking. Especially on the big cinema screen they completely mesmerized me. If the movie would have been 3,5 hours of just beautiful shots of fishlike creatures floating by, I think I would have given this movie 5 stars.
Unfortunately, I suspect that the makers did not consider this an adequate recipe for a major box office succes, and so they had to slap a thin layer of clichés over it that is meant to pass as plot. Not to mention a lot of shooting and explosions.
Of course this was what I expected, but on top of this the movie was also quite sad and did not really come to a satisfying resolution. Which meant that I didn’t even get to feel good when the bad guys were defeated.
All in all, I did not have a terrible time, but it could definitely have been better. Which is what I would have predicted when I went to see the movie, so who’s fault is it really?