I know, I know: “Well, you write about film on your site, so why is that even worth bringing up?”
Well, the answer is a bit more complex than what I’ll provide today, but in the interests of keeping it respectful and reasonably non-controversial I’ll answer that I’ve always felt that not every Science Fiction, Fantasy, and/or Horror release that comes out is worth the investment in mental exercise. This isn’t to say – or even imply – that perhaps I disliked something or found it unfulfilling in any way; it’s just that sometimes after I watch something and consider it I find that I have very little of substance to say about it. For whatever reason, the picture didn’t touch me or connect on any way that moved me to the point of dissecting it any further than that … merely watching it.
If you haven’t guessed, then this brings me to Avatar: The Way Of Water (2022).
Yes, yes, yes: I’ve seen it. The wifey and I took it in on her day off.
Coming out of it, I did have some minor inspiration to put down a few thoughts with the clicking of keys on the keyboard, but as I ruminated over the flick a bit more I just couldn’t even find a starting point. I kicked it around a bit, even went online and read some of what others had written to see if I could get a bit more excited about the prospect, but I failed miserably. Now – several days later – I’ve received a few emails (not a lot, just a few) from folks who wanted my thoughts on it (stranger things have happened), so I do feel a bit compelled to post something. Out of respect to the readership, I’ll try to be as succinct as I can.
In fact, Cameron’s Titanic – one could argue if one were inclined – is also the director’s particular version of a story that’s been told before on film and television. It isn’t as if the sinking of the famed ship was unheard of before he decided to tackle it. What he brought to the whole desperate affair was a contemporary storytelling sensibility – one with immeasurably more visual flash – and I think that’s ultimately what excited viewers. Much like George Lucas engineered the technology to update space fantasies with his original Star Wars, Cameron applied the same approach and has been rewarded (on more than one occasion) with huge box office receipts. Viewers are drawn to this incredibly immersive palette, and that’s where I tend to fall off the boat.
Where Avatar and its follow-up fail – as best as I can simplify – is that I’ve little to no investment in any of its characters.
In the original, Jake Sully (played by Sam Worthington) at least had a minor character arc. As a paraplegic, the Marine had been cut off from the world-at-large (to a degree) because of his physical limitations; and this new science – the kind that could transport his consciousness into a body with seemingly no limitations – delivered a life-changing experience he couldn’t deny. Once he had found himself and all of his original instincts again, he was almost duty-bound – as a character, at least – to act upon it. This became a natural ‘hero’s quest’ for the man, and he carried that motivation through the film’s closing moments.
However, the Sully of The Way Of Water truly has no grounding other than his commitment to family. Yes, yes, yes: all of what motivated him in Avatar is in there somewhere, but it’s clearly relegated to the backseat in favor of delivering an otherwise predictable affair – the rematch with his previously fallen foe, Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang).
Really? Cameron makes his audience wait over a decade for a sequel – with three, four, or five more yet to come (the reportage has been a bit confusing) – and all he has in the tank fundamentally was a rematch?
Don’t get me wrong. As I wasn’t any big ardent fan of the first film, I had little to no investment whatsoever in returning to this particular universe. In fact, when the wifey suggested we take it in, my initial impulse regarding sitting through a four-hour film was that I could happily wait for it to be available on cable or DVD. But as I mulled it over – hearing about how visually striking it was – I decided that, yes, this was one that I should see on the silver screen. Spectacles, after all, seem to be growing rarer and rarer in the cinemas; and I’m glad I did partake of this adventure up in the lights.
But … really? Just a rematch? On water?
In the air?
Walking on fire?
In the dreamworld?
Again, I’m sorry, folks. I’m not trying to rain on the whole genre parade. Really, I’m not. I’ll always concede that when it comes to sheer visual audacity that Cameron is in a league of his own most of the time, but so much of The Way Of Water just felt like elongated repackaging of the first film, right up to the similar beats of the traditional Cameronesque blockbuster ending. In fact, my initial thought was that the feature had, probably, eight or nine different endings … up until the time when the director truly decided his story was – finally – over.
Well … over until the next one starts it up again.
Dare I suggest that Cameron himself might be his own worst enemy?
I’m all in favor of auteurs continuing to spin yarns of this epic scale. Nothing big or bold deserves to be forgotten, but The Way Of Water will likely end up – for me – in the same category as the first: I’ll see it once and never revisit it. Perhaps he could use a partner, though, in the editing suite? Somehow who might encourage him to wrap the saga all up a bit sooner? A bit tighter? With little to no sacrifice of the sheer spectacle?
His recent interview comments even come to mind. On December 27th, it was reported that he deliberately shortened the flick by an astonishing ten minutes – ten whole minutes out of the remaining three hours plus – because of what he called excessively and unneeded gunplay.
Why … I wonder who wrote and filmed that excessive and unneeded gunplay, Jim?