James Cameron released “Avatar” in December 2009, 12 years after his previous film, the powerhouse “Titanic”. “Avatar” was not the first major 3D release of the modern era (there were plenty of animated films already showcasing the technology). But its gigantic success put cartoon dollar signs in the eyeballs of every studio exec.
In early 2010, with the likes of “Alice in Wonderland” and “Clash of the Titans”, about one major studio release a week had 3D showings. Moviegoers were okay with paying a little extra and putting on the glasses. But I had a feeling the gimmick wouldn’t last. If you give people too much of something and shove it in their face, they’re eventually (and sometimes, quickly) become disinterested.
By the time “Titanic” had its 3D re-release in April 2012, moviegoers were growing tired of 3D and were no longer interested in paying extra for it. 3D was virtually nonexistent by the time COVID hit in March 2020.
During the recent return to cinemas, there have been a handful of films with 3D options. But now along comes Cameron, 13 years after the first “Avatar”, with follow-up “The Way of Water”. Once again, Cameron is relying on stunning visuals and the 3D enhancement to attract everyone to return with him to Pandora. And just like with the original “Avatar”, I was bored out of my mind while sitting through it. This story just doesn’t… have… much… substance.
For the record, I chose to see “Avatar: The Way of Water” in 2D. That’s right. I wanted to experience the stripped down, acoustic version. Does it look pretty? Sure. But there is little to recommend it besides the visuals — which also get old fast.
This is a next generation sequel. Jake Sully and Neytiri (Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana) now have four children. One of them is a teenager played by Sigourney Weaver (no time or interest to explain that here). The focus of “The Way of Water” is mostly on the kids — though the driving force of the narrative is, once again, humans wanting to wipe-out the blue (and new blue/green) creatures.
Themes of protecting loved ones, your home, nature’s beautiful creatures and the environment are as subtle as a ship hitting an iceberg. Cameron even (awkwardly) borrows from his ’97 classic for film’s final act. The emotions are mega-heightened. The spiritual sound track is holier than thou. It’s clear everyone involved in making this movie felt they were doing something very important.
More proof? A runtime of 3 hours and 12 minutes — for a film with about 45 minutes worth of story, that’s a basic mix of a revenge/chase thriller, aquatic adventure and a coming-of-age family drama. It’s “Bourne” meets “Free Willy” meets “Stand By Me”. (And I could rewatch two of those movies in the time it took me to paddle through “The Way of Water”.)
Cameron has already completed “Avatar 3”, which i scheduled to be release in Dec. 2024. Apparently, the opening section of “Avatar 4” has also been filmed, and he’s said he has concrete ideas for “Avatar 5”. I’d much rather see the director go in a different direction and provide us with something new. But he’s (re-) opened Pandora’s box — and we all know that usually doesn’t end well.
LCJ GRADE: D+
Running Time: 192 min.