Best described as a damp squib.
The sequel to 2009’s grand epic, Avatar: The Way of Water, is a predictable and tired narrative packaged in a breath-taking piece of cinematography. Pandora is the epitome of natural beauty but with a delightful sci-fi twist, and the expensive but worth it technology involved makes this world feel real, especially in 3D. However, regardless of how fantastical this world is, this sequel is substandard at best, and represents a privileged ego trip with lazy writing, undeveloped characters, and embarrassing dialogue at its worst.
Picking up 15 years after the original, Avatar 2 sees Jake Sully and Neytiri still together but now with four kids in tow. The aim of this is to introduce new dynamics to the story; how will the new generations’ presence affect things? The film’s family focus may be a shift for the franchise, but it’s hardly a novel idea (think: the nine Fast and Furious movies). Even the most recent Bond film took a family turn. Yet, Avatar somehow manages to make a family focused film aggravating. Jake’s patient, loving relationship with his daughters contrasts sharply with his fractious relationship with his sons. It’s not just frustrating but sad that the character leans into old-fashioned ideals in his parenting, apparently not seeing how his sons could do with an open, loving parent. It also ties in to the film’s recurring gender stereotype problem – male and female characters are often restricted to the role prescribed by their binary gender.
Male, pale, stale and straight. For a movie released in 2022 to be so lacking in representation is not just shocking, it’s appalling. Existing in a reality of straightness – with not even a single character being queer-coded, let alone out and proud – characters are shoved into stereotypical gender roles with lacklustre, half-developed female characters and carbon copy alpha males, who seem incapable of communication, let alone showing complex emotions. One of the most appalling examples of this can be found in Jake, who doesn’t even cry when his son dies and even tells his wife to snap out of her grief. This film had the chance to show a better world, not only in the environment but in the social sphere; instead, it defaults to old-fashioned depictions of stoic, emotionless men, and uncontrolled and emotional women.
Additionally, the narrative is not just poor, but repetitive. The film sees the Sully family heading a resistance against the encroaching human presence on Pandora, but when the first film’s late antagonist (Colonel Quaritch) resurfaces in Avatar form, the Sully’s seek refuge with the Oceanic Metkayina tribe. To remain, the Sully’s must learn the ways of the water tribe. As they learn, xenophobic based clashes occur and romance blossoms between Tsireya, daughter of the tribes leader, and Lo’ak, the younger Sully brother. All the while Colonel Quaritch is hunting them, leaving a trail of fire and bloodshed in his wake. Then there is the final act, an action-packed battle between human and Na’avi, and the film’s most dramatic moment – the death of Jake and Neytiri’s firstborn. While this is a bold and impressive move, one shocking twist doesn’t make up for the hours of tripe that superseded it.
If the plot I described sounds familiar, it’s because in many ways it is a longer, more convoluted version of the first film. Avatar 2 takes the basic elements of Jake’s story and gives them to his son, even repeating some of the key lines from the original story, which results in a tiresome and frankly embarrassing attempt to reference the first Avatar film, cheapening both movies in the process. Avatar not only copies from itself but it also borrows from other story-telling tropes, leading it to become dull, cliched, and utterly predictable. One of the greatest offenders is the unoriginal love story between Lo’ak and Tsireya which mirrors that of Jake and Neytiri, whose story was already hardly revolutionary. Finally, to make matters worse Tsireya is essentially a Disney teen crossed with a Bond girl, and is even introduced using slow-motion as she walks out of the water.
The overarching issue of the film is consequently its writing. The narrative is poor, and the dialogue is awkward. Characters are restricted to old cliches, and are so lacking in diversity and depth that, in fact, I couldn’t tell who was who even by the end of the film. Avatar 2 feels like the result of a buffet of different ideas which were hastily stitched together to meet a deadline, which is ridiculous when you realise that writing for the sequels started almost a decade ago. Yet somehow in all that time, no one managed to streamline the plot or come up with some decent dialogue. Furthermore, the writers left the only interesting plot lines suspended in mid air, and many questions unanswered – almost as if the movie served as a trailer.
While the film is not unbearable to watch, it definitely does not hold up under scrutiny. The more you analyse it, the more problems you notice, the more this supposedly beautiful movie sours in your mind’s eye. Disorganised and overcrowded with ideas, this film chooses to cover them up with luscious CGI landscapes, but this attempt is largely unsuccessful. For a movie that required exorbitant amounts of time and money, I expected something far better than the cheap copy it delivered.