Avatar: The Way of Water marks an underwhelming return to Pandora
WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS
I remember watching James Camron's Avatar as a doe-eyed child. I felt at the time, and still do, that labelling it as just a film is a grave injustice. Avatar is an experience, one that bewitches a viewer with the psychedelic world of Pandora and redefines the word "cinematic" for them. Thus, thirteen years of waiting and countless rewatches of the 2009 film later, I settled into my seat in the theatre, hoping to be pulled back without hesitation into Pandora and falling in love with it once again.
Three hours and twelve minutes— that's how long I clung onto that hope with struggling fingers before finally letting go and allowing the disappointment to sink in.
Gone is the story that questioned the human condition. Lost is the introspective voice that whispers parallel to the main narration, providing insight into the impending doom of human civilization and Earth. The deep, intangible spirituality that once coloured the Na'vi and their way of life is reduced merely to an afterthought. Avatar is no longer a universe that provides commentary on the predicaments that our species presents to itself and to others. All those aspects that once made Avatar resonate equally with those chasing the superficial and those looking for philosophical truths are replaced by superficiality alone.
Set a decade or so after the events of the first film, Avatar: The Way of Water chronicles the struggles of Jake Sully, who is now fully assimilated into his Na'vi form as the leader of the Omaticaya clan. Jake and his family as they seek refuge in a reef village to escape the clutches of Colonel Miles, who has been revived in an Avatar form.
There is nothing convoluted or intellectually stimulating about the plot. It is as straight as it can be and has next to no real substance. Clichéd and predictable, the story leaves little to the imagination and the characters are even worse off. Calling them one-dimensional is letting them get off the hook too easily. They are stereotypical beyond salvation – the protagonists and antagonists alike.
The first film portrayed the antagonists as capitalist, warmongering villains but this movie took it one step beyond. Now, Colonel Miles cannot be seen as a war veteran still living in a war and craving the thrill of fighting. His motives and aspirations have been forced and moulded into an ill-suited thirst for blind revenge.
Avatar was about the coming together of a people, a community to overcome the forces that threatened them and their home from the outside. It was about the acceptance of an individual who showed the outstanding strength to adapt himself to an alien environment. Avatar: The Way of Water is far from that. It is wholly about a person and his family and the vendetta that someone harbours against them. There is an endeavour to show the multi-layered truth of what it means to be a family. But it falls short and comes across as a poor attempt to implicate depth where there is none.
It is true that the visual sequences are stunning— as can be expected from the budget of three hundred and fifty million dollars. The backdrop of the calm, lush green forests of the first movie has been transferred to the untamed depths of the deep blue ocean. Rich with flora and fauna, the water serves as a worthy successor to the forests, particularly as it acts as a splendid medium for Cameron to fully exercise the wonders of visual technology.
However, these visuals alone cannot provide Avatar: The Way of Water with the saving grace that it so desperately needs.
Zaima is a struggling student, a failed guitarist and a poet in need of better poetic ideas. Send her your sympathies at [email protected]