‘I’ ON CULTURE
The original Avatar came out 13 years ago, and many of us have waited for a sequel all that time. Is it as good? Is it brilliant? Well, it’s an incredible treat for the eyes. CGI effects have come a long way, and director James Cameron knows how to build the world of Pandora. Some of the effects, particularly the great whales, the tulkun, are spectacular. Unfortunately, the plot is weak, and the dialogue never sparkles. Even worse, this is a long movie, well over three hours. And you really feel it.
The plot is almost the same as the first film. That is a problem. Basically, as before, humans have destroyed much of the earth’s environment, so they are moving out to the stars to take over a few more planets. Colonel Quaritch (voiced by Stephen Lang), who died in the first film, has been resurrected in an avatar himself, and the one thing he wants is revenge. As some of us vaguely remember, the “sky people,” humans, were beaten back at the end of the first movie. Add to that, the difficulty of identifying with alien creatures who do not really exist and generally seem to be presented as nearly perfect, prevents you from having a wild and exciting time. It is part of the Rousseau dream: the wonderful world of the untamed “savage.” Who is unspoiled by modern civilization? Personally, I like things like air conditioning and functioning toilets. But it is nice to dream of simpler times. Just not for more than three hours.
It is now 13 years after the first film’s events, and former Marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic who moved full time into his avatar body, has become leader of the Na’vi, the 10-foot-tall, blue-skinned residents on Pandora. He and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), his wife, are parents to a whole group of kids, biological and adopted. One, somehow, is human, Spider (Jack Champion), but they also have Kiri (Sigourney Weaver), daughter of Grace, played by Weaver in the first film. And she is different, able to commune with other living creatures and with no hint of who her father is/was.
The invasion forces Sully and family to head out to sea, where they meet another Na’Vi tribe, the Metkayina, who are slightly different in color. But after a time, they work things out with the leader of the group, Ronal (Kate Winslet). But the war comes to the seas. It seems there is something in tulkun brains that can prevent aging. And the fact that the tulkun are sentient beings has no impact at all on the greedy leadership of the “sky people.” So, there is a huge battle.
What makes this different is that now the film is part of a series, potentially with five parts, which means that questions are not answered. Why can’t peaceful trade be set up? Why does genocide seem necessary? Not to mention a bit of anachronistic tech. Somehow, humans can go to new worlds around other stars, create gigantic war machines, yet cannot create armor that can stop arrows?
Saying the actors are just doing the voices is not really correct. A lot of the movie was done in motion-capture suits. That creates tough work, but does not allow for great acting. Yes, it’s spectacular. The 3-D and motion capture are an immense achievement, but the film did not fully enthrall us. One of the problems may be that we have become used to these broad-based dramas in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Avengers: Endgame was just about as long, but in that film, the time went by really quickly. There were lots of small sub-plots, lots of special interactions that kept my attention. The dialogue often sparkled. That never seems to happen in this movie.
The problem is that the plot is just too simplistic. Bad guys (humans like us) just want to get our hands on some product that we’re willing to kill the good guys (residents of Pandora) and destroy the environment to get it. That is not a novel approach. Actually, it is sort of the same as in Avengers. The bad guy, Thanos, and his minions want to kill us… well, half of us at first. And, of course, it is the theme of most horror movies. So, despite the technology used, there really is nothing new.
Is it worth seeing? Well, yes, as long as you understand how long it is. The first Avatar was a brilliant film. This one is just pretty good.