Avatar: The Way of Water

If we hadn’t seen it coming for so many years, AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER would be a cinematic miracle. There has definitely not been a blockbuster movie with this level of mindblowing spectacle, visual beauty and action chops since MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, and before that since the first AVATAR.

I’ve rewatched AVATAR several times since it came out, and it’s always as good, usually better than the last time. Watching it again this week was no exception, and it really struck me that holy shit, these “game changer” visual effects from 2009 have influenced everybody, but not one movie has matched them. (Probly closest would be Peter Jackson’s largely forgotten HOBBIT trilogy.) I don’t want to get into an attack on modern blockbusters, many of which I enjoy, but it’s a simple statement of fact that the similarly-greenscreen-and-performance-capture based visuals in the very expensive Marvel movies that are trailered before THE WAY OF WATER and coming out next year look crude and primitive next to what was achieved thirteen years ago in AVATAR. And now along comes the sequel that blows AVATAR out of the water (by putting it into the water).

The story begins in the format of the original, with narrator Jake Sully (Sam Worthington, CLASH OF THE TITANS) catching us up on his Pandoran activities since part 1, and then resetting for a new conflict. Remember he’s no longer an avatar, his conscience has been combined with his Na’vi body. He’s still the chief of the forest-dwelling Omaticaya, “mated” to the previous chief’s daughter Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña, COLOMBIANA). It’s peace time now, but things are crazy because they have two teenage biological sons, Neteyam (Jamie Flatters, THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL) and Lo’ak (Britain Dalton, “High School Kid,” READY PLAYER ONE); an 8-year-old daughter named Tuk (Trinity Jo-Li Bliss; and an adopted teenage daughter named Kiri, who’s played by Sigourney Weaver because she was mysteriously birthed by the dormant avatar of the late Dr. Grace Augustine (still being stored in a tank). Plus there’s a human named Spider (Jack Champion, THE NIGHT SITTER) who was left behind when the Resources Development Administration base was abandoned, because babies can’t be put in cryosleep, so he grew up running around the forest with the Na’vi, dressing like them and speaking their language. Jake considers him more of a “stray cat” than a son, and Neytiri is frankly racist toward him, but the kids accept him completely. (I think calling him “Monkey Boy” is affectionate.)

Poster for the 2022 film AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER from director James Cameron.But one day the motherfucking “sky people” of the RDA return, now less interested in hearts and minds than last time, bulldozing and burning through miles and miles of forest immediately upon landing. A year later we learn all that and then we get to a contrivance that doesn’t seem to me to make any sense but you just go with it because it makes for a good story: just before the climactic battle that he died in, part 1 villain Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang, BAND OF THE HAND) and a handful of his grunts uploaded their memories to be implanted into Na’vi/human hybrid bodies like Jake’s. They’re not avatars, they’re permanently in there, “recombitants,” or “Recom” in military lingo. So they can breathe Pandoran air and enter the forest without setting off the planet’s natural defenses. Also they’re tall and have those strong bones. And the original Quaritch has instructed his clone to consider Jake Sully responsible for his death.

They consider Jake an insurgent leader. The first movie builds to an all-timer last act with the natural Na’vi battling human military tech – here we get to that fun right away with the warriors swooping in on their dragons to derail a train and steal its arms shipments. (I hope some future Sammy Fabelman watched that train crash and had his world rocked.)

The Sullys do use a little bit of human technology. They take a family photo, they keep some sort of small viewscreen, they still use the walkie talkie things on their throats, and Jake uses a machine gun with an ornate, carved handle as if it’s equivalent to his wife’s sacred heirloom bow. Also their scientist friends still have their Project Avatar lab nearby, and the kids get away with running around in there. But mostly it’s a simple life in nature.

When Quaritch comes hunting he captures their children. Jake is able to rescue most of them, but Quaritch takes Spider – who, by the way, is the original Quaritch’s son. Spider stands up to torture and doesn’t give his friends up, but they know he can’t hold out forever, so Jake gives up leadership and they flee to hide out with the sea-dwelling Metkayina clan in the east. Meanwhile, Quaritch uses his new Recom abilities and his son’s knowledge of Na’vi culture to try to track them.

Just as the middle of AVATAR explores the flora and fauna of the Pandoran forest as Jake attempts to be accepted by the Na’vi (and – at first – convince them to move out of the way), WAY OF WATER shows us the lifestyles and animal friends of the sea people, and the family tries to be accepted by their hosts, led by chief Tonowari (Cliff Curtis, WHALE RIDER) and his wife Ronal (Kate Winslet, A KID IN KING ARTHUR’S COURT).

Youngest Sully son Lo’ak is kind of the main character, and I like Jake, but I find Lo’ak more relatable. He’s frequently getting into trouble (joining a guerrilla battle, going to places he’s not supposed to and running into Quaritch, starting a fight with the Metkayina chief’s sons for picking on Kiri), but he’s not really petulant towards his parents. He’s a little afraid of his dad, calling him “sir” and apologizing for his mistakes, trying to defend his actions, but never getting anywhere with him. He kinda gets a shit sandwich, but he tries to keep going.

The chief’s daughter Tsireya (Bailey Bass, PSYCHO SWEET 16) shows Lo’ak around, and how to hold his breath underwater, and clearly has a thing for him. But he’s more occupied with trying to make peace with her mean brothers, who pretend to be his friend just to lure and abandon him in dangerous waters, where he’s chased by a shark-like creature. The score by Simon Franglen (arranger of the late James Horner’s AVATAR score, and producer of “My Heart Will Go On”) pretty much turns into JAWS for a while as Lo’ak scurries through the reef, just barely protecting himself from the thing, like Hooper in the shark cage.

I was definitely ready for a “‘There’s always a bigger fish’ —Qui Gon Jin” moment, but was not expecting that Lo’ak would become best friends with the bigger fish! A creature called a Tulkun – like a whale with a sandworm mouth – rams the shark, and Lo’ak nearly drowns but wakes up on the Tulkun’s back. He speaks to him with sign language and removes a metal device from his fin – it’s been in there so long it’s rusty. Of course we know there’s a truth to this, because it reminds us of those videos of divers removing hooks from sharks.

My favorite thing in this whole movie stuffed with incredible things is this friendship between Lo’ak and the Tulkun, who turns out to be named Payakan. It’s taken to the next level when Lok’ak is back safe at home talking to the other young people and when he describes his new friend’s injured fin they know his name – and his reputation! Turns out he’s an outcast! But Lo’ak continues to hang out with him and speak up for him when people say bad things about him. And there’s an amazing montage running around on Payakan’s back and flipping up in the air when he jumps. At one point Payakan blows water through his blowhole and Lo’ak laughs, “Disgusting, bro!”

He calls him bro! And you bet your ass Payakan is gonna show up later when his bro needs him. It’s beautiful.

Even very positive reviews of WAY OF WATER often throw in some sort of a “well of course the writing is terrible, it’s very predictable” type caveat. I totally disagree, and I think they’re conflating “very effectively uses some of the classical story elements that make this genre so timeless” with “bad,” but we don’t need to get into that. That would be, you know, predictable.

I do want to counter the idea that it’s some kind of empty-headed spectacle, though, because that’s just flat out incorrect. There’s all kinds of stuff going on in this movie thematically, and that’s what I’m most excited to write about. So here we go.

Evolving out of the whole idea of the “avatar,” this is a story about people adopting cultures, and this time it delves further into the question of to what extent those cultures will adopt you back. Once an outsider and a “demon,” Jake now seems to be accepted and legendary planet-wide as the “Toruk Makto” who flew that giant dragon, united the clans and saved Pandora from the sky people. (For quite a few years.) But when they live with the Metkayina his children are mocked as “demon blood” and “freaks” for having four fingers, in addition to lacking the wide tails and forearm fins of the sea people. (I don’t think anybody mentions skin color, but it’s a handy visual storytelling tool that the locals are more of a bluish green.)

Neytiri accepted the demon avatar of Jakesully into her world, and has found a soulmate in “Myjake” as she calls him, but she harbors animus for Spider, who she considers “alien.” That especially shows itself in a cold-blooded (but effective) gambit she pulls in the climax. So this is not a thread that gets wrapped up in this chapter. There’s still tension there.

Earthling scientists Dr. Norm Spellman (Joel David Moore, HATCHET) (sometimes in avatar form) and Dr. Max Patel (Dileep Rao, DRAG ME TO HELL) are welcome among the Omaticaya, but when Jake understandably calls them for help after Kiri suffers a seizure, Ronal seems very offended by their technology and/or presence, and they have to be shooed away. And honestly they kinda fuck up: their visit leads Quaritch to the location, and it seems like they misdiagnose Kiri anyway; they attribute her spiritual visions of connection with Eywa the All-Mother to delusions caused by frontal lobe epilepsy, but it sure seems pretty fuckin real later. When she’s telling her dad about it while they’re dangling their feet in the water, and glowing fish circle around hers and not his, I figured maybe that was a normal Pandora thing, since he didn’t react to it. But I saw the looks of awe on the Metkayina kids’ faces when she controlled a bunch of sea anemones to work as a giant hand, so I know that shit is special.

Of course both AVATAR movies to date are about man’s reckless destruction of nature. The first one dealt with clearcutting and mining for unobtainium. Since this one moves to the sea there are obvious comparisons to the whaling industry, and we learn that a fluid in the brain of Tulkun is now the most valuable substance in the universe, and the reason for the operation on Pandora. It’s always gonna be something.

But what’s especially interesting in WAY OF WATER is how it illustrates different levels of complicity with this environmental damage and the violent suppression of indigenous populations to make it happen. The RDA Recoms are obviously the villains, but a little bit less evil than them is Mick Scoresby (Brendan Cowell, DECK DOGZ), Aussie-accented captain of a vessel they commandeer. With his Hawaiian shirt and cynical attitude he reminds me of Mac from NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER 2. He’s a Tulkun hunter, which I consider bad, but he doesn’t want to do what Quaritch tells him to do, knowing it’s against treaties and will inflame the Metkayina. But when he feels he’s being forced, he goes all in – using the situation as a hall pass to be a bastard. I liked him as a character and hated him as a person. You’ll wish he’ll get his and you’ll be impressed when he does.

Nicer than Scoresby is Dr. Ian Garvin (Jemaine Clement, THE BFG), the marine biologist on his ship, who shows clear moral reluctance about what they do, and says it drives him to drink, but it’s pointed out that he goes along with it because it funds his research. He’s a marine biologist – that’s one of Cameron’s guys! But he goes along with this, and does not redeem himself.

In that same spirit, the crew of this ship are equipped with submersible subs kinda like the one Cameron himself pilots in his undersea exploration documentary GHOSTS OF THE ABYSS, but these ones have the ability to transform into crab-like mechs. One driver is so raring for a fight he makes his punch one claw into the other like a cartoon character muttering, “Why, I oughta…” The scenes about hunting these whale-like creatures are viscerally upsetting. We know it’s a fantasy world but also we know it’s not far off from the real world at all. (The end credits will play over gorgeous aquatic footage made to look like a nature documentary – we know it’s not real, but what really is the difference? Ours have different colors and shapes but are equally as worthy of protection.)

Most interesting of all is the character of Spider, who combines both the adopted culture theme and the complicity theme. He’s a human who has been (mostly) accepted into Na’vi culture and proven himself worthy (and is a white man with dreadlocks!), but now he comes face-to-face with the responsibility that comes with his position, and discovers he’s not as up to the task as he probly assumed. Because he’s Quaritch’s son (and probly human privilege too) they let him live and travel with them, and though he makes his opposition to them clear, he still ends up sharing too much of his knowledge of the Na’vi. Suddenly he finds himself standing next to war criminal invaders, having to apologize and say he didn’t know what they were going to do, knowing that’s not good enough.

The Sully kids still consider Spider their bro and go out of their way to rescue him, but they never know the extent of what he did, especially in regards to the survival of his (sort of) father. He seems to recognize the need to do his part/redeem himself, and jumps to go with Jake and use his knowledge of the vessel to help rescue Tuk and Kiri. (This could also be motivated by a crush on Kiri.)

When Spider sees his father(ish) drowning, almost leaves him, then says “Fuck!” and reluctantly drags him to safety, he makes it clear that he’s still rejecting him. Asked to join Quaritch on his dragon, he bares his fangs and hisses like a Na’vi, and then he leaves. But is this enough? The Sullys are still gonna have to deal with this vengeful bastard, who they thought was out of the way. I mean I assume Recom Quaritch will have an interesting arc, and become much more complicated as he deals with his new reality over the course of more sequels. But he’ll also do some bad shit that the Na’vi will be more likely to suffer from than Spider. So, judge his quality of allyship how you will.

Quaritch in this movie also demonstrates to us how Jake is special. Quaritch insists on doing things “the Na’vi way” to understand the enemy, and he does in fact bond with a dragon (after Spider laughs at him for wanting to use a tranquilizer on it). I thought by following the same path as Jake he could gain new perspective just like Jake did, but no – he doesn’t learn jack. Of course, he doesn’t dedicate himself as fully as Jake did – he wears boots and all his macho tactical gear and shit, and he gets on a boat and uses mechs and calls in the choppers. Another difference is that Jake had to earn his body. His consciousness surviving in his Na’vi body was a miracle achieved after a moral and spiritual journey culminating in heroic sacrifice. Quaritch and friends’ new bodies and lives are simply a corporate or government investment.

I love that even as Na’vi these guys can look like total douchebags with their sunglasses and tattoos, strutting around cockily chewing gum, being pricks. More than the first one, more than ALIENS, Cameron has this particular type of macho asshole down just right. They stand around and smirk, speak in what might as well be pre-recorded phrases (“keep your head on a swivel, guys,” “watch your six,” “get some”). They manhandle children, grab them by their braids, threaten and terrorize people in their homes. They’re everything anybody hates about occupying soldiers and cops and other armed, officially sanctioned bullies.

Really the only thing I found at all disappointing about WAY OF WATER is that I don’t think Neytiri’s character has evolved in an interesting way. Jake has changed as a leader and a father, now trying to avoid conflict while also addressing messy issues in parenting and diplomacy. But Neytiri once again scream-cries at an environmental catastrophe, and at the death of a family member, and she gets mad at Jake and has to be talked into his plans. The time she comes most alive (besides happy moments seen fleetingly in peace time montages) is when she goes into warrior mode and kicks ass at the end, but that’s nothing new.

However, with other characters I think Cameron is adding a few comment cards next to the Badass Women of Cinema continuum largely built on his portrayals of Ripley in ALIENS and Sarah Connor in TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY. The depth of those two characterizations still shines through decades of simplistic imitators that assume tank top + attitude = strong woman/feminism. Here he introduces General Frances Ardmore (Edie Falco, COP LAND), a successful, powerful, badass woman in charge who we are not meant to admire. She’s got the job Colonel Quaritch had last time around, and she shares his trademark of enjoying her coffee in the ship while they fly over the rain forest they’re in the process of barbarically decimating in the name of greed, a reminder that women just doing the same shit as men isn’t a good end goal. Same story with the new character Zdinarsik (Alicia Vela-Bailey, “Japanese Cyberpunk Woman,” HOSTEL: PART III), one of Quaritch’s Recom grunts. She’s basically Vasquez from ALIENS if the aliens she was assigned to kill were non-violent civilians and she didn’t have a problem with it.

On the other hand we have Ronal taking Cameron’s asskicking mother fascination to the next level by insisting on going into battle while very pregnant (I think we also see Neytiri bow hunting with a baby on board). And as a healthy alternative there’s Kiri, the heart of the film, very likely some kind of chosen one, and not a warrior at all, but a person with a deep connection to nature. And played by Ripley herself! (I hope Sigourney had fun playing a teenager. She does a great job, and she and the animators give Kiri the perfect movements for a gangly, awkward teen unsure of her place in the world.)

Since I’ve occasionally seen Cameron villainized as an old out of touch guy by dumb young-people-of-Film-Twitter controversies (like the one where he – gasp! – said he preferred Ripley and Sarah Connor to cinematic Wonder Woman), it’s interesting that WAY OF WATER shows such optimism about younger generations leading the way. The Sully kids adapt better to the sea culture than their parents, and separately save both of them from the sinking ship. Lo’ak is particularly impressive because he defies both clans. He’s in the doghouse for politely telling Tonowari “I’m sorry, you’re wrong” about his whale friend Payakan. Sure enough Payakan leads the attack on the sky people invasion and shows up again to carry Lo’ak and Jake to safety after Lo’ak has talked his dad through lowering his heart rate to escape the ship. When (EMOTIONAL SPOILER) Jake finally understands that his son has been right all along and puts his hand on him and says “I see you,” the well established Na’vi phrase suddenly seems profound.

To me WAY OF WATER is full of heart and of ideas to chew over, and yes, in addition to all that, it’s one hell of a spectacle. That includes tiny human details like the Na’vi kids moving and giggling and talking just like actual goofy little dorks, not animated characters, and it also means giant thrills like riding on giant fish that glide up (like PIRANHA II!) and bite the necks of the dragons the enemies are riding, or shooting an arrow through a windshield so that a copter falls sideways and hits the floor of the whaling vessel and part of the guard on the propeller breaks off and the propeller hits against the surface causing the thing to jut along against until it crashes again and explodes. There are luminescent fish (and Na’vi – sometimes their dots glow underwater). There is frolicking under and over water. There is brutal underwater jiujitsu. There’s a bunch of TITANIC type shipwreck disaster. Like most 3D movies it looks cool at first and then you get used to it and forget about it. But in the end when they’re in a sinking ship, rapidly losing space to breathe (and reminding us of THE ABYSS and TITANIC) as the water gets closer to the ceiling, the format really increases the claustrophobia. It’s a great moviegoing experience in an endless variety of ways.

It has quite reasonably been described as “a technical masterpiece,” and for God’s sake, that alone should be celebrated! But if you’re really so blase about the art of cinema that a technical masterpiece doesn’t do it for you, luckily that’s only half of the story. AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER is another unimpeachable James Cameron classic, and another notch in the belt of the world’s greatest maker of Part 2s. However long it takes us to find out what a James Cameron Part 3 is like, I bet it will be worth the wait.

This entry was posted on Friday, December 16th, 2022 at 11:32 pm and is filed under Reviews, Action, Fantasy/Swords, Science Fiction and Space Shit. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

103 Responses to “Avatar: The Way of Water”

  1. Yeah, while I get Spider tagging along with Quaritch is a pragmatic move because the alternative was being subjected to more torture that could have eventually forced him to give up what he knows, he could have done more to sabotage their efforts and not just chuckled at their mistakes before telling them what they should have done.
    As I said elsewhere, it’s good, it looks great, and has some cool action, but the story is a bit of a generic tropey thing, including the Kiri stuff. I don’t think Pandora needed its own version of The One. I think the Quaritch plot was one of the more interesting things about it, though I always kinda felt they should have just made AVATAR sequels about OTHER worlds and alien cultures that humans have to interact with through that technology. Also not sure I buy some of the narrative leaps in it, like Jake Sully giving up his leadership of the tribe to go on the run somehow meaning that the rest of the forest Na’vi just stop with the insurgency. Also, nitpick I know, but the first film handled this better, the water tribe are a completely separate culture living hundreds of miles away, and even a different sub-species/race, but they speak the exact same language as their forest counterparts?
    I didn’t feel the runtime though the same way I did trying to rewatch the first movie recently, plus nice bonus when Stephen Lang did the thing:

    You're Not in Kansas Anymore with Stephen Lang

    Become a fan on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/funnyordieWelcome to blank, you're not in Kansas anymore!See the original at: http://www.funnyordie.com/vid...

  2. I actually am trying really hard to pick the right movie theatre for that. It must be one that is not too far away, yet has preferably some next level cinematic doodat gizmo shit that I have never used before, like D-Box or whatever, and most important some damn good 3D with those battery powered glasses, since it’s the only 3D that I can actually see. And if I find a theatre that actually has some midweek morning showings, that would be a huge plus, since there would be most likely less other people in the same room with me.

    Movie watching got complicated, man!

  3. I went to a 6pm Thursday show – the first showing – and the theater was not crowded at all, to my surprise, so that wasn’t a problem. For my second viewing I was planning on the authentic Imax at the Science Center, but that’s become complicated because I learned it’s showing in high frame rate there. My friend who told me that actually thought it looked great, having not seen the format since THE HOBBIT, which he agrees looked like absolute garbage. I trust him, but I already went through this with GEMINI MAN…

  4. I love James Cameron for including jungle boy, but my only qualm about his movies is that no one ever seems to use the bathroom, and his ships don’t seem to have any. I could relate to Jake Sully and his clan if they took bathroom breaks.

  5. Vern, i saw this last night in a packed theater here (Pretty rare these days) in Singapore. Enjoyed it as well. Cameron is a true master at his craft. A filmmaker we can rely on.

    Do you think this would have worked better as a 6 part miniseries?

  6. Oh yeah, HFR would be preferable too. I heard that unlike previous HFR movies, they only use it in certain scenes, so maybe this why it hasn’t pissed anybody off yet.

  7. So regarding the HFR. I actually wish they would’ve gone with it the whole movie. It constantly flip flops between HFR and 24fps (which I guess they did by doubling the frames, which to my eyes gave it kind of a shitty stuttering look compared to the HFR footage). If you go with one or the other, your eyes sort of adjust to it, but because of how they did this, you’re eyes have to constantly keep re-adjusting to different frame rates the whole movie. And they didn’t just use HFR for the action, in fact, it feels practically random which scenes use it and which don’t. All that said, I still think it’s worth seeing this way because MAN, the HFR scenes literally look REAL. Anyone saying the CG in this film hasn’t progressed since the original doesn’t have eyes!

  8. Interesting how reviews in different countries really have a different slant to them for this one – UK critics have on the whole been twice as negative as any other territory seems to have been, especially the critics with the biggest platforms. It’s fully getting shat on. Some of the big critics are taking off the gloves in a way they’ve only tended to do for Transformers.

    They’re wrong though! I really think this one’s worth celebrating. It’s cool seeing Cameron really clearly treat this series as the culmination of career – like this one feels like a synthesis of everything he’s ever done near enough – it has Terminator and Aliens-style tech and hardware, Abyss deep sea action, some fish out of Piranha 2, Titanic’s climax – and Edie Falco could be really interesting as a tilted, villain version of the classic Cameron heroine. I love this film as, imo, just Cameron trying to show off everything he’s learned and achieved across his career. I think few films, certainly blockbusters in this era, are even remotely as passionate.

    Cameron’s had such an amazing career that it should be hard to meaningfully add to it, or to achieve much more in this mode than he has done. But he’s trying. For me, this movie has one moment that should go down as an all-time sci fi visual- Naavi Quarrich standing over his corpse, rotted out in a mech, picking up his own skull and crushing it. It’s just a 100/100 no notes perfect storytelling image, the type of timeless sci-fi beat that people would still be talking about if it’d been published in a Metal Hurlent comic or a Moebius story 40 years ago.

    The only aspects I’m mixed on is that in Avatar 1, I liked a lot how it cut between the aliens and the humans – for me, I hope future entries are a bit more balanced in and just have more people in – and I think the score is entirely functional but the series doesn’t have a sonic identity as distinctive as its visuals – but perhaps that’s the secret ingredient – keeping the sounds really conventional helps anchor an otherwise quite unusual, bold film. Also thought Spider looked distractingly like Evan Peters. Think he did well in a role that should have been utterly absurd and thankless though.

    I think the ‘return to earth’ idea apparently mooted for Avatar 5 (if this makes enough to get us there) will be literally as badass as cinema gets.

  9. I thought it was a reasonable idea to alternate HFR but ultimately found it more jarring to go back and forth. Especially within the same scene! It was like Bay cutting between 3 aspect ratios from shot to shot in Transformers! At least pick a whole scene to be HFR.

    But then I’ve liked Ang Lee’s HFR movies.

    SPOILER question about Kiri. It seemed a little abrupt to go from “she could die if she does this again” to “oops she’s actually fine.” That seems like it’s missing a middle part where she trains and learns to harness her powers.

  10. OK, first things first – it *is* a technical masterpiece. The story didn’t, to put it lightly, hook me in at all, but I was enthralled by the visuals too much to care. I’m happy I saw it, thought it was absolutely worth my time and money, and will definitely watch the next one as soon as it comes out.

    But the story… sorry, I thought it was terrible. Just a complete mess.
    I don’t think the first Avatar is poorly written. It’s an assemblage of clichés, facile storytelling and cheap emotional manipulation, but it’s very well-assembled and written. I may not like it much, but it’s very, very sleek. Here though… there’s so much contrivance and poor storytelling, while maintaining the manipulation. As always I’m glad other people are getting more out of it, but even after reading this well written, articulate review, I can’t agree with any of the points- I just can’t see what you’re seeing in the same material.

    I thought the frame smoothing was really well integrated, especially when watching it in 3D, but I also wish they had used it with more moderation – Like Fred above it felt to my eyes…. not quite the same effect as a Snyder-esque speed switching, but something along those lines. Felt pretty weird.
    And I wasn’t convinced about the 3D during the more illuminated scenes- I think I’ll prefer the sunny underwater scenes on my home TV, with HDR- but the final bits underwater in the darkened sinking ship were some of the best uses of 3D I’ve seen; it felt extremely claustrophobic and immediate.

    Vern, about that scientists epilepsy thing… I kind of groaned at that whole bit, given how wrong they are shown to be, and they’re not even able to help Kiri- Winslet’s character does, with something that looks suspiciously like acupuncture and magic breathing. Fucking scientists, getting in the way of mysticism. I thought Avatar was a little better than that, what with Weaver’s (as a mom) finding scientific ways to explain the… well, let’s call it Star-Wars-sci-fi aspects of the setting.

  11. As much as a technical marvel as it is, can we agree that Hollywood STILL hasn’t managed to master depicting CGI infants as actually realistic looking and non-creepy?

  12. You got a problem with Na’vi babies?

  13. Maybe I do, Vern. Maybe. I. Do.

  14. Man, the babies were literally the only thing in this movie not 1000% percent jaw-droppingly photorealistic. Nitpickers gotta nitpick I guess.

    By normal movie standards they were probably fine. But maybe a baby in the water would look more realistic if there was also a dollar bill at the end of a fishing hook.

  15. Those were some funky babies. Though, to be honest, if you’ve played any amount of video games they look pretty good in comparison.
    Nothing creepier than videogame children, especially when paired with typical video game writing, mocap and voice acting.

  16. Leave Chuck Rock Jr. out of this!

  17. Ok, now that I’ve got how much I liked this movie out of the way, have a rather weird observation to make. Did it bother anyone at all that Spider is almost naked the whole movie? Ok..not NAKED naked, but the dude starts and ends the movie clad in only a loincloth. Sure, it can be explained he’s this kinda “feral” kid who strangely enough reminds me of Chaka from the old LAND OF THE LOST series. And because he spends a lot of time with the Na’avi kids who by nature have the bare minimum of clothing. But it’s one thing to see fully realized CGI characters with unrealistic body shapes and color not wearing much, quite another to see a young flesh and blood boy finish off a 3+ hr movie showing off so much skin with the type of aplomb not seen since Chris Atkins in THE BLUE LAGOON. And weirder still when Quaaritch catches him and takes him back to the human base, dude is kept in a cell, then interrogated, then brought along for their hunt and kill mission and at no point does anyone, not even Daddy tell him “Boy, you wanna put some clothes on?” So, if he were to have remained at the base, he’d like, saunter into the cafeteria for lunch where everyone’s either in civvy duds, lab coats or military camo, pick up a tray of steak and mashed potatoes and walked up to the cashier, nobody would comment on his Tarzan attire? And Jack Champion is 18. I can imagine the shit storm if the character was female. Yeah, it’s not a deal breaker or anything, hell I’ve watched this movie twice and may even catch it a third time but this choice of attire for a character just felt…off.

  18. It does seem weird that Quaritch doesn’t mock him, but on the other hand his role immediately becomes their guide who’s supposed to show them how to do things like the Na’vi. And thematically it’s perfect, because you never forget which culture he represents even as he’s walking around on whaling ships and stuff, and though he can easily handle leaping over metal railings and stuff he never looks like he’s at home there, he’s always alien.

    If he ever does dress in human clothes it will be a shocking removal of his identity, like when Thelonious is naked at the animal shelter in BABE: PIG IN THE CITY.

  19. I wish they’d put Spider in some Kamandi-esque jorts.

  20. The only time Spider’s sparse jungle attire seemed odd to me was when he’s with the bad guys inside the dead Tulkun extracting the immortality goo, and all the scientists are wearing protective lab coats (and I think helmets IIRC?) while Spider’s got nothing. Even Brad and Janet in ROCKY HORROR were given lab coats!

    If Cameron wanted to keep the “noble savage” imagery of the costume while still allowing Spider some protective hygiene while inside a dead animal, he could’ve had *transparent* lab coats in that scene. But maybe he considered that and decided that the only thing worse than making the kid look like Zed in ZARDOZ would be to make him look like Zhora in BLADE RUNNER.

  21. The biome is a constant tropical rainforest/island one, so Spider dressing like that all the time fits for that reason.

  22. Having seen it in regular 3D, purely out of curiosity I went to a HFR 3D screening.

    To me – the regular 3D is the better experience. I find adjusting, i dunno, to just the way animation registers to be hard. Contrary to a poster above, I really found the HFR scenes to be register as less real – but it really might come down to an eternal mystery of how our eyes and brains decode things differently….

    Interesting that the big HFR advocates seem to be older filmmakers of a particularly elite tier (Jackson, Ang Lee, Cameron) rather than young up and comer filmmakers. I think it might be because they’re too old to have played 3D video games – not being glib here! For me, higher frame rate motion registers immediately as video gamey (and there are moments in A2 that feel like those transitionary moments in games where, post-cutscene, the camera drifts into position before the player takes control.

    I think someone unfamiliar with games would view the tech more as ‘here’s this new thing cinema’ can do when people my age will see it more as ‘here’s what games do already’. I genuinely wonder how reactions break down across demographics.

  23. This fantasy deserves to flop. I’ve not heard of anyone who wanted this sequel. The first one only did well because of the 3D gimmick and they’ve only made this one based on the number$ the original brought in. And it seems Cameron has come up with another gimmick for this one- HFR. Can we have more films with real people in and not blue aliens or superheros please? Its so dumb and childish.

  24. Yes, absolutely – everyone is lining up to watch movies made in HFR! It’s the future, I tell you! And it’s never been used before and no one’s ever said anything negative about it even if it had been used!

  25. David – I disagree.

  26. David, now imagine how much happier you would be if you would spend your time recommending others good movies with “real people”, that are not “dumb and childish”, instead of just repeating random negativity from the Reddit hivemind.

  27. @CJ – That’s cruel – we all know no one makes movies with real people that aren’t dumb and childish any more. Everyone’s making superheroes and blue aliens movies, chasing that sweet sweet HFR money.

  28. I think this one didn’t work as well as the first and the first one was flying with one wing down already. By the end, nothing’s been resolved, nothing’s really changed. With Aliens and T2, the scope of the universe expanded and the stakes raised. This is just the first movie all over again, but wetter. It felt like an episode of a TV show.

    Like a Saturday morning cartoon, specifically, one of those that’s adapting the movie it’s based on, but leaving the finale open-ended so they can have more adventures every week. Can’t you just picture nasty Quaritch and his band of hooligans (all they need is some bad guy acronym like T.O.X.I.N. or V.I.L.E.) kidnapping some Sully kids every week, same Bat-time, same Bat-station?

    In the first one, the bad guys’ motivation was corporate greed–you could tell yourself that unobtainium was used for something nonessential (something they weirdly do here by spelling out what the yellow goo is needed for). But here, the humans are refugees: their only choice is move to Pandora or die.

    So… doesn’t that make Jake kinda an asshole, as a human who moved to Pandora? He’s saying “fuck you, other humans–I’ve got mine, but no one else is allowed to move to my new home and get a hot blue wife!”

    Really, I thought the Na’vi as a whole were supposed to be spiritually enlightened, but they come off as total dickwads. They’re all racists and when Kiri goes into battle, it’s not enough that she destroys the enemy’s vehicle with giant anemones, she has to kill the helpless pilots as they flee for their lives. Even Spider saving Quaritch isn’t depicted as him abiding by some Na’vi custom of showing compassion or mercy to his enemies, it’s just his daddy issues.

    What moral fiber do these beings show? Being loyal to their own blood relatives? Quaritch does that—that’s a bare minimum, not anything noble. It seems like they’re only heroes by dint of their enemies being cartoonishly evil.

  29. Nah, fuck those pilots. Look what they did to the Tulkun!

  30. The Na’vi… they’re just kind of a plot device in these movies, there to provide some drama for our real protagonists (Will they or won’t they accept our protagonists as their own? Validate us that we’re not complicit in the killing of the native/whales, that’s just those other one-dimensional dicks?). In the first one the Na’vi just stared as Sully took every single decision and did almost everything for them; in this one, they’re at least a bit more assholish towards Sully and his clan, but… in the first movie they fight the last battle. Here they’re there for the first fight, and then inexplicably (or did I miss something?) disappear for the climactic string of nighttime battles/rescues. I get that the scenes needed to be more intimate, but they could at least have come up with an excuse for why all the natives disappear.

    As an aside, I actually thought the movie was going to get interesting and do something unexpected for a second when [slight spoilers] the Na’vi kids ditch Sully’s son outside the reef. If he had died there, it would have opened a whole lot of interesting dramatic possibilities. As it is… @Kaplan I disagree with your specific criticisms, but I do think these movies don’t really show much more depth than a Saturday morning cartoon. Which is fine, because the action and visuals deliver to a ridiculous degree, and they have other charms, but I can’t defend the scripts- especially for this sequel.

  31. Saw it last night and I truly enjoyed it. Never got bored. James F*ckin Cameron man. Still
    One of the best directors of action. Plus, he always makes you care about his characters.

    The plot was kinda meh, and seems like it took a lot of maneuvering to make us see why the original needed a sequel though….. no idea how they stretch this out to 4-5 movies????

    @ dreadguacamole. Thought the same thing. What happened Tonowari and the rest of his clan during the final battle on the ship? Did I miss something? I thought he might have died, but then he shows up again at the end.

    Only miscast I thought was Edie Falco. I like her as an actress, but here I thought she was stiff and stiles trying to be a rough military commander.

    Overall, it was alot of fun. Will it hold up to multiple viewings??

  32. In regular movies HFR looks like ass, but it works for 3D. The point of 3D is t be immersive, and look at moving objects in real life…much closer to 60 frames a sec than 24. There’s no juddering in real life unless you’re having a stroke. I remember seeing the first movie with the glasses and the frame rate made it weird, I actually noticed that. 3D is probably the only time I’d recommend HFR, although it was interesting when Ang Lee used it for that Will Smith movie. It kind of made the ction, even bits that weren’t that interesting, really visceral, raw and real. Still, I wouldn’t use it in general.

  33. It’s funny, many of the reviews complain about the slow second hour but I think that was my favorite part. Granted, I consumed an edible beforehand, but I loved just hanging out in this beautiful beach world and learning how everything works in the context of a low-key drama of the forest Na’vis integrating with the ocean folk. But I guess Cameron’s gotta Cameron.

    I saw it in 3D/HDR and the switching between frame rates didn’t bother me (mostly because I think the fluidity of the faster rate really helps the 3D) but I did wonder why they didn’t just use it throughout. The best I can figure is that it just didn’t work as well for some scenes—maybe some of the CGI doesn’t hold up. Who knows. I trust they had reasons.

  34. @dreadguacamole I fully admit that this is maybe more a pet peeve than a legitimate piece of criticism. I like the genre of “the hero is a bit of a psychopath, but he’s taking out the scum of the Earth!” just fine–this book I wrote, A Man Called Bone (

    ), is pretty much that, in a vividly researched Western setting with numerous scenes of graphic sex and violence–but when it’s paired with a “the hero is a moral paragon” message, it starts to feel creepy.

    I don’t need a Lawful Good hero to be perfect, but just some sign he *has* a moral code and he’s trying to adhere to it, instead of indiscriminately torturing and maiming and executing prisoners because, hey, he’s the good guy and them, they’re the *bad guys*… maybe that’s exacting of me. I’m sure in real life, I would support a pro-Na’vi foreign policy, even with a lot of them using the ‘demon’ slur and finger-shaming people. But as characters in the silly fictional world that’s meant to entertain me for ten bucks, I don’t consider them likeable.

  35. I’m having further Avatar thoughts – think the film does something interesting in its development of the chosen one as a trope – in that seemingly reframed or superseded, moving from Jake to his daughter. I think it is an interesting reframing of the first film, emphasising that he’s Moses or John the Baptist rather than Jesus. And it opens up interesting avenues for the future of the series. Characters like this generally do not die (not til the legacy sequel made 30 years on) – Jake feels marked for it, it’s just interesting seeing a film series make the space for its ostensibly main character to die for reasons other than contract necessity (and I do think Cameron will do it, as a way to have the series assume an even more epic register).

    Related – There’s another aspect of the film that feels both like a weakness in some respects – certainly in terms of pacing – but which is also unique. We have Jake returning from the first film, top billed and centred by the film’s ending as the central lead.

    But multiple characters around him are given roles or stories that traditionally signify that of the lead. Kiri is a chosen one, an outsider discovering the full extent of her power – she’s Rey, or she’s Harry Potter. Lo’ak is recognisably the main character of a coming of age story, a young man navigating the expectations of his family and challenges of adulthood (and befriending a large animal along the way, which is a very familiar and distinct sub-genre (including literal The Whale Rider), Spider is Tarzan and his journey, the choices he has to make, is the film’s most conventionally dramatic – he’s also the only well-developed human in a fantasy kingdom, which traditionally translates to the lead in these sorts of films.

    And I think maybe most strikingly we have Quaritch – whose journey mirrors Sully’s in A1, and who as a result is left with the most defined arc. Other characters seem to weave in and out of prominence – he ends up feeling like the film’s de facto lead almost by default, just as the character the film seems to return to most steadily.

    I think it speaks to Cameron’s ambition – and also might be why I like this film and think it interesting but wouldn’t peg it as an instant classic – I cannot think of a non-anthology film that brings so many main characters together. It’s like Cameron’s set out to make the ur-film, a series that syntheses all the tropes pop cinema’s tended to circle and plugs them all back into a masternarrative. Like Avatar is aiming to be every blockbuster franchise all at once.

    I do think it gives the film an odd, baggy shape – but it also means the overall trajectory of future films, where these characters will go and who will assume prominence, is hard to guess.

    It is a hell of a way to end a career. Like it took a couple viewings for it to click with me just how MUCH he’s trying to do here. I think it is just an even more distinct and crazy enterprise than generally recognised.

  36. @Kaplan – I just think the script has bigger problems than an inconsistent morality – I mean, the list of movies where the heroes kill mooks by the dozen but then have moral qualms about killing named villains is… well, most movies where more than a few bad people get killed.

  37. I was going to skip this in the theater, but the technical achievements and Vern’s glowing praise swayed me. The calculus involved to find a theater which had all the bells and whistles was harder than I thought, but I ended up seeing this at a Regal in 3D, HFR, on an “RPX” screen– which showed the movie in 1.85 (I think) and not 2.35, which was cool. On maybe the second shot of the film, a gentleman in the theater let out a very loud and orgasmic “Oh WOW,” and after it was all over, raved about how it was the best movie he’d ever seen. I wouldn’t go that far. While I did not have the herky-jerky or stuttering HFR experiences as some others mentioned, I did think it made the above-water scenes look very video-gamey. The underwater scenes looked great. I think Cameron mentioned that being underwater makes everything look hyper-real in real life, so the HFR translates well for those bits. That said, while there are some cool shots or sequences– I don’t think the 3D or HFR is strictly necessary to enjoy the movie.

    I also rewatched the first one in advance of seeing this, and I prefer the sequel. It helps that the dialogue is less clunky. It also dispenses with a lot of the “white savior” stuff the first one had. Here, Jake screws up, and it’s his mixed-race kids who take the spotlight and act as the moral compass of the film. (And I agree that it makes no sense why Jake moving his family out of the forest is going to help or protect the Forest People at all. Aren’t the colonizers still trying to wipe them out? Did they just stop fighting and capitulate to the invaders? Maybe we’ll find out in part 3.) But it’s the kids who accept those who are different from them, who have an even stronger connection to the environment, who put their lives on the line to do the right thing. Cameron understands that the young people get it. I also thought the performances of all the kids felt really natural, including Sigourney Weaver. I hope they all have successful future careers where they can show their human faces onscreen (including Sigourney Weaver).

    I also agree with those who feel this still continues the cultural appropriation and/or stereotyping of the previous film, moving from one indigenous analogy to another. Cameron is obviously well-intentioned. And this movie widens its themes of assimilation, showing it from multiple perspectives, for good and ill. I think it’s an improvement from the first one. But I’ll defer to those for whom the topic is more personal.

    Also, side question: Pandora’s a moon, right? Have they ever even mentioned anything about the giant planet that it’s orbiting? Are we going to end up there in AVATAR 4?

  38. @Bill – it looks like the gravity on the moon is similar to earth’s, so I’m guessing the planet it’s orbiting must be a gas giant – a solid planet of that size wouldn’t make a lot of sense, but then again Avatar is pretty far from being hard sci-fi. Maybe they’ll say it’s laced with unobtanium and that makes it habitable

  39. @dreadguacamole – Actually, that cliche is weirdly one I don’t have an issue with, because usually it goes like this:

    1. The hero fights his way through the villain’s mooks, all of whom actively attack him with deadly force, compelling him to defend himself. Mooks are killed in the heat of battle.

    2. The hero fights the villain.

    3. The hero defeats/disarms the villain, who is left helpless and at the hero’s mercy.

    4. Villain starts doing the whole “you don’t have the guts to kill me!” spiel, but despite being sorely tempted, the hero refuses to execute the villain, preferring to let the justice system deal with this *unarmed prisoner*.

    (5. Villain tries to sneak-attack the hero, who either defends himself or is saved by a third party, which kills the villain dead.)

    I don’t know, I don’t consider myself particularly far-left, but isn’t this how we want heroes to behave? If I was living in a Die Hard movie and I heard about some New York cop killing a bunch of terrorist/thieves in a shootout, I’d be cool with it, but if I heard that he executed someone in cold blood, I’d think John McClane probably shouldn’t be a cop anymore.

  40. @Kaplan: Right, gotcha. Wouldn’t the idea then be in this case to show that Sully’s lost it, but his kids are being better than him?
    (Not that I believe that works as written; I remain unable to see the depth everyone else is seeing in this script. Honestly, I think Cameron is just angry at whalers and came up with a cheesy revenge fantasy. Which is fine!)

    I still think that the cliché that killing the help is ok but killing the main villain, who isn’t just doing his job, but is instigating… whatever it is he’s doing wrong, makes me roll my eyes. I enjoy those scenes, and there’s a hundred reasons why it’s a good idea to do it that way starting with narrative expediency and ending with that the mooks are faceless and thus machine gun fodder, but I dislike the underlying rationale. Maybe I’m hypersensitive to it due to playing so many videogames where morality only comes into play with named characters.

    Conversely, it didn’t bother me that much that Sully killed off Quatrich, because I don’t really see him as heroic… like, at all. He’s stumbled into greatness (meeting a princess on his first outing, getting taken into Na’vi confidence, etc. etc. etc.) but one of the things I actually like about these Avatar stories is that… well, they probably wouldn’t agree with my interpretation, but they do show him making mistakes and being kind of a goof. He’s just failed upwards due to cheap script contrivances spectacular luck.

  41. I think we’re on different pages here. I don’t have any problem with Sully ‘killing’ Quaritch–it’s war, it’s in the heat of battle, and Quaritch went out of his way to start the fight (I suppose, if you squint, I could see Sully’s move to beachfront property as an effort to avoid bloodshed, but the movie doesn’t come off as that complex). Spider then saving Quaritch is, I guess, in-character for what little character Spider has.

    My issue is with the scene where Kitty mind-braids some anemona into destroying a human sub, then the scenes goes on to show the pilots trying to flee and Kitty kills them too, well after the point that they’re any threat.

    It’s played for righteous vengeance, but like picture a scene in a WW1 movie where a German pilot shoots down a British plane, the pilot parachutes out, and then the German shoots him too as he’s helplessly floating through the air. Wouldn’t that strike you as the actions of a particularly villainous and sadistic pilot–not just a guy who’s doing his duty in a war?

  42. Oh, ok! Haha, right.
    That scene with Kitty was gratuitous, but… whalers. It’s payback – they enjoyed whale-killing, so they must die. If you want to be kind you could say it’s whatever it’s called, the angry world mind getting revenge through Kitty, rather than her doing it (though that sure isn’t how it’s presented.)
    Anyhow, if that Brit plane had been shown doing strafing runs on orphanages and schools and puppy and kitten shelters, surely it’d be satisfying to see the pilot get blown out of the sky again after he parachutes out.

    The whole whaler thing is a good example of something that bothers me a lot more about the script. Real-life whaling is horrifying enough, but here’s Cameron thinking that’s not enough, so he stacks the deck and makes these space whales to be these perfect, beatific, hyperintelligent -and- hypersensitive creatures. And you better believe the whalers know all about it but don’t care; that’s pretty much what Clement’s character is there for, to make that crystal clear.

  43. Well, in your orphanage-killing Brit pilot scenario, then I’d see the whole conflict as basically a race to the bottom where neither side has any moral high ground and they’re just seeing who can out-atrocity the other. (spoilers for Andor?)

    Being the iconoclast that I am, I was actually somewhat offended that Cameron went all in on having the space whales be the victims in his little analogy–yeah, bold stance there Jimmy, taking on the powerful pro-whaling lobby–while the space shark is a gruesome killing machine that goes after poor Na’vi like Michael Myers after Jamie Lee, before getting triumphantly beaten down by Shamu. That’s an environmentalist message? “The natural world is beautiful… except for sharks, fuck those things, they’re pure evil.”

    Now, if Cameron were going off on how pointless and brutal shark finning is, that’d impress me. But whales… shit, people are angry about how bad whales have it at *SeaWorld*, much less being hunted by Aussies.

    Sidebar: Between this and Black Adam, are Australians the new ‘foreign but not *too* foreign’ baddies of choice? And Clement is from New Zealand too.

    What’s really weird is that if there’s any country I’d associate with killing cetaceans en masse, it’d probably be Japan, right? Did Cameron say “okay, I need to blame *someone* in the South Pacific for whaling, but uhh…. not *them*.”

  44. @kaplan – my read on the Kitty murder scene is slightly different to yours – there’s a note of ambivalence to it, I think, her facial animation/performance signals, ‘ok too far, what just happened’ to me. Think her character is at the start of a long journey and wielding absolute power will take a severe toll.

  45. Kaplan, given that Cameron’s made NZ his Second Home, and the fact I think all Avatars are shot there too explains the inclusion of some KIWI talent. Although Cameron’s other crime is to give the talented and frequently funny Jemaine Clement such a nothingburger role as the guilt-ridden scientist. But Thank God for small mercies, I guess. We could have had Taika Waititi mo-capped as some wise-cracking Na’vi.

  46. Wasn’t Clement doing an American accent though?

    Anyway, I enjoyed this quite a bit. I don’t think these AVATARs will ever be among my personal favourites, and I’m not counting down the days until 3, but while it meandered a fair bit it kept me entertained, engaged and often charmed for the duration, and so much of the real or imagined crassness and cynicism I see in so much contemporary mainstream entertainment, even some of the stuff I enjoy, is nowhere to be found here. While I liked him, I must admit I didn’t think Lang lived up to the hype in the first film, but I thought he (and/or his animators) was sensational here.

  47. Apropos of nothing, it seems odd for the movie to make such a big deal of killing/sparing Quaritch when the company can just spin up a new clone of him if he dies.

  48. As a guy who hasn’t seen it yet, I can imagine making new clones costs a shit ton of money and cloning someone who failed twice, might not be high on their money spending list.

  49. Plus this film’s Quaritch is, as the film points out, not actually the same character, and one who by the end has developed in some interesting ways compared to his antecedent.

    Although who’s to say AV3TAR or AVATA4 won’t have multiple Quaritches?

  50. I was actually expecting Quaritch to bond some with Spider and show him some of his redeeming qualities, but that didn’t really happen. If it had… and it was maybe meant to??… then I could see some weight behind Quaritch 2.0 as an individual (assuming the company can’t just back-up 2.0’s new memories as well).

    Would also have given Quaritch some interesting motivation if someone told him that if he failed, he wouldn’t get cloned again. Or that he’s on the hook for the money it took to clone him and the only way to pay it off is to catch Sully. But pretty much all we got was a hero-villain rematch, so.

  51. I think it did happen. Maybe not to a great extent, but enough to make Quaritch 2.0 interesting to me in his own right, and for me to be interested to see where he’s going

    And given that Quaritch2.0 is cloned from the memories of Quaritch1.0 c. a couple of hours before the end of the original film rather than a rehousing of his very soul or consciousness, he wouldn’t necessarily have much investment in whether a Quaritch3.0 is an option as he’ll be gone anyway. And thinking about it, given that Quaritch2.0 ends the film [SPOILERS EVEN THOUGH WE’VE KIND OF BEING SPOILING ANYWAY] alive but abandoned, it wouldn’t surprise me if the company does make Quaritch3.0 and we start to see where the differences come in, like in that other HFR classic GEMINI MAN.

    Incidentally, I don’t really agree with using “well it will (or did) pay off in future films” as a defence for a film, this was just to say I’m more interested in the character’s future than I was at the start of the film.

  52. My guess for Quaritch 2.0’s trajectory in this is that he will change sides, but it won’t quite be a redemption arc – he’ll become like a Na’vi equivalent of the ‘white jihadist’ extreme convert sort of trope (which’ll potentially dovetail with the darkness we briefly see Kiri display in A2).

    I think, a bit Star Warsy, we’ll see her feeling conflicted between the methods of her father and another, whether the ends justify the means and all that.

  53. To ask a few more questions:

    1. Did the Tree of Souls (or whatever it was) from the first movie get roasted when the humans landed? It would be an obvious move for the humans to make and explain why Jake and the Na’vi were too demoralized to fight up until the end, but it seems like they would’ve made a point to mention it and it seemed like the Hallelujah Mountains were intact. But given how cartoonishly evil the humans are in this, I can’t see why they wouldn’t ‘nuke the site from orbit’.

    2. Given how hostile the Pandoran ecosystem is to human life and how the humans are intent on colonizing the place, why not just colony drop the whole place back to (even further into?) the Stone Age? Sure, they can benefit from harvesting whale goo, but at what point do the Na’vi continuously butchering their people outweigh that? And given that the survival of humanity is at stake, how long is RDA going to keep sending down grunts with rifles to handle the situation? Tl;dr, we’ve established that the humans have zero issue with burning down a Delaware-sized chunk of real estate–why not just *keep doing that* instead of going around asking if anyone’s seen Jake Sully’s kids?

  54. I thought this one really worked in the ways that the first film didn’t. I like the first movie quite a bit, but Sam Worthington wasn’t really up to the task. Here, I kind of loved all the Sully kids. It was a smart idea to make this more of an ensemble, and the family had a great dynamic. It’s also just James Cameron once again tapping into something elemental for his audience. Sure, he paints in broad strokes, but he does it so much better than anyone. And I think Worthington’s performance was actually good.

    While I was watching the final hour, I kept on thinking why others aren’t able to make movies this exciting. It should be easy enough. Just tap into common human emotions–like the desire parents have to protect their children–and construct an exciting action scene. But no one is doing this on the level of Cameron. And I do think it’s largely because filmmakers, and probably audiences to a large extent, are just afraid of sincerity.

    And, sure, Cameron stacks the decks, but it makes it so damn satisfying when those colonists eat it. I absolutely loved that extended whale hunting sequence. The tech is cool, and I love how they updated 19th century whaling. But you also need that scene for the finale to be that much more satisfying.

    I realize that I prefer my movie blockbuster villains to be actually evil rather than well intentioned people who “going too far.” The latter seems like an attempt to dress up your dumb spectacle in “complexity.” The example that comes to mind is Thanos, even though his environmental concerns make absolutely no sense in the world of Marvel. It’s just the dumbest attempt at complicating the villain.

    But the one thing I genuinely don’t get about Avatar criticism is the claim that its story is simple. Sure, I guess. But where are these complex, mind-blowing plots in your average blockbuster? Maybe the Matrix movies had complicated plots, but otherwise, I can’t think of anything mindblowing in blockbuster cinema in the last couple of decades, at least in the case of the story. And obviously the movies are borrowing from other narratives, especially the first one. But whenever there’s a Batman movie, I don’t hear people complaining that it’s just a ripoff of The Shadow. Or whenever a superhero movie borrows a plot from the comic books, people don’t get upset that the film is unoriginal. I just don’t know why these particular films get hit with a criticism that could basically apply to every blockbuster made.

  55. It does seem there are unclear “rules” among the twittering classes about how derivative Blockbusters are “allowed” to be. It’s embarrassing that AVATAR shares so much with DANCES WITH WOLVES, but it’s cool that THE BATMAN is heavily influenced by SE7EN. It’s bad that JOKER is influenced by TAXI DRIVER and KING OF COMEDY, but it’s franchise and perhaps even genre-definingly awesome that WINTER SOLDIER is “a 70s-style conspiracy thriller”. READY PLAYER ONE homaging a range of pop culture is desperate, and GHOSTBUSTERS AFTERLIFE is totally “the Leo pointing meme” amirite, but it’s wonderfully cathartic that NO WAY HOME has Willem Dafoe repeating old dialogue because it’s been memed and that they resolve some beats from AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 that were giving us all sleepless nights. I’m sure there are some nuances that I’m missing, but I sure am missing them!

  56. Seems like I’m gonna watch it today, although I haven’t fully decided yet. Currently I’m not in the mood to watch anything longer than 90 minutes. But if I go, it will be in that awesome historic over 90 year old movie theatre that I mentioned in the FABLEMANS comments. Doesn’t have any D-Box or whatever gimmicks and I’m not sure if its HFR, but 4K laser projection (whatever that means) and a great atmosphere, yo. Also it starts at 11:30am.

    My point is: Fingers crossed that the 3D will work for me or else I later have to settle for a 2D home video viewing again.

  57. @RBatty – don’t get me started on Thanos. That people find him an acceptable villain at all still boggles my mind. I’ll at length about it to anyone who will listen at the drop of a hat.

    As the most vocal AVATAR story disliker in these parts, I guess all I can say is that it doesn’t work for me at all. I’m sure Cameron is sincere in his environmental and anti-whaling messaging, but there’s so much artifice surrounding it all that it didn’t come across as sincere at all for me. What people call elemental storytelling, to me feels extremely basic. I still found the movie enthralling, but that’s all down to Cameron’s mastery of visual language, and a ton of people working a ton of time burning a ton of money to put his vision down on digital.
    It’s not a deep bred cynicism (which, fair enough, applies) or fear of sincerity (that, I resent!) that pits me against it, it’s more that I find the plotting for these movies cynical, contrived and manipulative. The first one works better because it’s very well put together, but I didn’t find the same with this second one, which I thought felt a bit amorphous, made storytelling choices I thought were bad, felt lazy despite being overstuffed with incident and is full of plot holes and ridiculous coincidences. On top of being very, very manipulative.

    Standard disclaimers for this sort of thing: I’m not trying to get anyone to dislike this, I’m happy most people enjoyed it! And obviously I don’t think my taste is better than anyone’s here, as almost everyone has put up defenses of it that are much more eloquent and thought out than my misgivings (well, except for David – sorry, dude, but your dialectical skills need some work). Beginning with Vern’s review. But… I can’t see what you guys are seeing.

    Most people recognize, as you do, that Cameron is painting with very broad strokes, stacking the deck, using elemental storytelling, playing with archetypes… the line between all of those things and what I accuse the script of is extremely thin. There’s a buy-in to that sort of thing, and whereas I was perfectly happy to pay it for, say, MAVERICK, the AVATARS I feel are trying to sell me faulty goods.
    And once you don’t buy into a movie, stuff you’d shrug off on other movies will irritate you, like being derivative.

    @Pacman – I seriously disliked all the newer movies you list up there, except NO WAY HOME, but I disliked them because I thought their scripts sucked, not because they were derivative (well, except JOKER, it really did seem to me that all there was to it was TAXI DRIVER plus KING OF COMEDY plus Todd Phillips screaming “look at the size of my baaaaaalls” at the top of his lungs. Plus a really good Phoenix performance, but that’s a given.) Guess at least I’m somewhat consistent : /

  58. *”I’ll rant at length to anyone who’ll listen…”

    Even the mention of Thanos puts me out of sorts. I’ll defend a lot of things about the Avatars, and can find a lot of nice things to say about their scripts, but ENDGAME and the other one will only ever get hate from me.

  59. Dammit, you guys, I just had today a live changing realization: I do not care at all for “the theatrical experience” anymore!

    After spending weeks trying to research the best possible movie theatre to get my eyeballs fucked by James Cameron and his tech wizards, I was standing in front of this wonderful, historical building, saw people lining up to buy early morning tickets and thought: “Nah, 3 hours for a movie that I can’t pause, with strangers who may not shut up and play on their phones all the time, maybe I won’t be able to sit comfy (my neck was already acting up again) and afterwards I still have to spend an hour or longer to get home, so…let’s NOT watch this movie” and instead I went to the nearby mall to buy some CDs, eat a donut with a candy bar glacing, use one of the coin operated massage chairs and unsuccessfully flirt with women who were way above my league.

    Seriously, I don’t know what was up. I was looking forward to spend some time in a state of the art theatre that oozes history from every wall, only to realize that it wouldn’t have brought me joy. And it wasn’t the movie’s fault. I’m not even sure if I can blame it on my depression, since the day was otherwise pretty fun, but I feel like watching any movie in 2D on my old trusty 32″ Not-full-HD TV from 2008 seems to be the better option than going to a theatre.

    Oh well.

    Got some cool CDs though.

  60. I’m not as in to the theatrical experience as I was a few years ago for various reasons, and only went a handful of times this year, but I feel lucky that I’m the only one on the internet who apparently doesn’t have regular issues with bad audiences. I would say I have had about 5 out of all my cinema trips, none of them fully ruinous

    I was never much of one for seeing old films on the big screen though, even personal favourites, I always felt I could just watch them at home, so in a sense I was never a true believer. I saw BATMAN 89 a few years ago but mostly and the suggestion of my friend, and mostly because we wanted something to do while we were in London the night before a concert.

    I still think not pausing is generally a positive for me and my waning attention though.

  61. I’ve been done with seeing movies with an audience for years. All it takes is one stupid selfish asshole to ruin the whole experience. It’s happened to me to too many times. There are still some movies that I want to see on the big screen, though, such as this one, but I won’t see it for another couple weeks. At that point, I can be reasonably certain that I’ll have the theater more or less to myself if I catch the earliest matinee. Having the assigned seating chart is helpful in that regard, because I can know when I’m buying my ticket how many people will be in there with me. If it’s more than five, forget it. I’ll come back later.

  62. I do prefer to take a piss without missing a bit of the movie though. The cinema around the corner from my childhood had the cool gimmick of having the sound from the movie run through the speakers in the bathroom, so that you could at least still hear what was happening.

    But it’s odd. I’ve never been a hardcore movie goer myself. In my teen years I definitely went twice a month, but mostly sneak previews, so that had the fun extra of not knowing what you would get and maybe watching a good movie that you otherwise would’ve never watched. (To my own surprise, there were only very few bad ones, with the worst being the German pseudo-feminist comedy DIE HÄUPTER MEINER LIEBEN, followed by the Kevin Costner romance MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE.) But yeah, movie theatres were always just a barely used alternative. Even in my years where I watched over 180 movies in a year, you could say only 2 or 3 were seen in a cinema, the rest was on home video or TV.

    Yet I never had an “Ugh, this is gonna be a chore” reaction like today before. At least not one that wasn’t specifically tied to the movie.

  63. I think it’s been at least a few years since I’ve had a bad audience experience and whatever that was wasn’t too bad. The last seriously disruptive one I can remember was the first EXPENDABLES, when literally an entire row of bros felt they owned the theater. That was obviously a special occasion.

    Some tweet prompted me to say how many times I went to a theater in 2022, and using Letterboxd I determined it was 34. So it’s definitely possible to go pretty often without anybody talking or using their phone in front of you. Admittedly, most of those are on weekday afternoons, which not everyone can do. But even when I’ve gone to the event movies on Saturdays there’s generally at least half of the theater empty these days.

  64. My beloved Cinerama (RIP*) played the sound from the movie in the bathroom. I usually can managed not to go during the movie but I remember learning that on KILL BILL VOLUME 2 viewing #2.

    *A beloved treasure of the city, it was owned by Paul Allen, who loved it, remodeled it, put costumes from his movies on display in the lobby. Of course, we only get good stuff if a rich person is willing to give it to us, so after he died his company didn’t give a shit, handed it off to shitty management and then closed it for “renovations” shortly before the pandemic. Then during the pandemic announced that actually they won’t reopen, sorry. It’s still there looking beautiful and haunting me on a nearly daily basis because what the fuck.

  65. Don’t get me wrong, my theatrical audience experiences have been mostly good to neutral, probably because Germans are generally quiet movie watchers, which unfortunately also robs me of collective “Hell yeah!” moments. Sure, these days you get a lot more phone checking in the middle of the theatre, but I think the last time I actually had a bad experience, was back in 99 during the first MATRIX! (And that movie was so great, these rowdy asshole kids in the backrow couldn’t ruin it.)

    Still, I have been thinking about my “Eh, nope” all day and it seems like I am losing interest in movies as a whole. When I was younger, I watched everything, from arthouse to trash film, but these I’m just not feeling it anymore, no matter if its an old or new one.

  66. I tend to prefer home viewing to the theater, but regularly visiting this site has compelled me to go to the theater much more often than I had before. I think I went 13 times this year, which for me is 2-3x more than usual. I live in the “sticks” and the theater is usually sparsely attended, but I also tend to stick to Sunday matinees or discount Tuesdays. I did take a drive to see TOP GUN 2 in IMAX which was pretty full, but the audience was, on average, probably 30 years older than me, so they weren’t rowdy.

    For AVATAR, I wouldn’t be able to replicate the 3D and maybe not the HFR experience at home, so for that I felt it was worth it. Even if it was a test of my bladder.

  67. When I’m going to a theater just for me I usually opt for a fancy dine in theater. Not great for my waistline but it makes it a treat.

    Of course the biggest draw for me is a theater showing 35mm. I wonder how much longer those can be maintained and provide that old school experience.

    Either way though, it takes a bit out of me. Maybe that’s being 45, maybe that’s the state of the world, but if I overbook I find I can collapse w exhaustion. Odd because a movie is supposed to be relaxing fun but it’s still an outing. My parents did it for me when they were my age though there was far less to contend with in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

    I don’t know the answer. I still make the effort to go but I get a little choosier. You’re not alone feeling like it’s too much hassle. Part of that is also the rigamarole chain theaters put us through, 25 min of trailers and pre-show et al. Sure we could show up late but that’s still emotional labor to cope w a hostile environment.

  68. CJ, I’m maybe not all the way with you, but definitely it’s getting harder for me to settle down to watch a film and I suspect the number of films I watched this year would be precipitously less than in, say, 2014, even though I had a more active social life back then. The choice is overwhelming in good and bad ways, so many nights I can’t decide what to watch and just end up settling for an hour long YouTube video on the history of MARIO KART or whatever (and that’s when I actually settle down to watch something rather than wasting time online). Making matters worse for myself I still semi-regularly buy second hand DVDs of “classics” or “rare” films that aren’t included as part of streaming services, and so many of them inevitably take ages to get round to and start adding to the long-lasting backlog dating years back. It upsets me sometimes to think there’s a generation growing up now (I’m primarily talking the Under-10s) who quite possibly may never care for films full stop (is this how people felt when films and TV started to eat away at the cultural place of the novel?), but it’s not like the same factors shaping them aren’t affecting my own appetite for film.

  69. I’m going much less too. One of the main factors is that the majority of the movies I want to watch get relegated to the smaller, crappier screens on cinemas near me even on their first week, so I just opted to invest in a good TV with HDR so I don’t need to worry if the screen is kind of ratty or the projector light is a bit dim. Most of the things I go to the theater for these days is stuff I can take my son to.

  70. Don’t get me started on my movie collection. It’s HUGE and I truly haven’t seen most of them yet. But I also kinda stopped buying new ones. That store where I bought all those CDs yesterday? I used to spend more time browsing their DVD shelfs, but didn’t even look at them this time.

    I rarely watch YouTube videos though.

  71. Stories of people being done with theater going because of disruptive audiences abound on the internet, and I just don’t get it. I go to the movies A LOT (hundreds of times in the last few years) and I literally cannot remember the last time a movie was RUINED by disruptive audience members. It just doesn’t happen to me. The biggest disappointments I’ve had with theater going is technical issues (AMC truly does not care about their sound mixes unless its a Dolby screen).

  72. Other than seeing Bride Of Chucky on my 18th birthday by myself with 3 other people that found the need to chuck who knows what at me during the trailers (At the time I had long hair in a small town and was used to stupid people) I haven’t had too many bad experiences. Even that didn’t ruin it for me. Still enjoyed the hell out of the movie. I think what Vern and others have said about going to matinee showings particularly on Sunday cuts down on bad experiences.

  73. I really loved this one, and found it almost excruciatingly powerful at times. Hope to post some more in depth thoughts soon.

  74. The movie is out there breaking records (Even with a huge part of America being snowed in and China living through pandemic horror again) and people are wondering why, as if the “nObOdY iS cOsPlAyInG aS Na’Vi It HaS nO cUlTuRaL ReLeVaNcE” Reddit echochamber ever was something that should be taken seriously.

  75. For whatever reason people have a bizarre, almost quasi-religious dedication to the “no cultural impact” idea, and it’s not just Reddit; the AV Club has pretty much died this year (it’s been “dying” for years, but there seems to have been a particularly killer blow earlier this year when a lot of the remaining writers were pretty publicly screwed over), but when they did a “AVATAR did have cultural impact, actually” article around the time of the (successful) theatrical re-release, about 3-4 times as many commenters as they get for an article total otherwise posted within a day to shake their fist at the sheer *gal* of someone daring to suggest such a thing. I bet people will somehow find a way to claim that AVATAR 2’s success actually proves nothing. “Of course people went to see it, the marketing was so aggressive and there was nothing else out! People were just curious to try 3D again!”

    I’m going to throw out here that SCOTT PILGRIM is basically the mirror image of AVATAR; it appeals to a very specific niche audience that has more or less been there from the beginning when it did lacklustre business, but because that audience is very high profile online and at comic-cons etc. internet people and such think it’s grown into a huge phenomenon when the average person (especially above a certain age) remains mainly unconvinced or uninterested. Maybe I’m simplifying that a bit but I certainly don’t think a theoretical 2 SCOTT 2 WORLD would be pushing a billion (or perhaps even $100mil).

    For the record, my less than great audience experiences, as noted, none completely ruinous:
    – Seeing FURIOUS 7 late in its run (possibly even the last original run screening in my city) where it was pretty much just us and a few rows behind us a mother and her young son, the mother seemingly describing the plot of the film to her son in a foreign language (I believe Chinese). Kind of cute but obviously not ideal
    – A 2-for-1 offer inspired Saturday matinee screening of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE GHOST DIMENSION in 3D, again pretty much me and a friend, with a stereotypically rowdy group of horror film attending teenagers a row or two behind
    – A group who started heckling, with some pushback, HEREDITARY in the last 10 minutes or so. They were completely quiet until then.

    I think there may be a couple I’m forgetting, but those are the ones that stand out. I know ESCAPE PLAN was the first time I saw a youth in front of me who literally spent the *entire* film on his phone, really making you wonder why he would come to what wasn’t even a particularly big film, but to be fair he kept quiet. A mid-day screening of PENGUINS OF MADAGASCAR (I don’t have to justify my life to you!) was again just me and a friend, with a lone 17 or 18 year old a few rows behind us who seemed to spend the whole film laughing taking selfies. More amusing than disruptive.

  76. Yeah, there is something that I call the “Comic Con Internet Bubble Phenomenon”, where a movie fucking slays it a Comic Con previews and/or “The Internet” is fucking in love with it and you might think it will materialize into huge commercial success, but in the end they can be happy if it at least gets some minor cult following out of it. SCOTT PILGRIM being a prime example for that. Or FIREFLY. One could’ve thought that SERENITY would’ve been one of the blockbusters of its year, but oh noes, the theatrical ending to a TV show that was cancelled halfway through its only season because of low rating had only very little box office appeal. Even the Sn*der C*t of a certain superhero movie didn’t really make a splash outside of certain internet corners, otherwise WB, as fucked up as it is right now, wouldn’t scrap the whole thing and start over under James Gunn’s management.

    I think the only movie that actually did manage to rack up some money after huge Comic Con and Internet buzz was DISTRICT 9, but honestly, if the sequel will ever happen, I can’t see it becoming as popular as part 1, which even got some Oscar love during the Academy’s “We try to cater more to the popcorn folks” phase. I know that now I sound like one of those Reddit folks, but unlike AVATAR, DISTRICT 9 really seemed to have disappeared from popculture. At least Cameron’s movie was at the very least constantly talked about, even if it was mostly in a mocking way. But when was the last time you heard someone talk about DISTRICT 9? (That said, if D10 come out, I won’t spend the months leading up to its release telling people about how irrelevant it is.)

  77. Dunno, they may be nerd catnip but Scott Pilgrim and Firefly are way more niche than Avatar, a crowd-pleasing movie by design – of course they’re not going to pull in even one hundredth of the numbers [citation needed]. Even movies with much broader appeal (like, to stay on Edgar Wright, Hot Fuzz or Baby Driver) don’t. As for Cultural Impact… that’s such a subjective thing. What are we talking about, staying power or the degree to which they capture the popular imagination when they are in the public eye, so to speak? Because I think Avatar overwhelmingly ticks the latter, but not necessarily the former, at least not more than any hugely successful blockbuster.

    It’s a weird metric which doesn’t necessarily translate to success – and I can’t think of that many movies with actual, long-term broad cultural impact and have left some sort of legacy. Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Indy, Jaws, Matrix, sure. What about Blair Witch, Anchorman, or even Rocky Horror show? The MCU as a whole, with maybe only Black Panther qualifying individually?
    I wouldn’t put either of the Avatars in any of those camps (or Scott Pilgrim or Firefly; Buffy, though, would be a shoo-in).

    Social media communities are always going to exacerbate the worst tendencies of any discussion, and make vocal minorities seem to be much larger than they are. We’ve seen that over and over again in the last decade and it’s caused no end of pain. With Avatar, even valid criticisms get lobbed with exaggerated bile because of the whole ‘wake up, sheeple!’ mindset that’s depressingly everywhere these days. Add to that nerdy hipsterism against anything that’s too popular, ideological warfare, and that’s why I avoid Twitter or Facebook like the plague and stick with forums like these.

  78. …and I know the above is basically what you guys were saying, wasn’t arguing. Just curious as to what constitutes cultural impact; Beyond it being too subjective, to me it’s a very small subset of movies that get to that point, so it’s not really useful metric.

  79. In all fairness, SCOTT PILGRIM was an expensive major studio tentpole release.

  80. Jesus, was it? Here there was zero marketing and it debuted on one of the smaller screens on my local cinema despite pretty positive reviews. Maybe because it had already flopped in the US. Same with Pacific Rim.
    To be fair, whoever decided to risk money on SP wasn’t very good at his job – you want something a lot safer if you’re going to stake a tentpole on it.

  81. Yeah, in Germany it started a few months after the US and was basically dumped to one single theatre in Berlin, although they at least tried to give it a push by having a special preview screening at Gamescom. Don’t know how heavily it was marketed in the US, but I heard afterwards people complain that it was “sold wrong” and lots of fingers were pointed at the posters that just had Michael Cera playing guitar in front of a red background with the tagline “An epic of epic epicness”.

  82. Over on Twitter it’s already a cliche to argue “Sure, AVATAR 2 is making money, but I’m not seeing any gifs or memes of it, so it has no impact.” And #1, they’re obviously not following the same people I am, and #2 it kinda seems like me trying to argue that since I honestly know very few people who have even seen the movie SHREK that proves it’s unpopular or forgotten among regular humans.

    But the thing is, I don’t know – I did spend much of the time between AVATARs defending AVATAR when it came up. It may be fair to say it’s the biggest hit movie ever but did not endure universally in people’s memories. Why is that even considered a dig against the movie? Am I only supposed to like the most universally popular movies and scoff at all others? Do the same people think, “Ha – THE ABYSS never really caught on in the popular consciousness. You suck, Cameron!”? It seems like a waste of energy to debate it.

  83. SCOTT PILGRIM had a budget of around $85m, depressingly probably considered “mid-budget” already by 2010 so I doubt anyone thought it would be an AVATAR-level success, but it was certainly meant to be more mainstream than Wright’s other films.

    To be fair to DISTRICT 9 if it has become semi-obscure it was “big for the budget” (plus an early beneficiary of the expanded Best Picture category) rather than being as huge as we remember. I think it’s also dimmed a little bit as a result of Blomkamp, fairly or not, blotting his copybook with film geeks, and not just because he threatened to trample on all the deepest religious convictions of ALIEN3ists. Personally I liked ELYSIUM about as much or a little less than I liked DISTRICT 9, which is to say kind of, but many weren’t convinced. CHAPPIE really lost me though. After that he did one of those very generic looking horror exorcism films that came out years after the others, not the one with Colin Salmon that came out a couple of months ago, another one. I could look it up, but it’s more fun not too. Maybe I’d like it.

    I sometimes get Blomkamp’s later films confuse with Duncan Jones, who arrived at the same time, and seemed to have more or less the same trajectory of instantly being declared “important” and/or visionary to being written off and even kind of forgotten in under a decade. In both case I think the initial hype was a little excessive, but also kind of unfair of them, and hopefully they’ll bounce back.

    And maybe it will happen for at least one of them, I have just learned Blomkamp’s next film will be an adaptation of the GRAN TURISMO games (hopefully us Grannies will get to see one of the classic GT arcs adapted to the screen!) in which David Harbor DRIVEN-style trains the teenage son of Djimon Hounsou and, this is the part I will not 100% believe this until at least the first trailer, Geri Halliwell. That certainly sounds memorable.

  84. I’m afraid according to the IMDb plot summary GRAN TURISMO is not an adaptation of the video game, it’s “based on a true story” about a kid who was good at the video game and transferred those skills to a successful career racing actual cars.

  85. People’s need to debate “rules” would be fascinating if it weren’t so toxic. Like, what do they win if they prove Avatar had no lasting impact?

    It’s like the “Die Hard is not a Christmas movie” people. How does it hurt you if people consider it a Christmas movie?

    I actually explained to one person this year who was insisting Christmas movies are only movies about the holiday, not just set during it. I told him everyone had their own definition of Christmas movie and nobody ever knew that until someone started saying Die Hard was one. And instead of going “huh, I guess it can be more than one thing” some people decided “NO YOURS DOESNT COUNT!” There was no stone tablet that decided genre. A Christmas movie can be both about the holiday or set during the holiday and no one gets hurt.

    I suppose Avatar is either one or the other, a cultural moment or not, but it’s the same principle of why is this worth arguing? It exists and they’re making more and reply guys don’t see any of that money.

  86. “I’m going to throw out here that SCOTT PILGRIM is basically the mirror image of AVATAR; it appeals to a very specific niche audience that has more or less been there from the beginning when it did lacklustre business, but because that audience is very high profile online and at comic-cons etc. internet people and such think it’s grown into a huge phenomenon when the average person (especially above a certain age) remains mainly unconvinced or uninterested. Maybe I’m simplifying that a bit but I certainly don’t think a theoretical 2 SCOTT 2 WORLD would be pushing a billion (or perhaps even $100mil).”

    “Yeah, there is something that I call the “Comic Con Internet Bubble Phenomenon”, where a movie fucking slays it a Comic Con previews and/or “The Internet” is fucking in love with it and you might think it will materialize into huge commercial success, but in the end they can be happy if it at least gets some minor cult following out of it. SCOTT PILGRIM being a prime example for that. Or FIREFLY. One could’ve thought that SERENITY would’ve been one of the blockbusters of its year, but oh noes, the theatrical ending to a TV show that was cancelled halfway through its only season because of low rating had only very little box office appeal. Even the Sn*der C*t of a certain superhero movie didn’t really make a splash outside of certain internet corners, otherwise WB, as fucked up as it is right now, wouldn’t scrap the whole thing and start over under James Gunn’s management.”

    Am copying and pasting the above for no other reason than to acknowledge and applaud how much truth and rationally argued points they contain, for which my only response is..I CONCUR…to the power of 10.

    Wish more Internet discourses were like this.

    I mean, I’ve praised the SNYDER CUT JUSTICE LEAGUE around these parts and most likely annoyed some people in the process and I still love it, but I’d like to think my head isn’t shoved that far up my ass that I believe this should have been the cut they released to cinemas and it would then have made ENDGAME numbers because people will show up in droves for a 4 hour movie that’s an alternate take of a move they hated the 1st time around.

    And I love DISTRICT 9. Watch it practically every year, but even seeing it for the 1st time and loving the ever living shit out of it, I was later surprised that it made decent numbers. I mean, it’s gripping, thrilling, a great action sci fi, but it comes wrapped in a veneer of nihilism which is common to European or Korean thrillers, but not something you see in a lot of Mainstream American Blockbusters. The “hero” has a classic redemptive arc, but possesses neither the polished wit and charm of a Tony Stark nor the chiseled strut of a Thor. He looks exactly like what you expect an Office Drone, A Corporate Lackey to look like. And he spends half the movie looking even uglier as he transforms into the “prawn-like” aliens. And the movie doesn’t end with a “Ooo..hero discovers Cure, injects himself, transforms back in time for a tearful reunion with his family”. His future in unclear, which makes DISTRICT 9, in more ways than one, the spiritual successor to Verhoeven’s ROBOCOP.

    I didn’t mind ELYSIUM but yeah, hated CHAPPIE too. What possessed Blomkamp to sideline a cast comprising Sigourney Weaver, Hugh Jackman and Dev Patel in favor of giving more screen time to a pair of Zero Charisma South African rappers? And the male half of that duo, Ninja, looks like the only part he’s eminently qualified for is “Punk #5” in a gang fight scene out of GREEN STREET HOOLIGANS. And BTW, a friend of mine is a fan of Die Antwoord and made me listen to some of their songs. Their music, like their acting, sucks major ass.

  87. “and I can’t think of that many movies with actual, long-term broad cultural impact and have left some sort of legacy. Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Indy, Jaws, Matrix, sure. ”

    DIE HARD, dude! DIE HARD! You can’t NOT put DIE HARD on that list, given something as recent as VIOLENT NIGHT rips it off wholesale in some scenes (to be pedantic, DIE HARD 2) and all 8 seasons of BROOKLYN NINE-NINE had a central character obsessed with it!

  88. This has probably been said before but I think there’s a certain segment of people that don’t like Cameron from his acceptance speech at the Oscar’s for Titanic. “I’m the king of the world!” Whatever. That’s what he chose to say. Maybe people don’t like him because of Titanic. I’ve personally not watched it since the theater because I saw it while seeing it with my grandparents who are long gone and other family. So nothing can really touch that and I’ve been reticent to revisit it. In the end, For whatever reason people love to underestimate Cameron. Like people have said it’s an internet most people going to see this movie wouldn’t even be able to remember he directed Titanic. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it is having an impact on the culture because (shudder) people were interested in it and went out to see it.

  89. People are probably constantly underestimating Cameron, because nowadays he takes his sweet time between movies for one reason or another. Since the first AVATAR, Christopher Nolan has released four movies. Zack Snyder 6 1/2. Even Spielberg and Ridley Scott had each 9 movies, with Scott also adding a TV pilot to his filmography. Not counting his documentaries, Cameron only directed two movies and 1 TV episode in the whole 21st century so far!

    So in a way it is a bit understandable that he has more to prove and people wonder if he still has it. Even if it’s clear by now that they have no reason to doubt him.

  90. @Kaykay – Haha, sure, Die Hard would absolutely make it. And Burton’s Batman, which was the most I’ve seen any movie take over pop culture in my lifetime and left a huge legacy behind; I also left out Pulp Fiction and a ton of others. It’s a marginal number of movies, but given how many movies get made…
    It’s interesting (still pointless, but interesting!) because it’s one of the few approaches where you could reach a consensus list most people would agree with, and a have set of clear-ish guidelines to take into consideration. I was more interested in the fringe cases, the ones that would divide people, because that’s what’s always going to happen even with an apparently clear-cut definition like that, and then we’re back to square zero. Shit is subjective.

    So it’s still pointless; 99.99% of movies have cultural impact in that people watch them and like them and talk about them for a while, and then they’ll fade from view – every now and then something will remind you of them and it’ll pop up again briefly, and you’ll rewatch it, but it won’t be alive in popular culture any longer. Most of my favorite movies fall into that category, and that’s fine. Like most of the arguments in these pop-cultural wars, it’s kind of a bludgeon people hope to use against the other side – a pretty dumb one. I mean, even if they’re only talking about short-term impact, don’t these people see the irony in talking about Avatar to prove how little people are talking about avatar?

    Honestly? I think part of the problem is that Cameron did make three of these cultural touchstones (which I also forgot when I made the list. D’oh!). Nerds feel like they own him because he’s a part of their cultural identity. So when he starts making these movies that are patently not just for them, they felt betrayed.

  91. Most plots are simple. That’s actually kind of what makes them “plot” and not “story”. Complicated plots are usually for noir films that no one can explain (not a slight on noir, just saying).

  92. I personally find it a little weird how much people are hanging their assertion that movie does have cultural impact on the box office, when to do that, you’re ignoring that it’s pretty much only major movie of its type released over the Holiday season with nothing really to compare it to for something similar. I started working in a Cinema over here in the UK recently and it’s basically been taking up most of the screenings, with the other movies being:
    -the last lingering showings of VIOLENT NIGHT, an R-Rated action movie that has more limited reach
    -Limited showings of STRANGE WORLD, which I understand died on its arse and wasn’t particularly well promoted and went to Disney Plus before it even stopped it’s theatrical run
    -MATILDA: THE MUSICAL, which doesn’t even have a theatrical release in the US and isn’t what I’d call a blockbuster
    -Starting this past week, the WHITNEY movie, which again, not really a great alternative to something like A2

    Remember, we were supposed to be getting AQUAMAN AND THE LOST KINGDOM over Christmas originally, and that is a sequel to a movie that also made a billion and defied expectations by beating the widely promoted MARY POPPINS RETURNS.

    None of this is to diss Cameron, who I’m at least glad is getting to make something like this and without seemingly having to change it to be more commercial with more unnecessary jokes or whatnot, and I hope the success gives him the clout to get ALITA 2 greenlit. I just think there’s a weird amount of stanning going on from people who seem to take it personally that people doubted the movie would do well.

  93. For influential movies you can see the circles you’re in, and that is a 45-year old’s geek list. No Death Wish or Dirty Harry? Or Psycho? Or Wizard of Oz? Godfather, 2001, Bruce Lee. Or shit, Universal or old Disney movies. So for the next 45s who knows, they may not mention Pulp Fiction.

  94. Muh, that was a really short list, and I tried to keep it relatively modern. Would definitely include all the ones you mentioned, and a host of others. My main point is that a) it’s still subjective, and b) I probably wouldn’t put Avatar in that company. It doesn’t matter anyways because as Vern said it’s ridiculous to put down a movie because it’s not a time-tested classic. Anyhow, I’m sorry I brought it up because it doesn’t seem to be the type of cultural impact everyone seems to be talking about… it’s a much sillier, harder to measure form of it.

  95. Will Camerons new baby get all the Oscars (how many are there?) this time? Wstern culture a la 2023 is high level fairy-tale story-telling for grown ups. Lovely.

  96. I was pleasantly surprised by this. I dislike the first AVATAR—all too often it feels like an excuse for Cameron to wallow in misanthropy. Despite the main humans here being even more vicious and despicable than the fist, THE WAY OF WATER feels much less smarmy. Maybe it’s that some of the Na’Vi are (on a personal level) jackasses this time (Winslet, notably, is playing someone who loves her family and is otherwise an unpleasant jerk-I can see where her son got it from-while remaining ultimately an ally), and that Quaritch Mk. II gets a few shades of complexity. Maybe it’s that the kids are so well performed (I vastly prefer them to their parents, and I think Jake benefits a bit from being an ensemble player rather than THE main character).

    I’m in for part III, certainly.

  97. Was VERY fortunate to be on a US tour when this opened, AND had a trip to London after that.
    So (and yes, I’m bragging 😂)

    Saw it
    1. Imax 3d with partial HFR at the largest New York Imax screen.
    2. Dolby cinema partial HFR 3d at the biggest Dolby cinema screen in New York
    3. Stereo D 3D 4dx in Leicester Square London.

    Tried to experience as many formats that you can’t experience at home as I could.

    On a technical standpoint, best 3D in the business right now is hands down Dolby cinema 3d. Best quality, best light though the glasses ratio, everything. ALSO best sound on Dolby cinema (atmos), better than the huge imax, better controlled bass as well.

    On the movie:
    Liked it very very much, did not love it, after the first viewing found the whole “we fall in love with water” section the easiest one to go to the bathroom / for popcorn etc.

    BUT as a whole, I believe it is a movie that has to be experienced in the best viewing possible because the job they’ve done is ASTOUNDIND.

    On HFR =
    When I saw the movie changing back and forth from 24 to 48(?) constantly and within scenes I was first taken aback. Im not a video game player BUT I do despise the “soap opera effect” millions of people have turned on on their TVs. BUT. Then I started seeing the STARTLING difference between judder (24) and no judder (48) and in the end appreciated the effort.
    What made me DOUBLY appreciate IMAX + DOLBY CINEMA was the third vewing being on old ass regular stereo d 3d. Murky visuals, undefined characters, mostly blurry foregrounds / backgrounds, insufficient light going through the glasses making day looking like Night, night like fog. A total shitshow compared to the premium formats.

    As to the “bad cinema experience” and especially the people saying that people are overreacting.

    If ONE FUCKING PERSON IN FRONT OF YOU in whichever seat opens a fully light up phone, the illusion is RUINED. Your eyes BY DEFAULT lock, even for seconds, to the BIGGEST LIGHT SOURCE. and on a regular screen, the biggest light source is the incensitive-egotistical scumbags PHONE.


    Some CHECK THEIR FUCKING MESSAGES as if they can sit the fuck down for 5 minutes.

    Some even, I kid you not, open the phone, brightness to 100%, to SEE THE TIME. MULTIPLE TIMES!!!!

    FUCK THAT. Want to look at your fucking phone? Have in mind there are people all around you. Put it LOW between your feet at 1% brightness if it’s such an emergency. Or better yet GET THE FUCK OUT OF THE SCREENING Room.

  98. Seems like I’m gonna lose my D-Box virginity next week (That sounds filthier than it did in my head). With THE SUPER MARIO BROS MOVIE. Don’t judge me, Vern. Still, kinda excited to see how this is gonna turn out seatwise.

  99. I wouldn’t judge you. And that seems like a good way to see that movie.

  100. I underestimated how hard D-Box goes. I expected some mild vibrations, but it already kicked the shit out of me during the first five minutes. Is it always so intense? It was just SUPER MARIO BROS, man! Even during normal dialogue scenes, the seats were mildly punching me when someone opened a door or whatever, then tipping to the side when the camera moved. I quickly set them to low most of the time and only cranked them up when I sensed that an action scene came up. (The big Mario Kart scene was almost on amusement park ride level with that gimmick!)

    For those who care: The movie was fun. Not great (It really needed an act or two more, because the plot was just “They go from A to B then the finale happens at C, the end”, although that’s also oddly faithful to the games), but I enjoyed it. The most irritating thing were a few really cheesy needle drops, which probably was a hommage to the music breaks on THE SUPER MARIO BROS SUPER SHOW. The 93 movie is definitely the more interesting failure, but this version is pretty much what every kid who grew up on SMB dreamed of.

  101. Glad to hear you enjoyed it CJ. I still don’t regret seeing the live action one in theaters due to how idiosyncratic it was. Though it’s nice to finally get something a lot more straightforward. This generation of kids lucked out. Was thinking of taking my nieces but just to a regular Dolby presentation.

    The concept of D-Box makes me feel like a boomer. I’m not looking to have all my senses overloaded like that just to enjoy a movie. IMAX 3D is more than enough for me though I don’t think Mario qualifies for that. It was my preferred WAY OF WATER experience though and I had 2 excellent showings of it that way with some great edibles to help along the way. Having water sprinkle on me when Super Mario is swimming underwater or whatever is more than what I need under those type of circumstances.

  102. Finally caught up on all the events of Pandora and holy fuck, the FX of that movie really blew my mind. There were so many shots where I suddenly thought: “Holup, this is some computer animation and not some actors in make up!” And I don’t mean that in an “It took me out of the movie” way. (The rest of the movie was cool too, although part 1 was a biiiiiiit better IMO.)

    Anyway, the one thing that I really wanna talk about is about how charmingly old fashioned James Cameron does NOT try to push the PG-13 rating. Both movies, but especially this one, have an extremely high bodycount. It may be a shamelessly environmental series, but it doesn’t portray violence as something bad.* The heroes, even the teenage ones, never regret killing the baddies and are ready to kill hundreds more if necessary. Yet he never goes overboard with the graphic depiction of it. It all feels more like a classic Western, where cowboys would get shot or hit by an arrow, then instantly drop dead without any hint of blood. There were so many moments where I thought “Okay, here comes the one gruesome PG-13 death”, but it never came. You see a guy about to get crushed by a giant underwater tentacle plant, but he never explodes in a cloud of dust. One guy ends up in the mouth in one of those dragon things, but he never gets bitten in half. Just thrown out of the air vehicle. Nobody even falls into those big ass propellers that are everywhere! One guy gets his arm cut off, but this is more a nice bit of poetic justice, than some cynical sadism. And it’s shown from far away. Compare that to something like SKULL ISLAND, where people get impaled through the mouth, ripped apart or digested alive. I’m not a prude, but it’s nice to see how a director like James Cameron can still deliver on some kick-ass action that never feels like he’s holding back. He just knows that what he does is cool enough.

    *In that way it just shows how people are full of shit when they say it doesn’t feel like real James Cameron. That guy has such a complicated worldview. Like he fetishizes the military and knows how to portray them as badass, but he is not against portraying them as villains. He obviously blames them and excessive weaponry for the existence of wars, but also believes that the best way to keep the peace and safe the world is to go to war and kill the shit out of all the bad guys with the biggest machine gun possible.

  103. *explodes into a cloud of BLOOD

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