Dominating the box office this holiday season, “Avatar: The Way of the Water” continues to reign supreme at most cineplexes. There are a few different screening options: a standard theatrical experience, 3-D, IMAX, and even a screening experience akin to an amusement park ride, 4-D. If you’re one of the few humans who hasn’t seen this movie, should you? And what format should you seek out?
The first consideration is whether you enjoyed the first “Avatar” film from 2009. It was groundbreaking at the time, and I believe most people went to see the film in 3-D. After all, it was filmed in 3-D and was meant to be experienced that way with impressive immersive experience of the animated world of Pandora. The story may have been rather ludicrous, but the visuals were amazing. If you enjoyed that film, you should definitely see this one.
When possible, I always recommend watching a film as the filmmakers intended it to be seen. I paid extra to watch “Top Gun: Maverick” in IMAX because I knew the aerial battles were spectacular, and I’m glad I did. I can’t imagine watching either “Avatar” film on your television or even as a standard screening in a movie theater. Director James Cameron worked with his production crew for years to attain the craft to present this film on the big screen.
I would recommend that if you’re planning to see this second in a planned series of four films, in 3-D. Should you splurge and see “Avatar: Way of the Water” in IMAX or 4-D? I would say that depends on your budget and the availability of those formats at your local theater. Having never seen a film in 4-D, that’s what I choose for my screening.
The theater has stadium seating with what appear to be large recliners. The big difference is the bar in front of each group of seats and the footrest attached to the seat. I was grateful for that footrest as I found I had to brace myself once the gyroscope under our seats began to lift us up and we were thrown up and back and to and fro. Embed in the seat are mechanisms like you’d find in a massage chair, only these were used to thump you when someone is thrown or shot.
We were seated in a small grouping of seats in the middle of the theater. Judging from my experience, the end seat (where I sat), got the most seat movement. There were times when a battle was on screen, that I was almost lifted out of my seat. It was very much like a roller coaster ride. Twice I found that I’d slipped way down in the seat and was gripping the cupholders to stabilize myself. There were puffs of air emitted at ear level blowing my hair up comically and the bar in front of us, spit mist and “rain”. The middle seat bore the brunt of the water assault which even seemed to come from the ceiling. My companion needed to wipe his glasses more than once. It was quite immersive to feel a salt spray as a character on screen was diving into the sea.
Even wearing the 3-D glasses, we could see the mist created by the fog machines. The air smelled faintly of smoke during the battle scenes and seemed to smell of seawater, but that one might have been my active imagination. Between the rocking and rolling of the seats, the thumping on my back, puffs of air in my hair and mist–I was feeling as buffeted as if I was also at war. This took me out of the narrative. I have to say that I only enjoyed the whole circus when it was a gentle gliding or soaring motion. When a character was flying or riding a sea creature, the experience added to the wonder of the film.
The story is both simple and befuddlingly, with ties to the other film that seem complicated. As you’ve seen from the trailer, it’s one man’s journey to keep his family safe. The lead character is a returning one from the first “Avatar”, Jake Sully. Played by motion capture by Sam Worthington, his range seemed limited to concern, frustration and rage. The narrative gives him scant time to express much else. This film’s best performances are from the women of the cast.
Zoë Saldaña, also from the first film, is given a much wider range of emotions and she’s wonderful as the mother, Neytiri, who’s had to uproot her family and flee to another tribe to protect them. Her interactions with the children and Jake, provide the fulcrum that the story needs to transition from forest to sea and peace to war.
The other two standouts in the film are the characters played by Sigourney Weaver and Kate Winslet. In a story that’s basically war fought by macho men intent on subduing the planet and the Pandoran natives for profit, it’s the women who must embody peace and alignment with nature. Weaver was the reason to watch the first “Avatar” as she was the one to discover the planet and attempted to understand the society. Here, she plays both that character and her “daughter” (through her avatar, in a complex subplot that’s not comprehensible), the mystical Kiri. It’s her wonder at the sea world and new life and her connection to the Great Mother, that embolden the story with emotional resonance.
Kate Winslet portrays the wife of the leader of the Na’vi race, Ronal. She’s a spirited woman who is suspicious of these interlopers. She wants to protect her family and her people and views Jake and his family as a threat. It’s only after she gives her consent, that the family is allowed to join the tribe. Her feral expressions and haughty manner enliven any scene that she’s in. In a film where the entire plot centers around the Offworlders from Earth intent on capturing and killing Jake, the women seem to be the only ones with sane ideas.
The men from Earth are BAD–so bad that they target the mother whale-like creatures with her baby. Why? She’s the easiest target because she won’t abandon her baby. They’re so BAD, they chew gum and blow bubbles. There’s a lot of bravado and posturing. The military mend stomp around hoisting weapons and bragging about who they’ll kill. These macho men (and a few women) are led by the mean general, Quarritch. It’s cartoonish how broadly drawn these characters are. There’s no nuance in this film.
The silliest aspect of the film is the ending. In a Titanic-type twist, the family must learn to trust their skills learned from the Na’vi to survive the capsized military boat. Somehow, the entire army has disappeared to let the rescue take place. It’s best not to think about why the entire evil enterprise is riding on killing this one man or why guns and grenades are no defense for arrows.
It’s best to not think about the plot. If you go into the film to enjoy the scenery and beautiful worlds Cameron and his crew have created, you’ll enjoy the movie. Watch Kiri’s face light up with wonder. Enjoy Rotal’s sarcastic take-down of Sully’s ego. Watch Neytiri mourn her son’s death and marvel at Zoë Saldaña’s performance and achievement. She’s appeared in three of the five highest-grossing films of all time (Avatar, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame), a feat not achieved by any other performer. Hurrah for women of talent being recognized for their work.
Drinks with Films rating: 2 gallons of whale tears (out of 5)