James Cameron directs Sam Worthington, Stephen Lang and Sigourney Weaver in this sci-fi epic sequel where the human turned alien, Jake Sully, takes his family to the safety of an ocean community after his insurgency against his old species gets personal.
The marketing campaign made it very, very clear. This is going to be all about gangly, blue, semi-nude, cat-like humanoids. Cameron is doubling down. While there are still live action humans dotted about, very few of them will garner much focus. Avatar 2 is, in the main, a very sophisticated animation that only every 10 minutes or so feels like the uncanny valley has been entered. So if you’ve spent the last 13 years shitposting about Thundersmurfs there ain’t nothing for you here. Even series highlight, Stephen Lang’s megalomaniacal Quaritch, has been resurrected in a Na’vi husk. All hope is lost.
Our lone human protagonist in the busy ensemble is a barely clothed, dreadlocked white kid in a gas mask. A callback to the Feral Child or Newt who risks being a bit overbearingly Scrappy-Doo in the first act. Eventually his presence evens out into something worthwhile, less annoying. Avatar 2’s real strength over the initial instalment is how often Worthington’s dull lead is shifted back to the mid ground and his more potent family of half breeds and outcasts are given valid time to work their own plot lines. It ain’t Altman or PTA but for an action ensemble you do start to care about the wayward kids who populate said action. It is the character work and potential arcs established here that make 3, 4 and maybe even 5 a more tantalising queue of prospects. A seismic shift from where we were at close of play last time. In 1 Cameron built an alien world. Here he propagates a franchise.
And I ain’t coming to a Cameron blockbuster on opening weekend for the hippy dippy stuff. The environmentalism. The being at one with Pandora. The anti-colonialism. The iffily repackaged genocide of the natives by the settlers. White guilt. The second act that spends a lot of time on lonely tortoise-whale therapy sessions. How do you even rate some of the daring-do when it is so pointedly abrasive? We get a future-whaling sequence that is shaped like a kinetic set piece but ultimately leaves you feeling sad rather than pumped. I’ve come for the spectacle. And because I care just a smidge more for the family and the stakes involved this time than I ever did about Sully’s bland interloper last time… the carnage in the third act fulfils its brief solidly, even nostalgically. It ain’t as perfect as the groundbreaking, live action stunt and explosion stuff Cameron delivered in say Aliens / The Abyss / T2 / True Lies but I think we all know, outside of Tom Cruise movies, those days have long since passed for the multiplex. This felt more wholemeal an adventure than Doctor Strange 2 or No Way Home or Avatar 1. It feels churlish to give it the same score of 7 as those movies. But as blockbusters go the improvements and undeniable quality of the craft don’t make this suddenly any more entertaining. And that’s what I’m ultimately gambling 190 minutes of my week on.
Perfect Double Bill: Avatar (2009)
Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog https://cornsyrup.co.uk
We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here https://letterboxd.com/bobbycarroll/list/the-worst-movies-we-own-podcast-ranking-and/