Avatar sold almost entirely as a tech demo first and a narrative experience far behind, and it sold very well. However, being visually impressive as the whole selling point of a movie only works once, and the many sequels to come are going to have to come up with something else.
Although the first Avatar is the best-selling film ever made, the prospect of a sequel has always been questionable. Director James Cameron’s intentions to make half a dozen entries in what would become his longest-running franchise were seen as less than necessary.
Avatar: The Way of the Water hits the big screen later this year, with the original film hitting multiplex screens in September. It’s a very smart move, and not just because it’s been thirteen years since the film was released. Given that the film’s most notable cultural impact between the first film’s theatrical release and the sequel trailer was a meme about how forgettable its characters were, some work had to be done. There’s just nothing particularly memorable about the original film’s story. It’s a patchwork of existing concepts woven into a deeply unoriginal narrative. The sequel starts from an unusual point, dealing with the weight of positive and negative expectations.
It could reasonably be argued that Avatar is closer in presentation to a science fiction symphonic poem than to traditional cinematic storytelling. At its heart, it’s a simple story about a culture of profit-obsessed colonizers crushing the society of natives connected to nature until a single connection changes the relationship between the two cultures. Comparisons with Pocahontas Where dance with wolves are common enough to be overtaken at this point. The somewhat unique elements are buried in its more esoteric narrative details. He enters into strange spiritual digressions around the deific figure that connects the planet Pandora. Many ideas are more interesting in their premise than in their execution. There are questions of identity and of the human soul that could arise that simply do not arise. The idea of a machine that allows a human to take on a new mind might be a stellar body horror premise, but that’s not the story. Avatar means.
The narrative of the first film is somewhat restrained. It doesn’t feel like a setup for a franchise, it feels like a story without substance with a solid beginning, middle, and end. Although the cast is famously forgotten, the main characters from the original film return for the sequel. Sam Worthington’s Jake Sully is back, as is Zoe Saldana’s Neytiri. Stephen Lang’s Colonel Quaritch will return, despite his apparent death. The character of Sigourney Weaver is also dead, but the actor will be back as the daughter of Kiri, Jake and Neytiri. From the limited information currently available, fans know the sequel will take place more than a decade after the original. Since Stephen Lang and other human soldiers are back, it’s fair to assume that the conflict will focus on the humans once again fighting with the Na’vi. The main thing the marketing is looking to show off is the underwater shooting style, yet another visual gimmick. This doesn’t bode well for the possibility of a solid narrative in The way of the water.
People don’t know much about Jake Sully or Neytiri because there isn’t much to know. The characters are superficial and simple, their motivations are extremely simple, and they were both made elsewhere. Worthington and Saldana fit the roles very well, but there just isn’t much to work with. There could have been a lot more to explore in the world of Pandora if James Cameron and company had chosen a whole new set of characters to follow. As it stands, bringing back a ton of stuff that barely held the public’s attention over a decade ago should come as no surprise the second time around. The thirteen-year gap could have allowed The way of the water a fresh start with a new region of the world to explore. Avatar could be an anthology series that explores different adventures through Pandora or even different versions of the central body-swapping trope, but it sticks to its guns. This decision will probably not be to the advantage of the film.
The likes of Martin Scorsese have decried big-budget blockbusters like Marvel movies as little more than theme park rides, much to the chagrin of fans of those movies. Whether he’s right or not, this complaint is best directed against something like Avatar. Theme park rides usually don’t have suites. Whether the franchise continues beyond its second entry, the thing that Avatar needs is a good, solid story to snag all the visual splendor. The way of the water could prove to be a lot of fun on the big screen, but if it’s a retread, people will laugh at how forgettable it was a few years from now.
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