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“Avatar 2” bites off more than it can chew

James Cameron’s “Avatar 2: The Way of Water,” the sequel to the 2009 movie “Avatar,” opens up with spectacular sweeping shots of a beautifully-crafted world and a montage of a growing family that serves as an emotional hook very few can resist. 

Sam Worthington’s Jake Sully and Zoe Saldana’s Neytiri are blessed with four children: sons Neteyam and Lo’ak, daughter Tuk and the adopted Kiri (daughter of Dr. Grace Augustine’s Na’vi avatar). The children grow up with Spider, the son of the late Colonel Miles Quaritch, who isn’t accepted by Neytiri because of his parentage and his human form. 

Colonel Miles Quaritch is brought back in his avatar form. Conflict arises as he sets out to take revenge against the Sully family who has to leave their forest, retreat to Pandora’s eastern seaboard and learn the way of the water to survive. 

“Avatar 2” starts strong with some great narration, stellar cinematography and the foundations of a premise that gets you hooked on this family that we first met 13 years ago. Unfortunately, it only goes downhill after that. 

The screenplay is a major letdown – too much exposition, a rather unnecessary second act and an exceptionally predictable narrative make the film a tedious watch. Cameron deserves credit for going out of his way to properly develop some of his characters, even if it means adding an hour to a film that’s severely lacking in plot to make up for its running minutes. 

While the intention is praiseworthy, the execution is anything but. The screenplay focuses mostly on the children, particularly Lo’ak, the younger son struggling to be accepted by his father, Kiri, the adopted daughter trying to connect with her birth mother and Spider, who struggles with his parentage and his identity. 

However, none of these storylines are properly fleshed out, save for Lo’ak’s. His storyline could have become the film’s saving grace as the emotion of a growing son struggling to be seen by his father is a universal one. Still, Cameron’s direction struggles to make it anything but a combination of tropes that is a Hollywood staple. 

That is not to say that common plotlines cannot be impactful, like the story of the rebellious and misunderstood teenage boy who cannot win his father’s acceptance but finds solace in a mythical creature that is considered dangerous but is, in reality, the kindest of them all sounds like a brilliant film – only, it’s been made before. This is the exact plot of DreamWorks Studios “How To Train Your Dragon” series. It does it far better with the same tropes and a similar setting because it chooses to focus on one theme – the struggle and eventual acceptance of oneself. 

This is where “Avatar 2” meets its biggest downfall –- trying to do too much with very little material, plot-wise. Cameron attempts to address themes of ecological conservation, the battle between man and nature, the convoluted and often toxic father-son dynamic that is promoted in society, the struggle of accepting one’s identity, judging people based on their parent’s crimes, human greed and animal poaching in a three-hour movie while also fully developing eight main characters and adding on several new supporting ones. In doing so, the film becomes a classic case of biting off more than you can chew. This might have fared better in a series format due to the sheer number of characters and themes the film attempts to flesh out. 

With the title of the film, the massively powerful blue avatars and the concept of (a hilariously badly pronounced) “amrita” being central points of the screenplay, yes, you guessed it, the film borrows massively from Hindu mythology. It is more than “heavily inspired” by these legends and myths which it integrates into its screenplay without any sensitivity or cultural context. 

This is not to say that the film doesn’t have anything going for it – it is undoubtedly the best motion capture we’ve ever experienced on the big screen. The lighting and cinematography create an absolute visual spectacle, the production and character design is exquisite, the CGI and VFX teams deserve all the praise in the world for being pioneers in the field. 

They are assisted by fleeting moments in the screenplay that are surprisingly poignant thanks to a very strong cast that tries their absolute best with the limited material they’re given. The newcomers hold their own while performing next to legends of the business. 

However, the run time of the film, at three hours and 12 minutes, makes it a tough watch even if you hold the nostalgia of its predecessor in your heart. Add the water-thin screenplay and narration and you have a movie that is a technical masterpiece but fails to evoke any emotions in its viewers or even keep their attention. Ironically, in trying to explore the depths of this new world, “Avatar: The Way of Water” loses its soul.

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