Flix at :48: 'Avatar: The Way of Water' tries too hard to be entertaining
I know the Merriam-Webster publishing company has announced the word of the year for 2022 is "gaslighting". And the Dictionary.com website shows the word of the year for them is "woman". But the word of the year for me is "superfluous". That's the word I can't get out of my head after watching "Avatar: The Way of Water".
After the first "Avatar" film was released in 2009, it hypnotized the world with its groundbreaking visual effects and fully realized universe of the alien planet Pandora filled with fantastical creatures and its slender blue residents called the Na'vi. This new sequel is set in the same planet and has almost the exact same military threat focused on moving in and harvesting Pandora's natural resources. (I guess when you're so focused on building the creative visual effects for the film, you run out of time thinking of a creative antagonist for the film.)
This threat forces a family of Na'vi to relocate from the jungle to a coastal beach village where they learn to live in harmony with the ocean, and with each other, before the Earthling military eventually finds them and war is unleashed.
Much like the first film, this sequel suffers from the same issues of heavy-handed storytelling, patchy dialogue, far too many characters to keep track of, and overdesigned settings imbued with an exotic spirituality. This film spends so much time showing these beautiful water settings (filled with fish, plants, and rock formations), that it feels obvious what it's trying to communicate: "Hey, doesn't this look cool?! And how about this?!".
With no exaggeration, I must inform you Avatar: The Way of Water is three hours and 12 minutes long. This length is half from numerous scenes displaying the visual effects with no concern for plot development, and half from too many sub-plots surrounding the main story of the blue aliens fighting against interstellar colonialism.
The sub-plots include a budding teenage romance, a young Na'vi girl feeling an especially strong connection to the forces of nature in the ocean, the relocated Na'vi family adapting to a new clan's culture, and a pod of whale-like animals who are hunted for their brain fluid.
Like other popular blockbusters released earlier this year, "Avatar: The Way of Water" tries too hard to be entertaining. (For other examples of this see "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness", "Jurassic World: Dominion", and "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever".) After mentally processing this film, I felt exhausted from such an overstuffed screenplay chock full of excessive metaphors ranging from exploiting endangered animals to the generational growing pains of a young son trying to uphold the reputation of his father, to the importance of diversity for peace to endure. (If you're thinking my sentences are way too long in this review, it's because I'm trying to encapsulate the million facets of this film that kept me prisoner for three hours + in the movie theater.)
It's PG-13 and visual fun for the whole family, but this sequel is far too much for any science-fiction lover, or movie lover, to take seriously. Ironic that the finale is on a literal sinking ship, since that's how my heart felt in the latter half of this film.