By Gideon ’24
It’s been over a decade since James Cameron astonished the world with the first installment of “Avatar,” one of the first movies to use CGI on such a massive scale. The 2009 film follows the protagonist, Jake Sully, as he arrives in Pandora as part of an imperialist mission. Sully bonds with the Na’vi, falls in love with princess Neytiri and is forced to choose Pandora
over the humans. In the sequel, Sully is now the chief of his wife’s clan. He and his family again oppose humanity’s colonial ambitions. “Avatar 2: The Way of Water” arrived in theaters along with countless other movies which similarly boast advanced CGI. Where its predecessor’s lack of plot could somewhat coast on its reputation as a new feat for digital artistry, “Avatar 2” needed to deliver some kind of storytelling appeal. The excitement of seeing such realistic graphics felt cheapened by its disappointing script.
My review will focus on a central issue: My growing awareness that this film appears to be stuck in the past.
A few examples:
1. The film suffers from its reliance on the male gaze. In “Avatar 2”, the audience is introduced to Tsireya, who emerges only to flirt minimally with the protagonist’s son, Lo’ak. Her role in the film boils her down to eye candy, spending less time on screen
with Lo’ak (her supposed love interest) than with the whale he develops a far more emotionally relevant connection with.
2. Another issue that showcases this film’s assertion of masculinity is the reduced role of Neytiri. In the first movie, the romance between her and Jake was necessary to advance
the plot. It was Jake’s growing relationship with her that convinced him that Pandora was worthy of protection from the greedy humans (yikes!). But in the second movie, she takes
a step back from the action and ultimately defers to her husband’s choices.
3. The Avatar franchise has always served as a thinly-veiled allegory for the colonization of North America by European settlers. But the franchise is lacking in contrast to groundbreaking media like “Reservation Dogs.”
“Avatar 2” is by all means a Hollywood “formula film.” However, where the rising climax in other mass entertainment movies (such as the Marvel franchise) often invokes a genuine
emotional reaction, all I felt after watching “Avatar 2” was tired. The story evokes important topics: touching on imperialism, colonialism, racism, sexism and the dangerous commodification of natural resources, but subsequently refuses to provide nuance to a discussion about another opportunity for our white male protagonist to assert his moral superiority.
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