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‘Avatar’ sequel: Looks aren’t everything – Play It Again, Tim

Written by Tim Miller

Visually, it’s a knockout.

Even though it’s been around 13 years since director James Cameron came out with the original “Avatar,” I don’t recall anything topping its 3D magic on the big screen until now, with Cameron’s sequel, “Avatar: the Way of the Water” (PG-13, in theaters).

For that reason alone you might want to see it, and see it on the best, biggest screen imaginable. Let it envelope you. It’s quite amazing, and whatever your expectations are in terms of what you’ll see, I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

But the story? And, worse, the dialogue? God help us.

In the original “Avatar,” set in the 22nd century, human colonists invade the moon Pandora to mine valuable minerals from its forests. This leads to violent clashes between the Marines and the towering blue indigenous tribe known as the Na’vi. A paraplegic Marine, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), infiltrates the tribe as an avatar in the form of a Na’vi. Eventually, he falls in love with a Na’vi, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), and joins the tribe’s side of the battle.


Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) and Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) in “Avatar: the Way of the Water.” (Walt Disney Studios)

My friend Shawn Fitzgerald has reminded me that the original film became known in some quarters as “Dances With Smurfs,” and that’s about right: It’s “Dances With Wolves” with a sci-fi twist.

The sequel suffers from a similar problem in that it calls to mind other, better things, from “Lawrence of Arabia” to a summer beach vacation on Cape Cod.

A decade or so has passed. Sully, still in Na’vi form, is now the tribal leader, and he and Neytiri are married and have five kids (two adopted, including a feral human known either as Spider or, my favorite, Monkey Boy). Everything’s going pretty dandy until those pesky Marines return to Pandora with original villain Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang), in different form, back leading the way.

Things go on, and on, and on, from there, with the final running time clocking in at 3 hours and 12 minutes. Along with the cringe-worthy pseudo-profundity (“The way of water connects all things”) and the excessive use of the word “Bro,” we get repetitive scenes of Sully’s kids getting captured and held captive, several scenes in which a child disappoints his dad only to redeem himself, and seemingly countless shots, sequences and themes that come from other sources.

In fact, one way to get through the movie – Did I mention it runs 3 hours and 12 minutes? – is to play a cinematic version of “Name That Tune.” Among the more obvious references: “Lawrence,” “The Road Warrior” (feral Monkey Boy), “Swiss Family Robinson,” “East of Eden” (the sibling envy stuff, also found in a certain story in the Book of Genesis and various Smothers Brothers routines), “Doctor Dolittle,” “Pinocchio,” “Moby-Dick,” “Apocalypse Now,” and, of course, Cameron’s very own “Titanic.” (And, by the way, playing a major role here is one of the stars from “Titanic”: Kate Winslet.)

“Avatar: the Way of the Water” is like a stunning runway model with a vapid personality. If I were rating it based solely on the script (credited to Cameron and two others), we’d probably be in one star to bomb territory. But director Cameron’s ability to engulf us in a stunningly beautiful fantasy world can’t be overlooked. And so … ** (out of four)

** Click here for  Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **

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Tim Miller

Play It Again, Tim

Tim Miller is a Cape-based member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He also teaches film and journalism at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely

About the author

Tim Miller

Tim Miller, a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics, was the Cape Cod Times film critic for nearly 36 years. A Detroit native (and hardcore Tigers fan), he’s been obsessed with movies since skipping school in 1962 to see “Lawrence of Arabia” with his parents when he was 7. Miller earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and his master’s from Suffolk University, where he taught film and journalism for 10 years. He continues to teach film at Curry College and Cape Cod Community College. He is a juror each year for the short-film competition of the Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival, has moderated several panel discussions at the Woods Hole Film Festival and frequently is heard as a guest on Cape & Islands NPR station WCAI. His work appeared as a chapter in the book “John Sayles: Interviews.” His favorite movie is Cameron Crowe's “Almost Famous” – because it makes him feel good to be alive.

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