We just watched this movie last night, and I have some thoughts.
My lad Joonatan really said it all in his review on Toisto. I find nothing much to disagree with there, although as always I had a good time watching the fun Avatar BSTs and critters. This story of environmentalism, colonialism and sexy, sexy blue aliens has finally received a new instalment and it was exactly what I expected.
After giving the Sky People a good kicking and sending them off back to Earth with their unobtaniums (unobtania?) between their legs, our heroes … wait, I’m going to have to do a bulleted list:
- Sully, permanent avatar (or permatar)
- Neytiri, Na’vi
- Norm and Max, humans with avatars (I call them normatars, not just because of Norm but because they’re normies but I’m not gonna lie, the one guy being called Norm really helped)
…and then a bunch of others, mostly Na’vi but okay also:
- Spider, human baby (Colonel Miles Quaritch’s baby!) left behind because babies can’t cryo unless-
- Kiri, viable avatar bred from midichlorians until further notice and born in cryo from the avatar of Dr. Grace Augustine somehow (remember she died and was unable to be permatarded in the first movie, well they put the body in cryo anyway and also the body was pregnant) and played by Sigourney Weaver again
- Neteyam, Lo’ak and Tuk, Na’vi / permatar hybrids (or nermatars) and kids of Sully and Neytiri
I assure you, I am not making this too complicated. You are making this too complicated.
You can tell the permatars and the nermatars and the normatars apart from the Na’vi because they have five fingers. Except when they don’t. Neteyam, the eldest son and Sully Junior soldier-boy surrogate for black sheep Lo’ak to have issues about, has four fingers.
So does this little pain in everyone’s arse.
Anyway, our heroes all those people got along fine for like thirteen years, then the humans came back. And just like in Independence Day: Resurgence (a movie to which Avatar: The Way of Water owes everything), there were more of them and they had bigger ships and more toys. Also Colonel Miles Quaritch was back, in clone permatar (or clermatar) form, along with a bunch of other evil marine clermatars.
What follows is a timeless story of permatar versus clermatar, with a generous dollop of nermatars in peril and occasional help from the normatars, set against the backdrop of a whole other species of Na’vi we didn’t know about before, also whales with immortality serum lubricating their Nobel Prize Winner brains, and perhaps a little bit more some-of-them-definitely-below-the-legal-age-of-consent supple, slender, blue- and blue-green girl- and boy-buttocks in loincloths than we strictly needed. None of which we should not have seen coming a mile (or thirteen years) away.
No, I know the whole clermatar mechanic is kind of new, and if they’d had it in the first movie they could have just resurrected Sully’s brother as a clermatar and none of this would have happened. I assume they invented the consciousness-backup tech right at the end of the last movie, and figured out how to upload it into a clermatar on the way back to Earth. I’m also uncertain whether they went back to Earth, regrouped and returned, or if they just flew around the block a few times and then came back, and the rest of the humans had already been on their way. Doesn’t matter I guess.
So the humans come back, they waste a whole subcontinent with their landing jets, then a year passes. During this time, I assume, the clermatars something something, the humans begin building a city and / or terraforming facility, and the Whalers On The Moon start their whole thing.
Pictured: Leela (James Cameron) pitching the plot of this movie to Fry (someone with knowledge of the original movie but no fungineering degree (billions of dollars and the slightest authority to prevent the inevitable)).
Faced with the inevitability of destruction, Sully takes his family two towns over where they’ll be safe forever. They make friends with the … let’s just call them Mao’ri and stop fucking kidding ourselves … and then the humans and clermatars hunt them down and the slaughter is as indiscriminate as it is predictable.
“I sure hope I, a white kid with dreadlocks on a planet where the invaders can’t breathe the air but are working to change that and the humans and aliens are markedly different heights, get put inside a spinning light-flashing whirligig mind-reading machine sometime because that would really make the similarities to Battlefield Earth pop.”
So. Humans destroy everything and are cruel and awful. There’s a cool CGI fight or three. The nature-documentary look and feel is perfect and everything on Pandora is unutterably gorgeous. But what does it all mean?
Well, we have pivoted from “unobtanium is oil and Pandora is a third-world country” to “whale goo is the elixir of life and Pandora is … okay, still a third-world country but also fuck the ocean too.” We’ve gone from “colonisers raping and pillaging the land and taking resources home” to “still that, but also home is fucked and the rich are gonna live on Mars, Pandora is Mars.” Which is actually a pretty subversive message as we gleefully rip up the planet we live on, with no actual alternative in reach.
Ultimately, the idea of relocating to Pandora is as dumb as moving to Mars. Humans can’t live there. The extent to which sealed habitats or total biome replacement would be needed for it to be possible makes “just do the same thing on Earth and save yourself the trip and also remember babies can’t cryo” into a valid counterpoint. Seems like any technology that would allow humans to live on Pandora would be just as applicable to allowing them to live on Earth, with the added benefit that they’re already on Earth.
Next movie, I wouldn’t be surprised if the humans all clermatar themselves on the way over and that’s what the colonisation will be about. I mean that makes way more sense than whale serum and air masks and sealed cities and terraforming. Doesn’t it?
Actually check that, I will be surprised if the story takes any sort of logical turn at this point. Also there will be Fire and / or Air Na’vi. Wait, are the forest Na’vi Earth or Air? They have birds. I don’t know. But if there isn’t a hitherto-unknown third species of Na’vi … fuck, maybe that’s what the clermatarded Sky People will be – the Fire Na’vi. There can’t be more than one more movie, right? They’re not really doing five?
I just hope the Water Kiwis print out enough pamphlets to get the revolution going in between movies because otherwise they’re all in trouble.
Anyway I had a ball watching this movie and then ranting about it with friends and here on the blog (with the same friends, and other friends). I give it a ten-foot-tall Smurfette cat-girl out of a possible sequel to Dances With Wolves where Sgt. Bauer comes back as a clone and they all go to the beach for three fucking hours. It was great. I mean it was searing hot trash, but damn it, it had a sweet butt.
I’m not sorry. It’s a metaphor. The age-of-consent butts, not the other ones. This isn’t getting any better is it. Publish blog.
“Shoot him again son, he’s still flopping around.”
Some random notes from my WhatsApp rants on this movie:
Did they do some whaling off screen in the first movie while inventing cloning? Or is there a sort of land bridge of human ships from Earth to Pandora and they just communicated about this shit?
At the very least, the immortality serum could have played into the resurrection of the dead villains. Instead of cloning maybe?
Okay, I have to relent on the fingers thing because it looks like they did have five fingers on the human hybrid avatars in the first movie. It was just that nobody cared. So I’ll credit them there.
Who was Spider’s mother? I mean, someone Quaritch was banging off-screen in the first movie. Obviously.
Seems like a simple “this is bigger than we can handle now, we need to unify all the subspecies” could have solved the entire running-away plot? Like, make it about how without Sully being a firebrand, the humans would have no trouble because they could destroy each tribe separately while the others naïvely don’t interfere?
It made me want to watch Dune (or at least just Du) again, But they had an Alia Atreides in this one so it’d be a bit rich of them to copy it more. Kiri, if not literally midichlorian’d by the failed communion and permatarding that Grace’s avatar got from the Billion Dicks Tree in the first movie, is probably the daughter of some Na’vi dude Grace got freaky with when she went native. But the timing would suggest it was the BDT.
Also, Billion Dicks Tree. Indeed, ser. Indeed.
It was definitely the BDT that did it, because Kiri is like a super-seer with the power of Pandora at her fingertips.
And the Mao’ri were super duper on the nose. I’m sure it was respectful homage and all, and to their credit they did get Cliff Curtis to play the chief (although LOL, Kate Winslet was Mrs. Chief – assemble Titanic jokes here), and maybe my solution to the plot where Sully actually organises and radicalises the natives is too white-savioury (although it’s already very white-savioury) and disrespectful all over again … but it was yikes-adjacent.
If nothing else, someone definitely needed to say “hey look, these guys have perfectly parallel-evolved as Pacific Islanders right down to the haka and the tattoos, I wonder if that says literally anything about the development of sentient cultures by biome or is it just a massive coincidence, maybe we should ask the next hyper-intelligent emotion-whale we meet (before drilling its brain serum out).”
Wait I have another question.
If humans have the technology to store their consciousnesses digitally and upload them into clermatars, does that mean they can also upload them into normal cloned human bodies?
And either way, doesn’t that make immortality serum a bit fucking redundant?
I am — dare I say, surprisingly? — in complete agreement with pretty much everything you said about the movie. (Ditto for the Toisto review, although I gave more stars.) Except that I didn’t bother with the worldbuilding and narrative logic rabbit holes (normally a thing for me as I’m sure you know) because I just honestly didn’t care, which is to say the movie did not grab me enough to care.
It was all very pretty. The 3D and even the HFR did surprisingly mostly work for me, making them a net positive to the experience, but not by much (so I guess I disagree here a bit, but this could also depend on the theater and its tech). But so empty and so very generic and predictable and just meh otherwise. Did an early beta release of ChatGPT write the script?
Also, crucially, while the movie is undoubtedly very pretty and filled with high-resolution eye candy and near-photoreal graphics, I’m not sure I’d call it visually beautiful or stunning in the same sense I consider, for example, Villeneuve’s Dune visually beautiful. There’s pretty and then there’s beauty.
PS. Love your species terminology.
Hee, many thanks! It was the only way I could keep them clear in my head, and the movie was somewhat spoiled for me (very slightly) by counting fingers in each scene and trying to remember if they’d made this a thing in the first movie (they had), and why (no answer to that one).
I didn’t remember either the fingers were a thing in the first one. But even the first one gave no answer?
Also, since the avatars in the first one were the product of scientists studying and interacting with the Na’vi (if memory serves), why would they make them reproduction-capable? Wouldn’t it have been more scientifically ethical and biologically safer (don’t mess with the native ecosystem etc.) to make the avatars barren?
YOU’D THINK SO, WOULDN’T YOU? But yeah, I mean they sort of explained it by saying they made hybrids using human and Na’vi DNA. Why they could do everything else (including cross-breed!) but had an extra finger, meh. Reasons?
Yeah. First Pandora problem.