Avatar is back- A Review of Avatar, and a look at the upcoming sequels



Dennis Chi '23

If you’ve been scrolling through YouTube or doing a Google search recently, you probably have noticed a trending topic called Avatar. No, not the show, but the movie with blue people in it. A new movie is coming out to add to the Avatar franchise, called Avatar: The Way of Water. Now, you might be thinking, the last time people heard of Avatar by James Cameron was a long time ago. Why is a new film being released just now? To get to know the setting of this movie, and to understand where James Cameron is coming from, it is necessary to take a look at the original Avatar movie. 

The original movie Avatar was first released way back in Decemeber 2009. The film was written and directed by Hollywood giant James Cameron and stars Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, and Stephen Lang. Upon release, the movie was praised by critics and audiences alike, especially for its stunning visual effects. Avatar also achieved impressive box office success. Adding the original 2009-2010 theatrical run with several subsequent re-releases, Avatar holds the title of being the highest-grossing film in the world, standing at a staggering worldwide box office total of over $29 billion. 

A huge contribution to its success was its groundbreaking visual effects. The movie was the first movie ever to be filmed entirely with 3D cameras, which were unheard of at the time. It also utilizes extensive cutting-edge technology like motion capture and advanced CGI created by Weta Digital, which is the industry-leading visual effects company that’s behind many great works like The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Along with the hard work to make every frame of the movie as photo-realistic as it can be, it’s safe to say the CGI in this 2009 movie still holds up today, and honestly even looks better than some movies today and even some recent Marvel CGI.

Avatar follows the story of a paraplegic ex-marine, Jake Sully, as he’s sent to a planet called Pandora to begin a new life under the Avatar program, run by the human faction in this film, known as the Resource Department Administration. He remotely drives an “Avatar,” which is a genetic hybrid made using the DNA of the indigenous humanoids called Navi and his own DNA, in order to interact with the Navi. When spending time between the RDA and the Omaticaya clan, he falls in love with Neytiri, the daughter of the chieftain. He begins to find the Navi culture and their connection to Pandora compelling. As time progresses, the greed of the RDA increases and the Navi tribe he has grown to love is in great danger. Jake has to choose a side, either remaining loyal to his fellow humans or helping to protect the Navi and their planet. 

While doing research online, I found out that many people said that, for how big the film is, it’s not memorable, and does not leave a cultural impact. Many also argued its plot was basically a remake of Pocahontas, Dances with Wolves, Princes Mononoke, The Last Samurai, and so on. Indeed, the selling point of Avatar is its visual effects and overall cinematic experience, as it’s not a dramatic film that focuses solely on the richness of the story. The plot is a little predictable at times, but it’s not a bad plot by any means. Avatar needed an ordinary, straightforward plot to work with its complex setting and story. The great visuals then wrapped everything into a complete package. When the movie came out, there was a phenomenon called “Avatar Syndrome.” Many people grew so attached to the mesmerizing world of Pandora (thanks to the stunning visual effects) that they couldn’t accept the fact that they couldn’t live in that lush world of Pandora but instead had to deal with the tiring life on Earth. As proven by many other similar examples, in the end, people did care about this film, and it did leave a cultural impact. 

When Avatar was being made in the late 2000’s, the war in Iraq was still going on. Avatar reflected these events in its story. As a vessel to present the issue of neo-colonialism and imperialism in the 21st century, the movie paralleled American actions in the initial stages of the Iraq War during key points and climaxes in the film. Lines like “Our own security lies in pre-emptive strike,” and “We will fight terror with terror” were said by the main antagonist who happened to be an American, reflecting the remarks of President George W. Bush and his top generals during the invasion of Iraq. The story of Avatar is a tale of humans discovering nature and establishing connection with it. It channels the theme of environmentalism. According to Cameron, the movie is simple but universal in its message. It speaks to the whole world because protecting the environment and ultimately the earth we all live on is so urgent. It was an issue in 2009, and it is an even more dire issue in 2022. It advocates connection, whether with each other or nature itself. It urges people to be more open and compassionate. Avatar speaks to the audience on a personal level too. At an extremely low point of the movie, when the Navi clan home is destroyed by humans, the audience can’t help but wonder: are we pushing our own Mother Nature to the verge of destruction?  When is the time that we need to do something? 

  Now back to the present. The sequel, Avatar: The Way of Water, is coming out after a 13-year hiatus. If you take a look at the filmography of James Cameron, you see that he is very talented and proficient with the use of visual effects technology in his work, with films like Terminator 2, Aliens, Titanic, and The Abyss under his belt. He always uses cutting-edge technology and a good story to create successful blockbusters. And whenever he’s not satisfied with what he has, he always pushes the limit to achieve what he desires. Cameron is an ambitious and risk-taking director, so how is this going to affect the Avatar sequels? Cameron has already implemented his technology into underwater shooting in the upcoming sequel, which he has said is meant for the big screen in 3D. In addition, all scenes that involve water are shot in huge indoor water containers with actors actually performing underwater. It is reported that he even created a new underwater camera system to shoot the underwater scenes better. It has been confirmed that the shooting for a third movie has already been completed and principal shooting has begun for a fourth one. And fortunately, they are not going to come in each thirteen years apart. For the perfectionist James Cameron is, this time he finally is going to do things normally.

By the time you read this article, the movie will have been released. It’s the right time to take a break from Marvel or your current TV show spree and to return to the big screen in the movie theater. In my opinion, this is the movie that people have been waiting for; it is the movie of the year, and definitely will be worth the money to see it in IMAX 3D. Always trust in James Cameron, because he never disappoints.