Plot: “Jake Sully lives with his newfound family formed on the extrasolar moon, Pandora. Once a familiar threat returns to finish what they started, Jake must work with Neytiri and the army of the Na’vi race to protect their home.” – IMDB
Review: I haven’t returned to the world of Pandora since they released the original Avatar back in 2009. In all honesty, I haven’t given this film much thought outside of discussions concerning the highest-grossing films of all time or news of delays in developing the sequel. I felt indifferent about revisiting this world or exploring it further.
Months after this film’s release and thousands of reviews and published thought pieces, what could I offer this discussion? Why even review this? Because this film defied my expectations. Simply put, if James Cameron can create a third installment of this series with as much heart and understanding of man’s inclinations, we will have a trilogy that rivals the original episodes of Star Wars. With the promise of a third and fourth installment, Avatar possesses the potential to be the greatest science-fiction series committed to film. Only time will tell if this is true, but let me explain myself.
Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is now a family man and a leader amongst the Na’vi people. The brutality of the “Sky People” is always a threat, but for now, relative peace is a reality. When confrontations with invading forces are unavoidable, they meet their end swiftly. By centering this film on Sully’s family, it instantly possesses a greater emotional anchor. This is important because the invaders have a new talent; using the DNA of Sully’s nemesis, Quaritch (Stephen Lang) and his men walk among the Na’vi people as Avatar clones.
Forced with a decision to stay and fight or protect his family, Sully seeks refuge among the sea clans, hoping to escape a potential showdown. From this point until the credits roll, this film is predictable. We know Sully cannot hide forever. War visiting the islands is inevitable. We also know that a climactic showdown between our two leaders is unavoidable. If these things are easy to predict, what could make this film an even better film than the original?
Underneath the surface of this action/fantasy/science fiction film, is a lot to unpack. As an American and a global citizen, it gave me a lot to ponder. In the film, the Earth is dying and becoming uninhabitable. Pandora presents an opportunity to begin again, but instead of learning to coexist with the race of people who already call this planet home, the Sky people see the Na’vi as something to be conquered. To them, Pandora is destiny. The exploitation of resources and people smells ripe with colonialism, manifest destiny, and genocide. These are major themes for a film such as this to tackle, but it never shies away from the challenge. It is always there underneath the surface.
This is also one of the most visually stunning films I have ever seen. Every frame drips with beauty and intrigue. Without a doubt in my mind, it will pull the entire industry forward and change the game once again. The underwater visuals alone rival the beauty of the natural world.
Finally, this film is wonderfully imaginative. It is a breath of fresh air despite being a sequel. Existing as something not based on published source materials such as a book, prior film/television show, or comic books is astonishing at this moment in cinema. This is especially true when one considers the level of detail and world-building.
Ultimately, this is a piece of cinema that stands on its own. It is an engaging and enthralling action film. It wants us to understand our history. It also entertains and impresses with its visualizations. It is too early to tell how the world will judge Avatar as a series, but for the first time since 2009, I am really looking forward to returning to Pandora.
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