Approximate reading time: 6 minutes
Canadian filmmaker James Cameron once again fascinates with the highly anticipated sequel to “Avatar”, a film that is a little more of the same, but that never stops reflecting from its powerful digital images. It would seem impossible to talk about “Avatar: El Camino del Agua” without making a stop at two factors that, to a certain extent, exceed the film itself. One scale is his technical quality, the other the obsessive character with which Cameron set out to build a world on top of the world he had already built with “Avatar” in 2009.
It must be recognized that measuring this sequel for these issues, especially for the second, is a bit unfair to the rest of the films: basically because in the current cinema of public accountants made in Hollywood there are no longer people like Cameron who dedicate your life to a gigantic project like the one you have in hand; a universe of its own, created in the image and likeness of its multiple literary and cinematographic influences, but as its own as a homeland.
Specifically, we are facing a basic story of survival that draws on religious and environmental syncretism, expressed as a fable, but it is the director’s own company, with which he tries to show himself as a feverish pioneer, a Fitzcarraldo who drags his own ship made in CGI, which gives it real value. That through the images that he generates he manages to traffic his obsession and his desire is something unusual and speaks of his mastery.
Technology in Cameron’s cinema has always been present, as a material with which he works and as a theme. That comes together perfectly in “Titanic,” where he brings a classic Hollywood melodrama to a close by mounting it on the nightmare of industrialized capitalism. And all this, on the support of the most perfect industrial film that we could get towards the end of the last century. From “Titanic” to the present, the director has released only two films: “Avatar” and its sequel. Therefore, “Titanic” can be understood not only as the film that closed the forms of a type of story, but also as the one that closed Cameron’s characteristic type of story.
Because both “Avatar” and “Avatar: El Camino del Agua” have atomized to the extreme argumentative aspects of their films (and this is not a pejorative comment), to finally define themselves in the field of technology and expeditiousness. That is to say, Cameron is winning the arm wrestling with the inventor over the film director, although sooner or later the latter ends up imposing himself. Hence, his films are not only amazing, but also fascinating. Ranging from amazement to fascination is what separates a mere stunt performer from a talented film director.
“The Origin” (2010), by Christopher Nolan, amazes us with its images that leave us speechless for a while, but never allows us to enter a world that we look at as a painting. On the contrary, Cameron invites us to plunge in, in the same way that Spielberg did in the also fundamental (for the purposes of mainstream cinema) “Jurassic Park”. If in Cameron we observe the struggle between a Jekyll and a Hyde, between the inventor and the film director, the fight leans towards the second because another figure appears in the middle: the documentalist. What the documentalist does is basically translate from a cinematographic perspective what the inventor created is for, and hand it over to the film director so that it shines in the narrative.
“Avatar: El Camino del Agua” is divided into three perfectly marked acts. The first, where Cameron narrates in pure synthesis and with defined ellipses, is the one where he lays the foundations of the conflict: Jake Sully and his family stalked by the invaders, and the decision to escape because the father protects (we’ll see towards the end how that idea is subverted and the film ends up being a youth adventure). The third, where the action breaks out, where the characters face each other with an inevitably tragic air, and where the spectacular Cameron appears, the one who masterfully handles the staging, impacting the retina like no other.
But it is the second act that would seem more derivative and less relevant to the central conflict, where the documentary Cameron emerges. Jake and his people have moved in with a new tribe, which has direct contact with the sea. And this gives the director room to inspect this new universe, in a micro-story that is like a synthesis of the 160 minutes of the first “Avatar” in which everything was new. Even with the excesses of the environmentalist and pacifist discourse, this entire second section of the film is essential for us to understand why it is important to fight.
This is how we understand what the characters defend: the camera stops at details, at creatures that hide a meaning. What seems pure preciousness and exhibitionism, is revealed as a look enthralled by the creation itself; it is the putting into images of the ideas that float in the air of Pandora. Few directors are so capable of reflecting on the digital image and giving true meaning to its exploration. It is in those passages where the definitive value of a film like “Avatar: El Camino del Agua” also appears, which ends up being an invitation to participate in an experience.
Although the film seems to be made of bits and pieces from other films, even Cameron’s own films, there are visual motifs reminiscent of “Aliens”, “Titanic”, “The Secret of the Abyss”, in reality there is nothing in the current cinema that looks like it and doesn’t look like anything. And we are not talking here about technological or visual issues, but rather about narrative aspects, about the organicity of a story that lasts 190 minutes and flies by, about a personal way of understanding entertainment cinema, something that would seem impossible for some uplifted noses. .
Cameron redoubles the bet of “Avatar”, and although his new film seems a little more of the same and that is his greatest sin, there is in that lonely bet that he carries out something exciting and vibrant, of a type who is willing to close his filmography with an inexhaustible saga of films that nobody asked for and, honestly, I don’t know at this point how many are really interested. This commitment to the most technologically advanced cinema in the world to summon viewers to the ancient ritual of congregating in a dark space to be fascinated by the lights projected on the wall.
My 8 rating for this striking film production with James Cameron’s obsession with water did not begin with “The Secret of the Abyss” or “Titanic.” Nor with his impressive documentaries on the mysteries of the underwater world such as “El Bismarck”, “Ghosts of the abyss” or “Creatures of the abyss”. It all started with “Piranha II: Vampires of the Sea”, the terrible sequel to the exploitation classic directed by Joe Dante. That 1981 film with cheap special effects and lousy performances is a far cry from “Terminator”, the cyberpunk masterpiece that would be praised by the great Andrei Tarkovsky.
The sequel to this film would be much bigger in budget and special effects, but it would not be as impressive as its predecessor and the saga would be ruined with a series of bland and horrifying installments, taken over by other directors. On the other hand, “Aliens”, the sequel to the science fiction classic directed by Ridley Scott, would move away from horror to focus on action, and the result would be tremendously effective. However, Cameron, a lover of the technological aspect of cinema, succumbed like his colleague George Lucas, to the desire to impress his audience with “Titanic” and “Avatar”.
These two films became the most expensive in history and would be products overloaded with special effects, but lacking the warmth and emotion of his early works. In any case, the recreation of the sinking of the ocean liner and the story about blue beings tormented by invading humans, would turn out to be the highest grossing films of all time. The sequel to “Avatar” took James Cameron more than thirteen years. In the process, 20th Century Fox studios were bought by Disney and finally, under the auspices of the mouse house, his movie came to light.
Not only that. Cameron has promised three more installments, scheduled for 2024, 2026 and 2028, respectively, and at a collective cost of more than $1 trillion. Gone was the director of low-budget films like “Piranha II” and the first part of “Terminator.” If Cartman, the character from the animated series “South Park”, referred to “Avatar” as “Dances with Smurfs” (alluding to Kevin Costner’s revisionist Western and the blue creatures created by the Belgian Peyo), “Avatar: The Camino del Agua”, can be assumed as “The Snorkerls: Fast and Furious”.
Cameron’s new work cost more than $350 million and is a stunning visual treat, full of glitter and color. More than a movie, the “Avatar” sequel feels like a three-plus hour introduction to a next-generation video game, without the interactive experience that ultimately differentiates a video game from a feature film. The problem with this sequel is that it’s a beautiful package, but almost empty. Gone is the story that explored themes such as empathy, colonialism and racism.