REVIEW: Cameron delivers a gorgeous cinematic treat with Avatar sequel that seems to last forever

Trinity Jo-Li Bliss in Avatar: The Way of Water (20th Century Studios)

In one sense, “Avatar: The Way of Water” fulfills all the promise that’s front-loaded into a James Cameron production.

The movie is a technical wonder combining photography with computer-generated effects as seamlessly as ever been done in a major motion picture. It’s a true visual and audio delight that sets a new standard of what filmgoers can expect in this type of production.

However, the human mind has such a great ability to process and adapt to what it sees that by midway through the movie, the effects that stunned you just an hour ago seem normal. The thrill melts into acceptance, and the film you’re watching isn’t so much about the visual opulence but about the story that’s being told.

And there’s the rub.

While the visuals for “Avatar: The Way of Water” may have been worth waiting 13 years for, the story wasn’t, at least not for me. The story’s not bad, but it’s nothing special either.

A crude comparison might be likening the film to a KISS concert. Once you’ve seen Gene Simmons spit fire, puke blood, and fly above the concert stage on wires, the only thing left is the music. The music is nostalgic, but it’s fairly middle of the road rock and roll.

The visual magic of “Avatar: The Way of Water” couldn’t float me through its 3-hour and 12-minute running time. The story outside the visuals just wasn’t compelling enough to keep me enthralled. I began checking my watch after the first hour and a half, and I did not mind stepping out of the auditorium for a bathroom break at all. It was a relief in more ways than one.

In no way is the movie bad, but the story is just a smidge better than mediocre and not deserving of more than three hours of my time. I’m not sure how parents with restless children are going to make it for the duration.

The movie does have scenes that will give you a rush, and every ounce of the movie is gorgeous, but at some point, I lost connection to the story, and the whole movie became an exercise in tedium for me.

Maybe I was a bit tired going into the picture? Maybe I bit off more than I could chew with the movie? If so, that’s a shame because this is not a movie I plan to sit through again.

As for the plot, it’s centered around characters from the original movie. Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is the former U.S. Marine who regained his mobility through Avatar technology in the original. He and his wife Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) and their four children have taken refuge from the military industrialists or Sky People, who are gaining control of Pandora through colonization.

Jake and his family have built an unsteady alliance with a clan of water-dwelling folks, and their children begin to bond and form attachments with them.

The under-water scenes are stunning and visually arresting, but maybe a bit too long for their own good?

Of course, the Sky People are hunting for Jake, and this leads to a couple of confrontations, including a massive one at the end of the film that is a sight to behold, but one that proved ponderous and overlong for me.

Technically the film is a masterpiece. Storywise, it’s dull, and it makes me wonder why Cameron worked on the movie for 13 years with such a flimsy story to tell?

Had the movie been only a couple of hours long, maybe I would have had a different opinion, but I can’t recommend any movie that leaves me so restless half way through its running time no matter how pretty it is.

(PG-13) 3 hr. 12 min.
Grade: C-

New in Local Theaters – Dec. 16, 2022

Avatar: The Way of Water (PG-13) 3 hr. 12 min. (trailer)
Mindcage (R) 1 hr. 37 min. (trailer)

Classic Corner – It’s a Wonderful Life

James Stewart, Donna Reed, Carol Coombs, Karolyn Grimes, Jimmy Hawkins, and Larry Simms in It’s a Wonderful Life (Liberty Films)

If there ever was an ideal everyman then it has to be George Bailey.

Who is George Bailey?

Well, that’s the exact question Clarence the guardian angel (Henry Travers) asks before he is dispatched to help George (Jimmy Stewart) through the darkest moment of his life in Frank Capra’s classic 1947 film “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Clarence and the audience learn all about George through a series of flashbacks that show pivotal moments in his life, and the circumstance that brings him to the brink of suicide on a bitterly cold snowy Christmas Eve night.

Like most of us, the fictional George did live a wonderful life when all is in proper perspective, as Clarence points outs, but sometimes the circumstances of the moment can cloud our view of the bigger picture, just like it did for George on that lonely snowy bridge where he figured that he was worth more to his family dead than alive because of a measly insurance policy.

Of course, George’s friends rally to save him from a certain trip to jail. We’d all do well to cultivate friends like George Bailey, who selflessly gave so much of himself to his friends, neighbors, and other townspeople of Bedford Falls.

The Capra film, based on the short story “The Gift” by Phillip Van Doren Stern, is a hopeful movie, but it visits dark, cynical places before shining its light.

As good a man as George is, it took only one mishap — one not of his own making — to bring him to his knees. But family and friends gave him the helping hand he needed, just as he had done for so many of them in the past.

Who is George Bailey?

I’d contend that there is a little of him in all of us, and that’s why the film lives more popular today than it did 70 years ago when it first opened.

The Malco Razorback Cinema is showing “It’s a Wonderful Life” on the big screen at 3:30 p.m. Sunday and 7 p.m. Wednesday. Tickets are selling quickly. Though NBC is not airing the movie in prime time this year as it has done in the recent past, you can find the film on a number of streaming services including Amazon Prime, Tubi, and Hoopla.

There are so many fine scenes in the movie, but I would contend that the “telephone scene,” in which Stewart and his co-star Donna Reed finally confess their love to each other while listening to a phone call together, might be the greatest scene ever shot. It’s certainly my favorite. It’s raw and sloppy and just bursting with emotion. It’s absolutely riveting.

Batman: The Mask of the Phantasm

(Warner Bros. Animation)

Until director Christopher Nolan’s instant classic “The Dark Night” opened in 2008, the best Batman film bar none was the 1993 animated movie “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.”

The film was an extension of “Batman: the Animated Series” and was directed by the series creators Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski and written by a crew of the series’ best scriptwriters in Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, Martin Pasco, and Michael Reeves.

The movie debuted in theaters without much fanfare just before Christmas in 1993. It was a box-office flop, but it was a treat for Batman fans who did venture to the theaters to see it. I remember watching it at a Malco theater in Memphis while visiting my parents for the holidays. I think I was the only one in the theater.

The movie featured the voice acting skills of Kevin Conroy as the Batman, Mark Hamill as the Joker and the rest of the regulars from the TV show, but it also included notables Dana Delany, Stacy Keach, Abe Vigoda, and Hart Bochner.

Delany voices Andrea Beaumont, a childhood friend of Bruce’s who comes back into his life and tempts him to give up his cape-and-cowl crusade for justice, and live a normal life.

Conroy, who voiced Batman in numerous animated productions for WB over the last three decades as well as portraying Bruce Wayne during a crossover event of several CW live-action super-hero TV shows, passed away last month. It’s hard to believe his deep baritone will no longer breath life into the Dark Knight Detective.

The movie is partly based on two classic Batman comic-book stories from Batman No. 237 (1971) and Batman: Year Two in Detective Comics Nos. 575-578 (1987), but the added twist makes the story even more compelling.

In the film, Batman is not only challenged by the Joker, but also is tasked with stopping a vengeful murderer, the Reaper, who is brutally taking out key members of Gotham City’s underworld.

The story contains all the action, pathos, and heartbreak the has made Batman one of the most popular characters in any medium for generations.