OK - I've seen TWOW three times now, and just rewatched Avatar 2009 yesterday, and had a good chance to digest it, so there's a few more thoughts, focusing more on story and themes than the cinematography / cinematics of TWOW. I did brave the waters of Reddit a bit as well... always a double edged sword, but I did...
Firstly, just circling back to a *very* good point by Wafflehouse Lo'ak:
"One of the things I've always appreciated about Avatar was how it sees violence as a legitimate and often necessary tool of anti-colonial resistance. We're shown that the RDA will take everything from Pandora if they're allowed to and that the only effective path our characters have is to fight back, violently if they have to."
This, for me, has *always* been one of the basic and fundamental messages of Avatar, and it's always been something I have been deeply appreciate and thankful to Cameron for presenting in an uncompromising way - both in the horrors that colonialism imposes, and the trauma that resistance has on the culture and peoples violently resisting colonialism - something that is often ignored (and I must admit, the Next Shadow comic/graphic novel actually covers this extremely well).
So...my thoughts after sitting on it for a while.
It is a brilliant film - no doubt. It's a polished production, and the character development is good. Every moment is made to count, and I don't feel any of the characters
were simple drop-ins (unlike culture, which I'll come back to). They are all well-rounded people.
The fundamental messages of the violent and exploitative nature of our relationship and balance with Gaia / nature and of the colonialist mentality it both stems from and fosters is very clear and raw, as I feel it should be, as is the already mentioned point about the fundamental legitimacy and reality of violent resistance to colonialism, and how these two aspects are both brutal and traumatising yet also fundamentally different.
We are never left in any doubt that there is no moral equivalency here between the state-corporate sponsored terrorism and ethnic cleansing that Quaritch pursues, and the killing of RDA sec-ops troops by Neytiri and others. This is welcome. I've seen elsewhere many people attacking Neytiri's "blood lust" and arguing that Quaritch as a recom cannot be held responsible for the crimes of his human self. This is not an position I buy into . We accept that "harmless old men" in the 1970s and 1980s who were cogs in the holocaust machine of WW2 were indeed still every bit as responsible for those actions as their younger selves, and the same is true of Quaritch. These actions go beyond the "youthful stupidity" we all readily forgive ourselves and others for committing as younger versions of ourselves.
I fear we may see some kind of "redemption" arc for Quaritch in the future movies, I and personally feel this would be a wrong decision to take. Doing so, to me, is not only giving a message that we can aquit the "harmless old men" of any wrongdoing, but is also erecting a Captain Cook statue. Quaritch’s end should rather reflect the reality of Cook's own end - itself a clear testament to the brutal reality of colonial exploitation - at the end of an indigenous blade.
Moving on, I do still feel that the scenes with the Omatikaya in the forests of Pandora at the start of the movie were rushed, and this led to a very over-rushed presentation of the discussion around leaving. While it doesn't seem quite
seem as rushed on re-watching, the discussion of leaving is itself is still very brief, and highlights that though we do clearly see the effect this decision has on Neytiri, we don't spend nearly enough time with her over the course of the film to really explore her feelings regarding it.
I felt this most profoundly at the other end of the film when Tonowari (talking to Jake) brings the family into the Metkayina. Though a sweet and clearly heartfelt gesture by Tonowari, what must this feel like to Neytiri? She was clearly absolutely agonised at leaving the Omatikaya, and was explicitly told by her father to protect them. Indeed, she still wields the bow of the Omatikaya Olo'eyktan that he left to her. How does she feel? I felt that a lot of thought has gone into Neytiri's emotional journey, but that a lot of it sits on the cutting room floor, and I really hope we get to see more of it in an extended cut.
Neteyam was absolutely lovely. I didn't really fully appreciate his development the first time round, but the more I see his story, the more I feel for him. An absolutely lovely character, and I feel genuinely sad we won't get to see him grow up into the wonderful, kind person he was set to become. Again, I hope we get to see more of him in an extended cut. As I said earlier in this thread, Neytiri and Jake's children are done really well, and Neteyam and Kiri in particular really shine.
Kiri is also a lovely soul, and I feel we got just the right amount of time with her. It was beautiful to see her awareness and the depth of her connection to Eywa and the life of Pandora, and I'm really excited and looking forward to seeing where this takes us in the future. The scenes of her with her parents and exploring the life of the reef still strike me on repeated watching as absolutely magical.
Lo'ak gets a bad rep as being "annoying" but I think his "disappointing other son" development was well done and the fact it gave him something to bond over and build a bridge with Aonung is a nice touch. I hope this relationship doesn't get overlooked in future, as I feel there's a lot of healing and confidence both could gain from that.
Spider is.... problematic. To be clear, I don't hate
the character per se, but there are issues. Firstly, there is definitely a "cringe" factor, both in-universe and IRL. In universe, multiple characters explicitly point it out, but it never seems to register with Spider, or cause any emotional reaction at all. It seems clear he would dream of being able to get an avatar or recom body, but never expresses this (nor does Quaritch or Ardmore, even though it's assumedly something the RDA could offer as a bribe in return for info).
So yep, that all comes to a head with Spider saving the genocidal colonial officer in the form of Quartich. I don't go with this, and it runs contrary to the film's key message of anti-colonialism and sincere allyship, as represented so well in 2009 by characters like Trudy, Grace and also by Jake himself. Father-son or not, the idea that saving Quaritch is in any way an understandable or redeemable action is, to me, contrary to the very spirit of the Avatar universe, and the message Cameron was trying to convey. It felt like a jarring kludge of a plot device squeezed in so Quaritch can appear in the sequels, and the feared redemption arc.
The other thing that really hit me was the poor development of the Metkayina culture, on several levels. First and foremost, it felt quite lazily put together, compared to the truly exceptional degree of painstaking thought and development that went into the Omatikaya in Avatar 2009. Not only was the culture given real depth and exploration, but it was also fundamentally different and alien. The Omatikaya climb, run, hunt, rest and sleep on the most precarious tree branches, they squat close the ground, resting on their haunches. They posture, hiss, spit and snarl when warning off an enemy. They are very hands on, touching and feeling, and tasting the blood of the newcomer to learn and understand them. We are left in no doubt that these are not star-trek aliens with funny ears that are otherwise the same as us. The Na’vi of the Omatikaya look alien, but they also are
Their life, culture and whole experience of the world is fundamentally different
- and yet we travel alongside Neytiri and Jake, as she teaches him all
of this. We also get to be her student, and we take our time doing so. We learn their language, their values, their skills, their social bonds, celebrations, rituals, their burials, and it is absolutely beautiful.
This is exactly what I was hoping we would get with the Metkayina, but instead we get….. Blue, somewhat bastardised Māori cultural elements with a few pseudo-philosphical soundbites. Not that it matters too much, as we spend pretty much zero time learning about any of it… which might be a blessing in disguise. The exclusive use of English instead of Na’vi in the script really doesn’t help, but my overwhelming feeling with the Metkayina was that they were almost like dreamwalkers trying to live as a Na’vi clan. I just didn’t really warm to them and it felt half-baked.
As an aside, yesterday I rewatched Avatar 2009 (extended, not theatrical), and I was blown away by just how much better developed the culture of the Omatikaya is - and how much trouble they went to with the language. It gives me no pleasure to say it, but it Avatar 2009 is the better film - in my personal opinion - and it certainly comes across much more as a true labour of love, and not a blockbuster.