Avatar ★★★★

I honestly don’t know how James Cameron does it. The plot is quite literally bow-shooting native tribes (but…in spaaace!!!) versus the post-9/11 war machine, every character is a one-note archetype or single trait on legs, half the dialogue is just characters explaining lore or rattling off phrases like “tree huggers” and “shock and awe”. Yet revisiting the film on the big screen in 3D again was such a visceral reminder that somehow Avatar works beautifully as a finely-tuned summer-blockbuster entertainment engine.

Maybe it’s because those simple characters feel so sincere in their empathetic or diabolical personalities that we instantly understand them and their dynamics. Maybe the crystal-clear stakes let us just sit back and be immersed, while making such immersion crucial to the plot rather than just a byproduct of a cool original world. Maybe because Sam Worthington plays Jake with a genuine man-adrift curiosity which makes his evolution a believable and endearing journey of self-rediscovery. Maybe because Cameron’s dioramic 3D accentuates the organic world-building bristling with incidental details, zoologic minutiae which turns alien creatures within a frame into lifelike fauna to observe, and awe synchronized between audience and characters that makes Pandora come alive as more than a colorful backdrop. Maybe it’s the well-constructed set-up and pay-off, often causally established amid exposition or Jake’s episodic trials until Cameron lights a match and lets all his narrative powderkegs - the bulldozers, Toruk, “Eywa has heard you!”, etc. - explode in a cascade of grand spectacle.

Just pure sincere emotion-&-imagery-driven craftsmanship culminating in a sprawling multi-front last-stand rollercoaster whose geography, pacing, and set-piece sequences remind us that Cameron is one of cinema’s kings of action.

Even considering the remastered CG, the film still looks stunning 13 years later, so the Way of Water post-credit preview was a genuine taken-aback moment of realizing the sequel’s visuals were on another level entirely. People better get ready for Avatar to sweep the box office again this December.

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