Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Avatar: The Way of Water (2022)

Director: James Cameron   Rated: PG-13   Runtime: 3h 12m

Studio: 20th Century Studios   Screenwriters: James Cameron, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña, Sigourney Weaver, Kate Winslet, Stephen Lang, CCH Pounder

After 13 years, director James Cameron finally released the second (of five planned) Avatar films. With Avatar: The Way of Water, what viewers get is catfished. 

Unlike the first film, there is no new CGI or motion capture technology to prop itself on this time. With a beaten-dead horse of a plot and story, there is nothing impressive about Avatar 2. This particular trailer is all the exciting bits of a three-hour film compressed into a two-minute trailer. That should tell you all you need to know!

Worthington and Saldaña’s performances as Jake Sully and Neytiri were not as strong in this movie, with Saldaña’s taking more of a backseat to her kid’s characters. I’ll talk about this a bit, but despite what I’m about to say, it’s not a spoiler for the film. One of Sully’s “kids” is played by Sigourney Weaver, whose original character, Grace, died in the first film. But Weaver’s new character, Kiri, is derived from the same logic of the Virgin Mary or Shmi Skywalker that a baby (Kiri) grew out of nowhere in Grace’s dead Avatar body. If you’ve seen the first film, it’s not a leap to connect ideas in your head. You still might go WTF, and who wouldn’t? Yet, there’s nothing about that in this movie. You can speculate how she came to be, but it’s an unimportant point now to the writers. It certainly would have added needed depth to the story. Still, perhaps in another decade or two, Cameron might enlighten us. 

Sigourney Weaver as Kiri in ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ from 20th Century Studios via

Cameron’s desire to show off his take on underwater shots as realistic after the shade he threw at Aquaman director James Wan is laughable. It’s all fictional; all of it relies on CGI. Yet Aquaman is watchable and entertaining as a sci-fi film. Avatar 2 is a pointless snooze fest that comes across for the first half of the film as a National Geographic reject. As non-fiction, a NatGeo special is more entertaining. At least I don’t want to leave those 45 minutes in, unlike Avatar 2, which I thought about. I must be a masochist because I stuck it out, despite checking my watch often and the headache I endured for hours. 

The first Avatar plot was a mashup of Pocahontas and Ferngully The Last Rainforest blended with colonizers. Or, basically, what English settlers did to America but on an alien planet. That was tenable for viewers because the CGI held the movie up for them. There is nothing redeemable about Avatar 2. Its plot, if you can call it that, is a resurrected Col. Quaritch (Lang) seeking revenge for killing him. You read that right. The universe forbid the writers come up with a new, compelling villain/foe for this film.

‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ from 20th Century Studios via

Quaritch hunts down the Sully clan, so when fleeing, they end up near a version of the Na’vi who live in the water. But who wants to help them? They’re danger magnets and half-breed demons. Sound like something you’ve watched before? 

James Cameron took 13 years to craft a sequel full to the brim of overused tropes and plot devices, various levels of stereotypes, and the use of indigenous mannerisms with little to no symbolic references. Where the glass that holds it all in is uber-greedy white capitalists. If you’re going to borrow from all these things, at least make it interesting. Try to give it an original take. But he can’t. Instead, he uses a skelton frame from Terminator 2 to drive one ideal (revenge), with a bit of Titanic for the hell of it. They are in the water, so why not…

Kate Winslet & Cliff Curtis in ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ from 20th Century Studios via

I cannot fathom how someone at the studio said, ‘yeah, this is good, release it!’ It’s a terrible, joyless excuse for cinema, with a ridiculous budget, that earned a ridiculous amount over that! Catfished. Movies should have a solid plot and compelling attributes to move the story. Develop characters well, and (in a series) leave you wanting more. As a filmmaker, you fail when a film is so lackluster in every regard that viewers fall asleep, leave, would rather have a three-hour root canal, get another vasectomy, or watch fire ants engulf them.

No one is more to blame than James Cameron’s ego and the studio that paid him. Avatar: The Way of Water is an insult to cinema and never belongs on your watchlist. 

-A Pen Lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Stowaway (2021)

Stowaway (2021)

Directed by: Joe Penna     Rated: TV-MA    Runtime: 1 hr 56 mins

Studio: Netflix   Screenwriter: Joe Penna

Cast: Anna Kendrick, Daniel Dae Kim, Shamier Anderson, Toni Collette

A private company called Hyperion, not NASA, is behind unmanned and manned missions to Mars in Stowaway. The audience never sees anyone from there, but they are in constant contact with the commander, Marina Barnett (Collette), one of the three-person crew. Like NASA, they do seem to care and have, more or less, a competent command structure. 

After the point of no return, a stowaway is discovered on board. How does that happen? Don’t fret about it too much because the explanation is flawed. Who from the ground crew didn’t notice a person is missing? Hello, security! Okay, it becomes evident that Michael (Anderson) didn’t do it on purpose. That doesn’t take away the fact that where he was hidden has damaged a critical component of the ship. A ship designed for only three people, with no spare parts. 

Officail Trailer for ‘Stowaway’ on Netflix

Stowaway isn’t an action, horror, or thriller space film. Really, after the plot is revealed, the story isn’t about if or how the problem can be rectified (though they try); the underlying message is denial. It’s a movie with some pace with characters unwilling to accept a horrible truth. There isn’t enough oxygen for all of them to make it to Mars alive. Stowaway’s actual center is on choices. What or who is worth sacrificing? Can they live with themselves if they do what they are being told needs to be done? Denial of an unfortunate moral dilemma. 

To become an astronaut means going through rigorous training, physically and mentally. On top of that, the individual adds something extra to a potential mission based on their specific expertise. Zoe Levenson (Kendrick) is a doctor, and David Kim (Kim) is a biologist. Between them and the commander/pilot, Marina, who was trained for this two-year mission, Michael is the odd man out. Should Michael die because he can’t do anything for the mission? Should one of the others kill themselves out of guilt, despite the situation not being the fault of any one of them? Should they try their luck with some hail-Mary ideas that might solve the problem? Acceptance, denial, and hard choices are the center of Stowaway

What would you do? 

Shamier Anderson, Anna Kendrick, Daniel Dae Kim, & Toni Collette in ‘Stowaway’ Image Credit: Netflix via NBC News

While the plot has legs, they collapse midway through the film. The story’s desire to stretch the limits of human companion and resilience is drowned out by the gross indecision of the crew, making the final act of the movie lackluster. 

The film’s pace and low energy lack the excitement that might otherwise be expected of the talented cast in this film. Still, for a movie that takes place in a few small rooms aboard a space taxi to Mars, it doesn’t feel claustrophobic. While the cast is talented, this script didn’t allow any of them to do more than recite lines. None of them shine or stand out, but that’s not their fault.  

Stowaway is ultimately a movie that plays on the waiting room TV that you’re sort of invested in. It’s easily forgettable. There are far better space films out there that deal with similar themes that better utilize their cast and time allowance. 

Stowaway is not worth a place on your watchlist.

—a pen lady