James Cameron’s wildly successful Avatar wasn’t a videogame movie, but it’s probably one of the most videogame-y movies ever made in its elements—it was even accompanied by an ambitious tie-in game which, predictably, didn’t quite deliver. The film came out in 2009, but now get ready for the marketing blitz to end all marketing blitzes, as both the sequel and Ubisoft’s Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora arrive 13 years later.
The teaser trailer for Avatar: The Way of Water has now dropped and, well, it’s got a lot of water alright. Reactions were so strong in PC Gamer towers that you’d think someone had stolen all our unobtanium, and so now you must watch it, too.
The trailer’s embedded above. Read on for some of our reactions.
Rich Stanton, Senior Editor: I’m a games critic, not a film critic, but by god that stank. Avatar is a film I’ve always had an oddly strong reaction against, possibly because I’m Scottish and the ticket price I paid 13 years ago still stings—mainly because I fell asleep in the second half. I watched it again on DVD, because I’m a glutton for punishment, and discovered I hadn’t missed much.
What’s most striking about seeing this world again is how kinda boring it all looks now. Clearly this is extremely expensive CG but the whole scene has moved on since 2009 and it doesn’t have anywhere near the impact that Avatar’s visuals had at the time. I wanted to see Avatar mainly because it was the first real all-out 3D spectacular in cinemas, and still think that selling point is responsible for its commercial success more than the film’s quality.
This, honestly, in parts looks like something my kids might watch on Netflix. I’m not saying it reminded me of Paw Patrol but there’s an unconvincing quality to the Na’Vi that I don’t quite remember feeling beforehand. I think I’ve seen so many good CG creations by now that these blue-skinned, big-eyed aliens feel like knock-offs rather than the visual pioneers they once were. The reaction shot of the Na’Vi woman at the trailer’s close… that doesn’t feel like anything so much as just bad acting.
That aside, I appreciate that Cameron’s trying to set a scene here rather than really giving much away about the movie. There are some stunning looking locations, and I did like the Na’Vi swimming with the giant whale-looking thing and their flying mounts. Perhaps the oddest thing about it, though, is that I began to feel some pang of nostalgia for a movie I didn’t even really like first time: maybe they should’ve subtitled it the Way of Nostalgia.
Tyler Wilde, Executive Editor: I don’t mean to be cynical, but like Rich, I can’t help but think of the uncanny animated creatures YouTube’s recommendation algorithm serves five-year-olds. Their muscles seem to be made of polymer clay. There is something intriguingly unsettling about seeing them lurking about with assault rifles, though. Maybe that tension will sustain the movie for me, if I watch it.
Morgan Park, Staff Writer: Listen, I’m no Na’Vi apologist, but I don’t see what the big deal is here. The next Avatar looks about as exciting as the next Marvel movie I plan to see in “theater 3, on the right” at 7:30 pm with an oversized Coke in my hand. I expect a very thin, very blue, very OK flick.
So why all the passionate Avatar hate? I think the internet lost the thread on Avatar over the years. It started with annoyance that the sequels are taking so long and evolved into us deciding it wasn’t very good in the first place. I get that to a degree—people were pretty blown away by the VFX and depth-of-field 3D at the time. It was pretty cool! Nowadays, we want nothing to do with 3D and Avatar looks like any other high-budget mega cartoon made almost entirely in front of a green screen. I don’t remember much praise for its rich characters or amazing story in 2009, so I don’t see the need to score internet points for dunking on it now.
If anything, more Avatar movies at least means we’re getting another Avatar game. Unlike its charmingly bad Avatar shooter from 2009, Ubisoft seems to be putting its full weight behind Frontiers of Pandora.
Wes Fenlon, Senior Editor: The CGI in the new Avatar trailer doesn’t seem particularly impressive, maybe because 75% of the 1:37 it lasts seems to be entirely CGI rather than an attempt to blend seamlessly with real sets and actors. If it’s all going to be computer generated, anyway, I’d much rather watch something with more creative animation, like last year’s Arcane or Pixar’s new Turning Red.
I expect this movie to be mediocre, but here’s my main takeaway from thinking about a sequel to Avatar: I don’t really want to watch a movie that looks like a videogame, which this does. But I’ll watch a movie that’s structured like a videogame anytime. Dredd and The Raid are just ’90s arcade brawlers turned into movies and they’re both raaaaaad.
Jody Macgregor, Weekend/AU Editor: I’ve watched every feature film James Cameron directed (even Piranha 2: The Flying Killers), but I don’t know about this. The reason I keep watching his big dumb movies is for the action, and there’s not much of that on show here. It’s mostly generic uplifting trailer music, fish, and one line of dialogue about family—the safest theme any American movie can have. Sure, there’s smoke on the horizon, angry archery, and a few flashes of people running and jumping, but I can’t think of a trailer for any Marvel movie that undersold it like this. If I’m going to watch a big-budget popcorn spectacle, you gotta promise me more things going boom. A fish that can fly doesn’t really cut it, James.
Chris Livingston, Features Producer: I’m pretty neutral on Avatar—didn’t love it, didn’t hate it. It was just sort of there. My lone thought during the sequel trailer was: Did they change the title font just because of this Saturday Night Live sketch? That’s literally the only question I have for James Cameron.