Del reviews ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’

Image courtesy of 20th Century Studios.

“Avatar: The Way of Water” Starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver and Stephen Lang. Directed by James Cameron. 3 hours, 12 minutes. Rated PG-13. Disney.

Del’s take

You will emerge from “Avatar: The Way of Water,” a changed person – a senior citizen, to be exact. It’s that long. It would take less time to read the U.S. tax code, and who’s to say which is more fun – those amortization tables can be very sexy.

If only the rest of the world loved Pandora as much as James Cameron.

“The Way of Water” is as beautiful as it is tedious, which is to say it resembles a Nat Geo documentary about the Great Barrier Reef, cleaned up and made pretty by Disney Studios. The sights are breathtaking – water with the clarity and color envied by chambers of commerce the world over, teeming with alien life. Too bad the story is the aquatic equivalent of a swimming pool at Motel 6.

These are the broadstrokes:

When we last saw Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) in “Avatar,” he had joined the Na’vi, the native race of the moon Pandora, in expelling the evil earthmen who had come to wreck their Gaia-like ecosystem in a greedy quest for unobtanium. 

Now, Sully is living the life of the noble savage with his Na’vi wife Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) and a passel of kids, until one day the evil earthmen return, this time in force. They want to claim Pandora as their own because mankind has made a mess of things on Earth. It only makes sense to relocate to a planet with a poisonous atmosphere and hostile natives.

Sully leads the Na’vi in a guerrilla campaign of harassment until the earthmen introduce a new weapon – a squad of Na’vi-adapted commando soldiers led by Quaritch, the Type A head of security who was killed by Neytiri in the first “Avatar.” His consciousness has been downloaded to a Na’vi body so that he may accomplish a specific mission – kill Jake Sully.

The commandos target Sully’s family. After a harrowing close call, Sully relinquishes his forest-dwelling tribe and takes Neytiri and clan to the land of the water people, Na’vi adapted to live in Pandora’s lush tropical ocean. There, they must learn the water people’s ways and fit in – until the earthmen come calling.

“The Way of Water” is a towering achievement in both concept and special effects. Cameron has created an entire biosphere with breathtaking attention to detail, and the FX are simply the best of any movie ever made. It must be seen in a widescreen theater, although some of the bigger 4K OLED TVs may do it justice.

The story, however, is less ambitious. It is a metaphor for Europe’s arrival in the New World, told from a Native American’s viewpoint, and while it shifts in focus from act to act – at first centering on Sully himself, then enlarging to include his children and how they mesh with the water people culture, then shifting back to Sully and his antagonist, Quaritch – the overall theme remains the same: good vs. evil, and the sacrifices that must be made to serve the greater imperative. At times the Sully character deviates from the archetype established in the first film, but never fear: Events will set the character arc back on track.

Overlooking the plot, “The Way of Water’s” most mention-worthy negative quality is its length. Three hours-plus is a long time to ask an audience to sit in a theater, especially when they’ve seen so much of it before. Expect multiple bathroom trips, dozing, sneaked looks at mobile phones, and maybe a pricey box of buttered popcorn to fend off starvation pains as dinnertime approaches.

Cameron belongs to a special cadre of directors – George Lucas, Stephen Spielberg, Ridley Scott, Stanley Kubrick, John Ford, Robert Wise – who tell the big stories, and tell them in big ways. Three of the top 10 highest grossing movies of all time are James Cameron films. Undeniably he is one of the best, if not THE best, director working today. “The Way of Water” is an excellent movie, despite its shopworn plot and excessive length.

I grade it an A-, and I award the minus only because I found it to be oddly unsatisfying. Perhaps you will feel differently.

Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.

Image courtesy of Warner Brothers.

“Terminator Salvation” Starring Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin, Moon Bloodgood. Directed by McG. 114 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Mladen’s take

Take a little “Total Recall,” mix it with “Transformers,” sprinkle a tablespoon of “Mad Max,” bake at 350 degrees computer-generated special effects, and, voila, the result is “Terminator Salvation.”

“Salvation” is unable to compete with any of its three predecessors but it ain’t a bad film. One weakness is its PG-13 rating. There are plenty of explosions, but no close ups of bullets or shrapnel shredding bodies, or robo-hands tearing off heads.

The principal difference between “Salvation” and the other Terminator movies is that John Connor, humanity’s salvation, is now an adult and Kyle Reese, Connor’s father, is a child. Nevermind, it’s not worth explaining.

In the first three movies, the objective is to keep Connor alive. In the fourth, it’s making sure Reese avoids ingesting 40 7.67-mm rounds per second from a minigun.

Christian Bale, as Connor, plays what has now become a potentially career-ending typecast for him, a brooding, mopey hero.

The most interesting character in “Salvation” is the machine army’s first T-800 cybrid assassinator, which is unaware of its origin or allegiance. Sam Worthington portrays the cybrid, known as Marcus Wright.

Once you overlook the murkily explained way Wright becomes the next-generation terminator, his portrayal of a sentient machine enduring an identity crisis is fairly convincing.

Add to Worthington’s character the lovely and very human sidekick, A-10 pilot Blair Williams, and “Salvation” becomes more than palatable. Williams is played by Moon Bloodgood, a beautiful woman with the sexiest voice on the planet.

Typical of Armageddon-like movies, the post-apocalypse Earth in “Salvation” is drab browns, dark blues and assorted grays. Only flashing red lights and the orange of explosions adds color to the film.

It takes some suspension of contextual logic to consider mankind’s resistance against the encroaching world of a computer constellation with artificial intelligence plausible.

For example, if Skynet, the Vladimir Putin of the machinekind in “Salvation,” is so smart, lethal, and efficient, why did it fail to nuke all of America’s military bases and repair depots? I ask because the humans in the film have access to a broad range of weapons. From MV-22s to a nuclear-powered attack submarine, Connor and his troops avoid the uncomfortable position of fighting robots with clubs and rocks.

“Salvation” gets three stars out of five, if for no other reason than its respectful bow toward the end to the greatest terminator of all, the now politically besieged governor of California.

Del’s take

Let’s see if I can nail down the premise of “Terminator Salvage Operation”: John Connor must jack into the Matrix where his mentor Obi Wan has been captured by an alien face-hugger. There he meets Gandolf, who wields a mean club when the Road Warrior attacks, but they escape with the aid of Mr. Spock who is undergoing the colon-cleansing ritual of pon-fart.

I swear. There were times during “Terminator Salvation” when I thought I was watching “The Road Warrior,” “Transformers” and maybe just a wee bit of “Star Trek,” “Alien” and “Lord of the Rings.”

These science fiction franchises have become about as interesting and fun as a civil service employment application. They’re way too complicated and take themselves way too seriously, and their creators seem to have forgotten that story will always trump effects.

Worse, they’re all borrowing stuff from each other, sort of like a taco pizza cheeseburger.

Here’s the rundown on “Salvation”: It occurs after “Judgment Day,” the day a vast computer system called Skynet becomes self-aware and decides to pan-roast humanity with the nuclear bombs it has been put in charge of (and this date conveniently shifts from movie to movie. In the original “Terminator” it was Aug. 29, 1997. In “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” it’s July 25, 2004, presumably because of meddling in the timeline. In the TV show “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” it’s moved to April 2011 … can’t they just settle on a date and be done with it?).

After pushing the button Skynet decides to rid the world of pesky human survivors by building a global network of machines that work 24/7 to hunt down human beings and kill them. Humanity, deprived of its Netflix popups and angry because of it, retaliates by organizing resistance fighters who live underground, eat rats, and have access to phase plasma rifles in the 40-watt range (an homage … get it?).

John Connor, the anointed savior of mankind, must make sure his dad, the teenaged Kyle Reese, lives long enough to go back in time and impregnate his mother, Sarah Connor. Meanwhile the first human-like Terminator awakens and thinks he is human, never believing he might have been programmed to do what he spends most of the movie doing. Amazingly he bumps into Reese, one of two survivors living in Los Angeles, and then the movie becomes one big fist punching, guns blazing, jets screaming, atomic-bomb exploding craptravaganza.

I was wrong. This isn’t a civil service employment application; it’s Donald Trump’s tax return.

Christian Bale becomes tiresome as the eternally brooding, always angry John Connor. I keep remembering that insane tirade (warning: extremely foul language) by Bale posted on the Internet where he threatened to beat the &@$% out of the director of lighting for interrupting his shot. Moon Bloodgood irritates me because her name is so obviously contrived. And how did Anton Yelchin (“Star Trek”) score two of the biggest movies of the summer season?

One bright note is Sam Worthington as the Terminator who doesn’t know he’s a Terminator. Oops! Spoiler? No problema, baby. It’s telegraphed in the first five minutes.

I have two regrets about “Terminator Salvation.”

No. 1: There was no “Battlestar Galactica” tie-in.

No. 2: I spent $7 seeing this in the theater when I could have waited for it to show up in the $5 bin at Walmart.

From what I hear there’s a T5 in the making.

I guess the Terminator will be back.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical editor. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.