Wednesday, December 21, 2022

James Cameron deserves praise for putting Marvel in its place with Avatar: The Way of Water

 Post Credits Scene: The groundbreaking film directed by James Cameron, Avatar: The tropes of the genre are both embraced and rejected in The Way of Water. And the section of the second act in which the movie forgoes plot in favor of endless vibes is the most stunning.

The Marvel machine has ruined blockbuster filmmaking over the past decade, despite Tom Cruise's valiant efforts. When superhero films aren't competing with one another to get people's attention, they make it impossible for anything that costs less than $200 million to even find a decent audience. However, the most problematic aspect of these films is that they have taught a whole generation of viewers to not only accept mediocrity but to also cite it as the gold standard.

In light of the fact that movies now have to provide a much-needed cultural reset every ten years, just when the industry needs it the most, it might be reasonable to excuse James Cameron for taking a decade between films.

Whether you agree with Kevin Feige or not, Cameron brought Avatar to fruition this week, sailing up to shore like a well-timed Biblical plague: The Way of Water, the long-awaited sequel to his 2009 debut, which had a similar impact on the industry. That movie brought audiences back to the wonders of big-screen entertainment, almost anticipating the existential threat that moviegoers would soon face in just a few years. However, studios took the wrong lessons from the first Avatar's success rather than realizing why it worked; They discovered that they could demand a surcharge for movies by lazily slapping them with a 3D sticker, hearing only the cha-ching of cash registers.

It was all a hoax. On the other hand, The Way of Water seems to be a response to everything that has happened in the past ten years, a decade that has been dominated by the rise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the emergence of streaming services. However, neither has provided audiences with Cameron's pure sincerity, which can only be experienced in a movie theater.

The Way of Water incorporates concepts as old as the Hollywood Hills themselves with cutting-edge technology. Additionally, Cameron is operating with godlike self-assurance, which is what two of the top three hits of all time can do for a man, I suppose. Although this is a superficial assessment of his work, his films are frequently criticized for lacking originality. You can feel the disruptor in him pushing against narrative confines with refreshing regularity, even though the themes in his films are universal and the story beats are familiar. Additionally, the film's second act exemplifies Cameron's disregard for conventional storytelling to its fullest extent.

After a breathless first hour in which the director dutifully explains the backstory to the audience, which is a laborious but necessary task given the gap between the first and second movies, he stops and does something that probably no studio suit would have approved of. He lets the movie sit back, relax, and enjoy itself, which is the best way to put it. When Cameron temporarily forgets that our protagonists are being pursued by an entire army and instead sends them for a swim in the ocean, the plot, which at the time seemed rather urgent, takes a back seat. Pure bliss quickly takes the place of a sense of imminent danger.

Without exaggeration, the visuals in these sequences are unlike anything we've ever seen. It is the closest thing we will get to watching Planet Pandora by David Attenborough. Of course, this is all done in advance. Cameron is aware that these sequences are essentially a proof-of-concept for the immersive underwater photography, refined 3D, and varying frame rates that he has been hinting at and promising for close to a decade. The effect is nothing short of transcendent, like when Dorothy opens the door to Oz, thanks to the photo-realistic images and ethereal music.

It is impossible to tell that every square inch of the screen has been rendered on a computer when Jake and Neytiri's children dive into the ocean with Cameron's camera for the first time. I am sure that there is still work to be done. The symbolism is striking to the point that I actually drew back. Cameron does this by using the High Frame Rate technology, which he has been touting for years, in addition to crystal-clear 3D, which was probably made possible by the projection at my screening. Your brain rewires itself in real time as you watch the underwater sequences at 48 frames per second—double the usual 24 frames per second—essentially learning a new way to perceive moving images.

We have come to expect the so-called motion blur effect when watching movies over the years. By rendering images at 48 frames per second, the blur is reduced to the point of being nonexistent, creating a sense of hyper-reality that has been unfairly compared to watching footage from an iPhone or a video game cutscene. The 48 fps footage in The Way of Water gives the impression that you are actually participating in swimming lessons with the characters while they are on summer break from school, which is exactly the feeling that Cameron is aiming for. It is a crucial sequence; Either you'll dive in headfirst or you'll be yelling for help from a safety line to land.

And how he got away with it is truly amazing. This is not a brief film. Even Cameron couldn't have avoided having difficult discussions about reducing the movie's running time. In addition, it stands to reason that the film's dreary second act would be the first to be slain in every variation of this scenario. It could theoretically have been reduced to a 10-minute training montage, but on the other hand, it allows us to spend time with characters in non-plot-driven moments. On the other hand, it offers little plot development. We observe them merely existing. When was the last time something like that happened in a movie this big? Naturally, all of this serves as preparation for the third act, when these characters' survival becomes the emotional linchpin.

The emotional climax of The Way of Water is made possible in large part by Cameron's work in this sequence two hours earlier. You begin to overlook the flawless visual effects during the conclusion, focusing solely on Jake and Neytiri's mission to rescue Kiri and Tuk from Colonel Quaritch, which is a testament to his skill as an uncomplicated storyteller. Even if Quaritch has been resurrected through cloud backup or something, it doesn't matter. Nothing matters; all that you care about is the prosperity of these CGI outsiders and their kids.

Because of Cameron's economical storytelling, my theory is that this cut of The Way of Water would work almost as well with unfinished visual effects. A director who is willing to devote an entire subplot to a computer-generated whale-like creature that communicates more with its eyes than any human in both Ant-Man films has done a remarkable job, to be sure. The tulkun Payakan, a creature, could be argued to be the real protagonist of this movie. However, we'll save this contention for one more day, when individuals definitely begin questioning Cameron once more.

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