Why I’m Looking Forward to ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’
Plus: Whit Stillman, assigned!
Confessions of a Critic
Watching the news roll in from CinemaCon—the annual confab hosted by the National Association of Theatre Owners where studios present their lineups and give sneak peeks at coming attractions—has been fairly heartening. The recommitment to theatrical! Early reviews of the new Top Gun! The snickering schadenfreude at Netflix’s downfall! It’s all quite delightful, and you should listen to my interview with David Herrin of The Quorum for more on that front.
But can I … confess something to you?
A deep, dark secret?
The movie I’m most looking forward to is … well. I’ll just say it. Avatar 2.
I’m sorry, Avatar: The Way of Water. That’s right: despite being an avowed Avatar skeptic—impressed by the technology but underwhelmed by the story, I was one of the handful of critics to give it a thumbs-down on initial release—and despite never sitting down to rewatch the whole thing since it has hit home theaters and despite, yes, not being able to name a single character from the film, it’s my most-anticipated blockbuster of the year.
Why? Why am I looking forward to it? Why, despite being kind of “meh” on Avatar the first time around am I getting more and more excited for it?
Two reasons. Reason the first:
James Cameron doesn’t miss. From the first two Terminators to Aliens to True Lies to Titanic to, yes, Avatar, he makes big movies that look good and please audiences and impress critics and, perhaps most importantly, make a ton of money. He’s a perfectionist and a technical wizard, probably the only person on the planet aside from John Woo who could convince me to intentionally see a movie in 3D.
Reason the second:
I understand it’s weird to say that I’m looking forward to Avatar 2 because I’m tired of sequels, but holy God am I tired of sequels. Just endless rivers of Marvel and Star Wars and DC properties washing over my eyeballs, all of it looking more or less the same, all of it the kind of flat CGI spectacle that leaves no impression. And look: I like a lot of these movies! Maybe even most! I’m not above the comic book industrial complex. I’m not better than that.
Sometimes I just want something a little different. And it’s … sad, I guess, that something a little different is a 13-years-later sequel to the highest-grossing CGI spectacle of all time.
Please forward this newsletter to your fellow Avatar-heads, they’ll thank you later. Avatar hive unite!
This week I reviewed Memory, the movie that serves as the natural transition point from Old-Man Action Movies to Alzheimer’s Action Movies.
I also reviewed The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, the ultra-meta Nic Cage movie in which he plays himself that many people liked but I really did not. It’s like an unironic version of Adaptation.
You should read Daniel Lelchuk’s review of Jed Perl’s Authority and Freedom: A Defense of the Arts. We’ve reached yet another point when art for art’s sake needs defending, which is rarely a good sign for the health of the culture.
I was sad to hear that Netflix is cutting writers at its in-house fan site Tudum. Not because I was a big Tudum reader, but because it’s always sad to hear about folks who moved for a great new job only to see it evaporate in a few months. I, uh, have some experience in this regard.
Joe Morgenstern has been the critic at the Wall Street Journal for literally as long as I can remember. Two-thirds of my life, basically. He’s hanging up his daily duties and wrote a nice goodbye essay to mark the occasion.
Tokyo Vice is a great show and I love its thematic preoccupation with bad debts.
Jonathan Chait’s essay on the culture war and how it relates to the Red Scare and the current progressive political predicament is well worth your time. Here’s Chait: “One way to lose a culture war is to refuse to fight it. Another way to lose it is to let your allies do a lot of unpopular things and then allow the country to believe the only way to stop them is to vote you out of power.”
This week’s “Across the Movie Aisle” is pretty fun, because Peter, Alyssa, and I all have fairly divergent feelings about The Northman. Listen now!
Assigned Viewing: Damsels in Distress (Showtime)
This year marks the 10th anniversary of Whit Stillman’s wonderful comedy Damsels in Distress. If you have Showtime, make sure to check it out now—and I mean now, as it expires tomorrow. WATCH IT TONIGHT, PEOPLE.