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He did it again.
Director James Cameron’s 2009 blockbuster “Avatar” become the biggest box office film of all time while asking audiences to cheer on their own destruction.
The eco-adventure posited the peaceful, blue-skinned Na’vi population of Pandora as the film’s heroes. The villains? The U.S.-like military machine led by the Col. Quaritch (Stephen Lang). The invading Earthlings want to mine the precious resource known as Unobtanium from Pandora, and they don’t care how many Na’vi natives die along the way.
Move. Or we’ll make you move.
“Avatar: The Way of Water,” which already has earned $1 billion globally, finds humans once again visiting Pandora with evil intentions.
The Earth is dying, we’re told (without explanation), and humanity wants to relocate to the beautiful, unspoiled Pandora. And the humans, now led by an Avatar of Col. Quaritch (Lang, again), are almost cartoonish in their cruelty to the Na’vi natives.
The exception of course is Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), the human turned Na’vi from the first film now fighting to save his family from the colonel’s wrath. Once again, nearly every other human character is depicted as war-like and uncaring about the destruction they bring along the way.
Cameron is such a showman he can lure people to theaters while asking them to cheer when humans meet their maker at the hands of another species.
And why not?
The Earth dwellers, or Sky People as they’re called, show little regard for the locals, their native lands or the impact of their blunt-force invasions. Col. Quaritch is even more evil this time around, putting children in harm’s way if it means he can get revenge on his former ally, Jake. That’s right, the Marines are portrayed as repetitive child abusers.
It’s Cameron’s mastery of the format, from the beguiling 3D effects to the stunning CGI visuals, that makes this all possible. (And it’s ironic that his efforts are being blasted as “cultural appropriation” in some circles)
The “Avatar” franchise doesn’t label the evil humans as “Americans.” Nor do the films say it’s the U.S. Marines who are doing the invading, the killing, etc. The monstrous actions are carried out by “Marines” whose many other mannerisms and behaviors are certainly reminiscent of how U.S. Marines have been portrayed in films like “Full Metal Jacket.”
So it’s not remotely a stretch to see the franchise intends you to think that way, though.
Conservative critics scorched the original on those grounds. It’s “anti-human,” some cried at the time. The sequel repeats many of these themes without much nuance. A new character, played by Jack Champion, is human but lives alongside the Na’vi and even grunts like them in battle.
A few human holdovers from the first film recoil at their fellow Earthling’s actions, but they take up little space in the story.
Cameron scoffed at such criticisms shortly after “Avatar” hit theaters in 2009. It’s not anti-human, he countered in a 2010 interview, nor does he have disdain for the U.S. Military. His brother was serving in Kuwait at the time as a Marine, he countered.
Still, he featured a better array of heroes and anti-heroes in his 1986 masterpiece, “Aliens.” That sequel followed futuristic Marines learning the hard way that the titular creatures don’t roll over and play dead.
The director’s storytelling chops have curdled since then. The “Avatar” films feature cringe-worthy dialogue and hackneyed devices to gin up our emotion. His films are more simplistic at the storytelling level now, too, even if his FX mastery is unmatched in Hollywood.
James Cameron is still shrewd enough to get crowds to boo and hiss at their fellow humans, all the while hoping the blue-skinned Na’vi vanquish their soulless human foes.