Avatar: The Way of Water trailer review – First look at long-awaited sequel feels like a glorified tech demo

Over a decade in the making, James Cameron’s follow-up to the highest-grossing film of all time certain to inspire awe – but the first footage refuses to give anything substantial away

Avatar: The Way of Water teaser trailer drops online

Back in 2010, you’d have been laughed out of Hollywood for doubting a sequel to Avatar. James Cameron’s fantasy epic had taken the world by storm; to this day, it remains the highest-grossing movie of all time. When Avatar 2 was then announced, touted for 2014, it seemed like a nailed-on winner. But 12 years and countless delays later, no one is quite so sure. There have been countless takes about Avatar’s faded relevance: that it has no cultural shelf life; that the public has lost interest. The 3D cinema experience that Avatar made so uniquely appealing has pretty much died out entirely. The forthcoming sequel has become a punchline. But that won’t stop Cameron laughing all the way to the bank.

You see, rumours of Avatar’s cultural obsolescence are overstated. It pretty axiomatically lacks the resonance of a Star Wars or Lord of the Rings, yes, but we’re still talking about a sequel to a film that nearly everyone has seen. The years of delays may have killed the franchise’s momentum, but it’s varnished the sequel with a level of complete intrigue. Intensifying this is the fact that, until now, no one has been allowed to see a frame of what is now officially called Avatar: The Way of Water. Beginning last week, the very first trailer for Way of Water was available to catch in cinemas before screenings of Marvel’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, ahead of its more conventional online debut today (9 May).

There’s only so much one can glean from the trailer, which eschews the kind of Easter egg-heavy approach favoured by your modern franchise blockbuster. Those online fanatics who like to pore over every frame of a trailer may be left disappointed; the thrill here is in the macro. Underscored by slow, portentous organ music the footage can only be described as lush. There are huge, verdant backdrops and blue Na’vi faces animated with unprecedented detail. There is a greater variety of environments here than in the original Avatar – from the jungles of Pandora, to dense, industrialised areas, to wide open water. (As the title suggests, this is a film that seems to centre around the planet’s bodies of water, though little about the plot is disclosed here.)

The downside of this approach is that it feels rather too much like a tech demo, or the trailer for a long-gestating video-game sequel. We are left admiring the strides that have been made in CGI animation in the past 12 years – won’t you look at the sheen on that water? – but emerge with little sense of plot or a substantive “hook”. Compounding this problem is the fact that so many of the blue Na’vi faces look all too similar: it is hard to pick out new cast member Kate Winslet, though others have spotted flashes of her here.

I doubt that this trailer is going to be what convinces Avatar’s doubters. It seems to promise awe over excitement, sumptuousness over story. But let’s be clear: at this point, The Way of Water is still holding its cards tight to its chest. For all we know, it’s holding a royal flush.

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