Just realized I haven't posted a couple of my recent movie watchings.
Avatar: Way of the Water
Actually saw this twice. Once by myself to get out of the house, a second with some friends because they hadn't seen it and I liked it enough to want to see it again.
As with the first one, the plot isn't terribly original and most of the characters aren't particularly deep. But goddamn, it's a gorgeous movie with incredible set pieces. Like the first movie, it's also absolutely worth seeing in IMAX 3D because unlike other movies, it's made with that format in mind. It's designed from the ground up to be a theater experience. It's a jaw-dropping spectacle. And if there's one thing James Cameron does better than anyone else, it's spectacle. With the 3D, something I notice as I sometimes lifted my glasses to compare, is the focal character on screen isn't the one with 3D effects on them; it's everything around them. Other characters, for example. Or in particular is foreground elements like branches or walls. It adds something that no other 3D movie does with their hastily added production: it adds depth to the scene.
Something I realized about this particular spectacle that you barely see in other movies is awe. So many movies, when you think "spectacle," it's all cool action and big explosions like the Marvel movies. But there are so many moments in this, especially the underwater scenes, where you feel like you're watching a nature documentary on the big screen. Pandora is a fully realized world that feels alive at all times. The creatures might often be stand-ins for real world counterparts, like whales, but they still have their own designs that make them unique to Pandora.
The story is...okay. Some of the character decisions seem odd. Some things, like the adopted daughter played by Sigourney Weaver, feels like set up for future movies. This movie was definitely all about introducing and developing Jake's kids, since they take center stage in most scenes. I also kinda love how they introduce cloning in this seemingly as an excuse to bring back old characters.
So yeah, same as the first one, I won't go out of my way to defend it because writing-wise, it's not without problems. But I still dug the heck out of this movie for the spectacle.
The Woman King
Been meaning to watch this for awhile and finally got around to it last night. And it's a damn good movie. Not sure if I have as much to say about it as Avatar, but saying "it's Viola Davis in a historical drama set in Africa in the 1800s" says enough. It feels epic in scale and yet grounded by its characters at the same time. Every actor does a bang-up job. Viola Davis, no surprise, puts on basically an acting class, especially in little gestures or expressions. The stand-out for me, aside from Davis, was Lashana Lynch, who I only knew from Captain Marvel. She trains another young character in this, but she's an absolute badass alongside all the other women.
I understand that the movie takes liberties with the historical accuracy of the main tribe in this movie, but it's still an interesting viewpoint of the slave trade from the African perspective. A recurring theme I noticed wasn't the threat of death, but capture. The common threat when someone does something stupid is "That will get you captured." Captured, not killed. And it seals the ongoing theme the movie is built around. It's an existential crisis for Africans, both in how they're treated like cattle by Europeans, but also how other tribes treat each other in selling people they capture for slavery.
Obviously, these themes make it a somewhat difficult movie to get through, emotionally. For the mature subject matter, though, it's surprisingly not as gory as I expected. There's plenty of brutal, well-choreographed action and it's not entirely bloodless, but when I watched the first big action scene, I was surprised by how it WASN'T gory where most movies of its kind would be. And I kind of appreciate that restraint.
I wanted to see this in theaters last year and now that I've finally seen it, I regret not doing that. Damn good movie.