Avatar: The Way of Woke (Film Review)

“The way of water has no beginning and no end.”
James Cameron

Tell me about it. The same goes for this polished pulp you called a film.
David Zaruk

Our values and cultural narratives are defined by the stories we tell. While social media is changing our access, our heroes and our villains, the chief storytelling tool is still the motion picture, idealising our hopes and dreams and identifying public fears that clearly arranges our moral order. From the days of films about wicked thieves tying damsels in distress to railway lines, Cowboys shooting up Indians, threats to democracy from Nazi demagogues and Communist spies to Law & Order cleaning up the dregs of society, stories need to present a clear distinction between who wears the white hat and who lurks in the shadows (with the happy ending expectation that good shall always prevail over evil).

With the 2009 Avatar film, James Cameron defined humans and industry as the forces of evil trying to colonise a lush, fictional moon called Pandora. Against these military-backed capitalists from the extraction industries stood various indigenous Na’vi tribes whose lives defined sustainability, are socially just and biodiversity-aware (communing with nature simply by plugging their ponytails into a variety of eco-sockets). Spoiler alert: the Na’vi won the battle and sent those evil capitalists and their armies back to their dying planet (but not before the vengeful humans chopped down the tree they had lived in).

With the second Avatar, humans have returned to Pandora (and Cameron has refined his misanthropic narrative). This time, planet Earth is dying and humans are planning to colonise Pandora. Their extraction equipment is bigger, they have advanced technologies that can erect towers “thirty times faster” and scientists have grown morally darker (using their brain mapping technologies to torture their captives in some modern form of water-boarding that even turned the evil marine’s stomach). Their cities are brown dustbowls, devoid of nature and obsessed with growth in technology and wealth. So Cameron has polished his “humans as the bad guys” narrative beyond merely the extraction industry seeking unobtanium, extending the source of evil to include armies of Mengelian lab-coats, technology engineers and urban planners.

“Let’s make some money!”

When the story shifts to the oceans (I won’t give away the plot, not just for those planning to watch the film, but because it is so pathetically weak), humans showed up again to extract the resources of the seas in a futuristic form of whaling (made even more barbaric with, you got it, advanced technologies). The nalutsa are whale-like creatures acknowledged by their hunters to be more intelligent and socially advanced. Nalutsa have about a litre of brain fluid demanded by the pharmaceutical industry for medicine to stop the aging process. So, much to the horror of any human with self-worth, we were forced to watch a ten-tonne nalutsa carcass float away, just for one kilo of industrial raw material worth millions. Worse, this nalutsa was a proud, young mother and animal spirit for the queen of the Metkayina Clan (the tolerant water tribe that took in the ethnically-mixed tree-dwelling refugees).

Thanks James, you achieved your goal: now I am truly ashamed to be a member of the human race and am ready to do whatever I can to stop industry and capitalism.

Industrial failures

In this woke version of a Cowboy and Indian Western, humans and their technologies were no match for the aboriginal strength and use of their environment. So Na’vi warriors flying on mountain banshees could bring down jets, derail trains and wipe out rows of trained marines with spears and bows and arrows. And the times when modern weaponry were used by the good guys, it often failed, leaving them to resort to the traditional, natural means. The real hero was the mother, Neytiri, who, when learning her daughters were being held captive, went all John Rambo with a bow and arrow on a boatload of marines.

Nature was weaponised and the coral reefs seemed to know when to intervene and swallow up just the bad people. In one of many Titanesque moments (don’t get me started on how long it took Cameron to sink that warship), one of the angst-driven teens asked his nalutsa if it trusted him. Clearly this ten-tonne fish did since it was quickly enlisted in nature’s army, intuitively knowing who the villains were.

Humanity’s medical technologies were also clearly shown to be inadequate. When another angst-driven teen (I’ll avoid getting into the overly pronounced inclusion sub-plots) had a seizure from having mistakenly plugged her ponytail into an unknown source, human doctors were simply wasting time taking tests while the child lay lifeless. In come the traditional Pandoran naturopathic experts with a few pressure points and the removal of the bad airs, and in no time, the teen rises to sulk again.

Humans have so much to learn about the superior value of nature. I suspect no one on Pandora needs to be vaccinated.

Exploiting the Evils of Capitalism

So the narrative is clear: man and his thirst for wealth, progress and advancing technologies is evil; those who live with nature will succeed and we need to abandon this white male culture of exploitation and embrace tolerance, inclusivity and respect (of family, biodiversity and tradition). This narrative, ironically, proved to be very profitable for James Cameron the first time around with Avatar being the top grossing film of all time. In order for Avatar 2 to simply break even, given the cost of all of those technologies, it has to be the fourth highest grossing film (and that won’t happen). It is thus a rich hypocrisy for Cameron to be spreading fantasy myths about the evils of capitalism while keeping one eye on the bottom line and pleasing Big Mouse.

But is Cameron reflecting the public hatred toward capitalism in his fictional world or is he attempting to shape the narrative? Probably both. We cannot underestimate the strength of a three-hour film to give voice to a narrative, mould a culture and influence public dialogue. The underlying theme – that man is going in the wrong direction by promoting scientific and technological solutions – is one that I fight against every day (and one that I recognise is becoming a lost cause). Playing this value assault down as ‘just a futuristic fiction’ and ‘interesting escapism’ is naive. James Cameron is using his position as an influential artist to warn decision-makers that promoting science and technology will destroy the planet within the next century and, as there is no viable Pandora nearby, leave humanity with no options. We need to speak out against this hateful dogma cleverly disguised as entertainment.

Science, technology and industry are not evil in the way Cameron is portraying. This white/male/colonial = evil and indigenous/female/environmental = good is a fabricated polarisation that has spread hate and division across many Western societies. Apart from the polarised bias Avatar is propagating, one side does not have a monopoly on tolerance and justice. There should not be any sides when complex decisions need to be made. Cameron’s simplification and denigration of society into clear cases of good versus evil makes for an easy plot but it is irresponsible and more exploitative than any industry culture he aims to obliterate. If he needs a bad guy to guide his craft, go back to designing alien creatures.

If Disney can put a disclaimer at the beginning of Lady and the Tramp because of the potentially offensive Siamese cat scene (I wish I were making this up), then they should be so self-aware as to also put a warning of the offensive nature of Avatar: The Way of Water. As I expect the film to be a financial flop, perhaps it should be an indication that the woke narrative has become tired. Somewhere in the 13 years of production, I suspect the artist mis-timed the narrative shift.

Cameron’s Franchise of Hate

Unless someone pulls the financial plug, Cameron plans at least two more Avatar films. So with my tongue in cheek, what advice can I give James to extend his misanthropic narrative and paint humans as even more evil in Avatar 3?

I was disappointed that he did not show humans leaving plastic waste in the oceans so perhaps Pandora can be used as a site for interplanetary garbage disposal. Make it even more chilling with nuclear waste? Cameron hasn’t tapped into the outrage towards conventional agriculture, so perhaps Pandora is ripe for some intensive farming, genetic modification and human health decline. The Na’vi are already so physically fit so that story will just write itself. The Sigourney Weaver character was made wicked by her craving for cigarettes in the first Avatar so maybe the vaping industry can be demonised in the next episode (perhaps by extracting potent Pandoran flavours that further harm the human race).

Clearly whatever James Cameron comes up with, those who hate humanity, industry and technology will cheer the next affirmation of their bias; those who are impressionable will believe this anti-capitalist pulp; and those who have devoted their lives to science and technology will marvel at the special effects.

Me … I wish I had watched Puss in Boots: The Last Wish instead – something far more rooted in reality and less insulting to the intellect of the audience.

Cover image

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Rob Johnston says:

    Reminds me of when Rupert Murdoch took his two young daughters (remember, he fathered them when about 70-78) to see an animated Xmas blockbuster from his own (i.e. Fox) Studios.
    He was HORRIFIED at the film’s all-pervading anti-capitalist, anti-technology, anti-science, pro-superstition, ULTRA-woke agenda! (Albeit, these were PRE-woke times!)
    It was said that Murdoch demanded an explanation from his “entertainment” divisions, and was told, “This is how films make money”. So he shut up!
    The very same reasoning, no doubt, goes for ‘Fox News’.


    1. Helen says:

      Fox News may well be garbage but as far as garbage goes, it’s the best of the bunch…of course I’m comparing it to MSNBC, CNN, ABC, you know, all the extremely woke anti-Fox networks.

      It’s a cesspool whichever way you turn.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s