Meewella | Critic

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Tag: Zoe Saldana

QuickView: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)

“I’m done running.”


From its downbeat opening with no sudden reset following the Infinity War, there is a sense of finality to Guardians Vol. 3, a rarity in comic book movies that serves to heighten threats as characters are stripped of impenetrable plot armour. Where Vol. 2 explored Quill’s origins, Vol. 3 focuses on Rocket with flashbacks to the cruel animal experimentation that created him (featuring the sweetest otter committed to film). Unfortunately the conceit that makes this relevant leaves Rocket separated from the team for much of the film, negatively affecting their dynamic particularly during action sequences — the smashy action is a far cry from the creativity Gunn unleashed in The Suicide Squad, and it is only in a corridor fight near the end of the film that we finally see the musically choreographed teamwork that elevated previous Guardians volumes. The Guardians are in their element during rollicking galaxy-traversing adventure and there is plenty here, which allows them to avoid the malaise of mediocrity that has characterised Marvel’s recent output. There are visually inventive new locations like a bio-engineered space lab, but also disappointing choices like the mundane (and nonsensical) Counter-Earth. Uneven pacing arises from a combination of the long running time, the repetitive flashback structure and the introduction of two antagonists — the egomaniacal High Evolutionary is driven by a single obsession whilst Adam Warlock, whose introduction was teased at the end of the previous film, is relegated to a background presence repeatedly crashing through walls. Gunn’s greatest skill is allowing emotional beats to resonate even within a comedic framework and, as he leaves Marvel to become DC’s Kevin Feige, this is a fitting send-off to a team that is unlikely to be seen in the same form again (I could have done without the perfunctory post-credit sequences). The Guardians trilogy has always been about family and loss, Vol. 3 capitalising on long-running arcs that allow characters to grow and find acceptance through letting go of their respective pasts.


MCU Phase 5: Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania | Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 | The Marvels | Captain America: New World Order | Thunderbolts | Blade

QuickView: Avatar: The Way of Water (2022)

Avatar: The Way of Water poster

“The way of water connects all things. Before your birth, and after your death.”


I eventually came to describe Avatar as the best fictional nature documentary I have ever seen. The Way of Water contains an exquisite hour in the middle which builds on this, introducing us to new areas of Pandora — with new tribes, bioluminescent flora and intelligent fauna — and showing off the underwater filming techniques Cameron has been developing with long, flowing takes and smooth transitions between water and surface. This exhilerating playful exploration is unfortunately sandwiched between two hours of ponderous exposition, po-faced spiritualism and largely uninspired miliatary action. Cameron still produces the best (and arguably only) cinematic experience worth seeing in 3D yet, without a compelling story, visual fidelity alone now faces stiffer competition from near photorealistic videogames and increasingly accessible 3D virtual reality. The family dynamic to the story is an improvement on the original, though it all still feels derivative and the most emotionally resonant moment — between father and son near the end — was ripped straight from How to Train Your Dragon. Cameron remains a master at spectacle, showing off lightweight exo-skeletons and crablike submersibles fighting giant whales, whilst firing a large bow and arrow through cockpit glass remains as rousing as it is unrealistic. The Way of Water is likely to be as divisive as its predecessor but, fifteen years on, the technology does not feel like a seismic shift in cinema and it is far harder to be as forgiving of the same flaws.


A technical note on frame rates: Depending on your screening, Cameron deploys a failed experiment with variable frame rates or VFR, seeking to have the benefits of 48fps HFR during fully digital sequences without the backlash received by The Hobbit through using the cinematic standard 24fps for sequences with human characters. Although there is considerable improvement in motion and the ability to follow action at 48fps, the transition is immediately noticeable and jarring every time. The step up feels like you are suddenly watching videogame footage and the step down (which is artificially achieved by doubling each frame) introduces perceptible jitter. It would have been far better to stick to 48fps throughout and let the audience adapt once.

QuickView: The Adam Project (2022)

“Sometimes it pays to be a nerd, guys.”

Louis Reed

Since the underwhelming Bright in 2017, Netflix has been chasing a big budget action film success in vain. Yet, with big name stars drawing high streaming figures, Netflix now seems content with a regular cadence of generic and largely forgettable films instead, and that is the mould for The Adam Project from director Shawn Levy (teaming up again with Ryan Reynolds after last year’s Free Guy). Its loose time travel mechanics are forgivable but its greater flaw is laziness in establishing its sci-fi world. We never really get a sense of the stakes in 2050, or how the existence of time travel has changed the planet, and a direct reference to The Terminator serves only to highlight The Adam Project‘s comparatively weak world-building and derivative story. The action is competently choreographed, with a few memorable moments using futuristic energy and sonic weapons. A more serious tone also allows Ryan Reynolds to deliver a more emotionally nuanced performance than Free Guy, particularly in the regret Adam feels when faced with how he treated his mother as a child. Unfortunately, with the exception of Walter Scobell as his younger self, the excellent supporting cast is wasted on characters that are never developed beyond sketches. The Adam Project is enjoyable but will be forgotten within a few months.


Avatar (2009)

Avatar poster

director: James Cameron
writer: James Cameron
starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang
running time: 162 mins
rating: 12A

Everything is backwards now, like out there is the true world, and in here is the dream.

James Cameron’s return a decade after Titanic, the highest grossing film of all time, is a return to more familiar science fiction material for the director. There has been much discussion of the general irrelevance of the plot, and I will not regurgitate the comparisons with Dances With Wolves and FernGully. In short, humans are mining the natural resources of distant moon Pandora, but hit a a stumbling block with the indiginous tribal species, the Na’vi. Human scientists led by Dr. Grace Augustine [Sigourney Weaver] interact with the Na’vi through the use of hybrid avatars which they control through a neural link. A paraplegic former marine, Jake Sully [Sam Worthington], is accepted and taught by the Na’vi, while a mercenary human army prepares to drive them out. Character development is limited but the central roles are well-acted and believable. The story itself may be throwaway but Cameron’s storytelling is as assured as ever. He steers with a firm hand and suspension of disbelief is instantaneous, broken only as the final shot gives way to an unforgivably cheesy song.

Avatar still

I presumed Cameron’s suggestions that his film would be about exploring another world were typical pre-release hyperbole, but the staggering level of detail in Pandora’s world is the real core of the experience, and its exploration in the film’s first half is an utter joy. Avatar has set the new benchmark for 3D filmmaking and its use throughout is subtle and effective in increasing immersion without unnecessary “pop-out” moments. Like Coraline, the majority of the depth sinks into the screen, but the key difference is that Cameron still employs typical strong depth-of-field effects, meaning the viewer needs to let their eyes naturally be drawn around the screen rather than expecting to be able to look wherever they wish. The human technology is rendered effectively, but the planet’s breathtaking flora and fauna are what will stay with the audience. Facial (as well as motion) capture makes the Na’vi totally lifelike, with expressive faces by merging their appearance with that of their actors but avoiding the common uncanny valley issues. Cameron’s new motion-capture system allowed him to see a real-time representation of both the actors and the world as he filmed, rather than waiting for the effects to be applied later, allowing for much more involved camerawork and direction than the commonly static shots where CGI is employed.

Avatar still

Many argue it is odd that a film employing so much technology would carry an anti-technology message, but I am not certain this is the case. There are clear warnings about our relationship with technology, and particularly questions about our attachments to online avatars over our own bodies. However while the Na’vi may be a tribal, spiritual people, they still employ several staples of sci-fi technology in biological form, such as their physical neural link with other creatures on Pandora. Avatar‘s message is far more anti-war and it is ultimately the military technology that seems to be attacked, with the conflict highlighting respect for tradition and nature.

As a work of science fiction, there are many links to Cameron’s earlier Aliens. Watching Sigourney Weaver leaving cryo-stasis will for many feel like returning home. The army grunts will be strongly reminiscent of Aliens‘ marines, and much of their technology is a gradual evolution. This provides some familiarity as we join the humans arriving on this very alien world.

Cameron’s latest work had the weight of insurmountable expectation upon it. Though not flawless, the fact he has managed to deliver a film that is both a technological marvel and utterly absorbing entertainment — while also looking set to outperform Titanic financially — is nothing short of astounding. As the finest example of 3D cinema to date, it is well worth seeing this in that form, since a 2D viewing would be a significantly different experience (to such a degree I suspect its rating would drop by at least half a star) and the small screen will greatly reduce the impact of this world’s incredible detail. That, above all, will keep your head stuck on Pandora for days afterwards.


"A film is a petrified fountain of thought."

(CC) BY-NC 2003-2023 Priyan Meewella

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