James Cameron’s a busy man, or so he says. The guy hadn’t released a movie since 2009 when Avatar premiered. Moreover, the film infamously made no cultural impact because Cameron didn’t pump out sequels and Disney+ shows at an exhaustive rate, like, say, everything else at Disney. Nevertheless, he beamed in for a quick video introduction of some Avatar footage at today’s Marvel, Lucasfilm, and 20th Century Studios panel at the D23 Expo.
“I’m super excited to be finally finishing up movie two,” Cameron said, taking time off from making four other Avatar movies. “I know everyone’s been waiting a long time. Hopefully, we’ll show something today and you can decide if it’s been worth it.”
The verdict: It was.
While everyone was excited for the 10,000 new Star Wars and Marvel properties coming in the coming, Cameron’s Avatar footage wowed the audience like none other. After handing out 3D glasses to the audience, they played five or six scenes from the movie that, frankly, put the rest of this weekend-long special effects exhibition to shame. In the footage shown, Avatar: The Way Of Water’s characters integrate beautifully into their surroundings, which don’t have that greyed-out Volume Stage look of Lucasfilm, the purple and green light shows of the MCU, or the weightlessness of CGI characters touching each other. The underwater footage, in particular, is bright, vibrant, and immersive. But the rain scenes set in the jungles of Pandora were just as impressive, especially seeing the rain hit the slicked bodies of the Na’vi.
There’s still plenty for critics to glom onto because this story is still very broad, emotional, and sincere. You won’t find any irony or quips in the scenes they showed today, which will undoubtedly earn chuckles from cynics and detractors of the first movie. People will laugh at the brief moments when subtitles appear on the screen (get it out of your system now because the font is still papyrus). But the underwater footage features 3D on a scale that has not been seen since, well, Avatar. Every other series presented this weekend borrowed Cameron’s effects wizardry, and he’s outdone them all again. Frankly, it’s rude of Disney to premiere Little Mermaid anywhere near this footage.
The movie doesn’t come out for another few months, but it looks like Cameron will surprise everyone again. Characters and creatures look like they have mass and weight, and by God, there’s light, which is something that Disney sometimes forgets to include in their pursuit of more content.
Cameron had to jump off the call to get back to filming Avatar 4. Assuming that ever comes out, it’ll be a trip to see how much farther the director can take this.