I Saw Doctor Strange 2, But Nothing In It Was As Exciting As The Avatar 2 Trailer

There was a lot of hype building up to the release of "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness," from it being Sam Raimi's triumphant return to both superhero movies and the director's chair in general, to this being the first horror (or at least horror-adjacent) MCU movie, to it following "Spider-Man: No Way Home" and its many Spider-Men. And that's not to mention the promise of all of those cameos.

But no matter how gruesome, scary, or entertaining "Doctor Strange" is, after I left the theater there was one thing I couldn't stop thinking about: The trailer for James Cameron's "Avatar: The Way of Water." Sure, seeing a character get sliced in half was gnarly, but nothing was as visually striking or memorable as seeing Jake Sully on the big screen once again.

Just to be clear, this is not an attack against "Doctor Strange," nor is it an argument that "Avatar" is the greatest film of all time (but hey, remember how it got nine Oscar nominations?). But after 30 films and 14 years, we kind of know what to expect from new entries in the MCU, and "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" packs very few true surprises. Sure, those cameos are cool, but they're empty. Its ending is kind of a mess, and its mid-credits scene is barely a tease at all. But in just one minute and 37 seconds, the trailer for James "Don't Bet Against Him" Cameron's latest movie blows any other blockbuster out of the water in terms of CGI wizardry and gives just enough of a tease to keep your imagination flowing.

A technological marvel

The teaser itself shows incredibly little. There is nothing in it that tells us about the plot, and there is a surprisingly little amount of water in the teaser despite Cameron's obsession with the color blue. And yet, what we get is enough. The teaser is somewhere in the middle of building excitement for "Avatar: The Way of Water" from the ground up as a brand new film, and promoting it as the grand return to the franchise the entire world has been eagerly anticipating for 13 years — and it works.

The visuals alone are enough of a reminder that, yes, even if "Avatar" had a derivative plot, its visuals and world were impactful enough to turn it into the highest-grossing film of all time. From the gorgeous backgrounds showing the magic of Pandora, to the character movement and motion capture, to the intricate textures, it is clear this is an improvement on the already incredible first film. The lighting alone, which is so instrumental to animation achieving a "cinematic" look, makes Zoe Saldaña's Neytiri appear as realistic (if not more so) than her practical make-up in "Guardians of the Galaxy." 

It is also a slap in the face to all the blockbusters that try and do CG body doubles, like "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness," which often swaps its real actors for soulless, weightless digital doubles that can instantly take you out of the movie. While the film does use some practical makeup effects that absolutely rule, most of the movie's big CG action set pieces look like a digital mess. By comparison, a one-second shot of a Na'vi tightening some kind of strap while mounting either a vehicle or a creature on a body of water is as mind-blowingly cool in 2022 as the 3D was when the movie came out in 2009. At a time where every major movie is relying on post-production and CGI to "fix" all its problems without much regard to justifying it or giving the artists time to make it look great, the return of "Avatar" could push the industry forward again like it did back in 2009.

The future is bright (and blue)

But that's just the visuals. We still don't really know what the movie is actually about. The brief and quite vague plot description says the film takes place "more than a decade" after the events of the first film, enough that Jake "Toruk Makto" Sully now has a family with Neytiri — including what seems like a human child, despite him being genetically full Na'vi. There is no mention or look at Stephen Lang or Sigourney Weaver, who are supposed to return despite clearly dying in the first film, or what the human vs Na'vi situation is like now, or how family man Vin Diesel will factor into this franchise, and that is part of what makes this so exciting.

With as basic a premise as that of the first "Avatar" — which made it a little predictable, but also such a universal story that anyone could relate to it, driving it to global success — there is a vast world of possibilities for what the sequels can do and where they can go. This is more than most franchises can say. As surprising as that mid-credits cameo is in "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness," it undercuts the thematic ending to the film while teasing the unavoidable next big event, without much room for interpretation.

That Cameron has spent more than two decades thinking of Pandora and slowly building up this franchise, and that he picked this to be the first franchise he stayed on for more than two films, is intriguing. The teaser barely shows Pandora, the lush world that was the true star of the first film, slowly teasing the setting the way Marvel teases story and cameos. While "Star Wars" continues to set every single thing on the same boring planet over and over again, there is so much of Pandora we haven't seen, and that's not counting the planet it revolves around. The fact that James Cameron is showing us new portions of that environment in an epic multigenerational family saga is thrilling, and this evocative teaser was a terrific reintroduction to that world. Welcome back, Mr. Cameron.

"Avatar: The Way of Water" is finally, for real this time (we hope), arriving in theaters on December 16, 2022.