When it was announced that Black Panther: Wakanda Forever would deal with Wakanda Vs. Namor, there was some consternation regarding its release a month before Avatar: The Way of Water, over a decade in the making, and that you would have two sci-fi movies with fantasy people, much of which would be set on or under the water, and wondered how audiences would react? Would there be just too much waterworld on the screen? And would Wakanda undercut Pandora?
Seeing Black Panther: Welcome To Wakanda on the largest screen in the UK last week, the newly refurbished and heightened BFI IMAX in London Waterloo (now a massive 20 metres, 65 feet, or five double-decker buses high) seemed to defray such worries. Coupled with 4K IMAX, Laser projection designed exclusively for IMAX screens, and 12-channel sound technology, Avatar: The Way of Water served up its trailer to Black Panther and seemed, rather than compete with it, to complement it.
Black Panther gave us an Atlantis-like that was far more complex and nuanced than that of Aquaman. One of the major problems with that movie was the shallowness of what it showed in the depths. It only showed the actions, fates, and consequences to the rulers of the undersea kingdoms, with armies used as cannon fodder and no sense at all of what it would be like to be a citizen of the deep; Black Panther gave us some of that, we saw lives lived, and children raised undersea, including some that were presumably Namor's own. And the 3D helped, probably in that scene more than any other, to show a sense of scale.
And now the master of cinematic 3D, Avatar director James Cameron is here to show us all how it's done. Rather than spoiling demand for his film, Black Panther may have rekindled it. We want more, and Avatar: The Way of Water is here to give it, filmed in native 3D rather than converted by someone who revived 3D for cinema with the first Avatar film and whose achievements have never been approached in the intervening years.
I am a fan of the original Avatar, in a way that may be a little more unpopular now. Because, yes, while it lacked character and plot, in terms of creating a world in which to portray, it was steller, closer to French than American cinematography in that way. After all, I have also been a sucker for Fifth Element, Valerian And The City of A Thousand Planets, Mad Max: Fury Road, Jupiter Ascending, Mortal Engines, and more. The concern differs from focusing on the protagonists but takes you on a journey to their very different worlds. It's what I loved most about Doctor Who as a kid, but didn't get Star Trek. The latter was just reflections of humanity across the universe with different noses. Doctor Who was just crazier in the worlds it portrayed and sparked that young imagination in new and interesting ways. That's what Black Panther has teed up, and it gives Avatar everything to play for… until Aquaman, next year, probably brings it crashing down all over again…
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever – and the Avatar: The Way of Water trailer that precedes it – currently play at the BFI IMAX in London Waterloo and in plenty of other IMAXes and cinemas worldwide. Avatar: The Way of Water opens on the 16th of December. And yes, that's where I'll be seeing it, too. I've been away from Pandora for thirteen years; it's time to go back.