By Chris “Boogie” Brown
“Avatar: The Way of Water” is the follow up to 2009’s blockbuster film “Avatar”, the global phenomenon and highest grossing film of all time that made $2.9 billion overall. Thirteen years later after the success of the original, Director James Cameron brings us the much-delayed follow up and proves that the long wait was certainly worth it for the wonderful story and visual brilliance on display!
Although the start of this sequel provides brief narration which gives a light overview of the first film and subsequent events, I would still advise watching the 2009 film to have all of the characters and story points fresh in your memory before watching this sequel.
As this sequel begins, we find Jake Skully (Sam Worthington) enjoying life as a Half Human/Half Na’vi in Pandora and the leader of his Tribe. Since the events of the last film, Jake now has his own family which consist of his partner Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) and their four children. Suddenly, the peaceful life they have established for themselves is disrupted and threatened when “The Sky People” (Humans) from the first film return to Pandora. As Earth is becoming inhabitable for them, The Sky People have returned to Pandora with new technology and weapons for the sole purpose of colonizing Pandora, taking its resources, eradicating the Na’vi and making it a new earth that can be inhabited by humans.
This attempted takeover is initiated again by the RDA (Resources Development Administration) and their Marine forces who are led by an Avatar version of Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) that contains his memories. The Avatar version of Colonel Quaritch holds Jake Scully responsible for his death in human form, and vengeance against Scully becomes his first priority, stopping at nothing punish him. This intense manhunt for Jake Scully not only puts the former human in danger, but also his family, his tribe, and the very existence of Pandora itself.
“Avatar: The Way of Water” is a massive film that acts as an emotional family drama, an adventure full of spectacle, wonder, but also a pulse-pounding action thriller. The scope and scale of this film is much larger than the original and the visual presentation is simply stunning. With “The Way of Water”, James Cameron goes to great lengths to place emphasis on the theme of family, relationships, and takes his time fleshing out the characters in this imaginative tale. This guided focus truly allows the viewers to become invested in these characters and genuinely care about the outcome of the dangerous plight they face.
The film’s story itself isn’t overly complex and follows a simple premise that we’ve seen in several movies before. Additionally, as you watch the film, there are some moments that will feel very familiar to the first Avatar as certain story beats are repeated in this sequel. Despite some familiarity that is present, the film’s tighter focus on family is a theme that will resonates strongly and capture viewers on a more emotional level than the first film.
In terms of the visual presentation here, words can’t properly express how beautiful this film is to look at. With “The Way of Water”, Cameron takes full advantage of the advances in technology over the last 13 years and seemingly utilized them all to create a visual canvas of the likes we haven’t seen on the big screen before. The CGI and photorealism on display in this film is simply immaculate to witness and the pristine use of Mo-Cap for the actors, advanced 3D technology and HFR (High Frame Rate) in certain sequences will leave you in awe! As great as the first film looked back in 2009, the visual display & cinematography of this film feels much more polished, grandiose, and immersive on an even larger scale. James Cameron and WETA have effectively used every trick in their respective toolboxes to make “The Way of Water” look as perfect as it can.
For all the wonderful elements of the story, characters, and visuals, the film tends to suffer a bit when it comes to its pacing, especially in the second act of the film. “Avatar: The Way of Water” is 3 hours and 12 minutes in total and unfortunately, viewers will likely feel the heaviness of its runtime as the film goes on. While the 2nd act in particular features several aquatic sequences that are absolutely amazing to witness, there were many scenes in this act that could have been trimmed or scaled down to make the storytelling on display feel much smoother and more efficient.
However, once the third act hits, James Cameron delivers a dazzling finale that is full of amazing action sequences, high stakes, thrills, and pulse-pounding tension. The action throughout the film is extremely well done, but for the third act in particular, the heightened emotional stakes are perfectly accentuated by the visceral and explosive nature of the final battle and pursuit of survival! One unique thing about the action during this act is that Cameron cleverly borrows from his own previous films and utilizes stylized sequences, fight choreography, pyrotechnics, and even claustrophobic moments that you will certainly identify if you’re familiar with his stellar film resume. As the Director of such classics as “Terminator”, “Terminator 2”, “Aliens”, “The Abyss”, “True Lies”, etc., Cameron has never had an issue crafting masterful action sequences and he puts on another masterclass here in the final hour of this film.
Ultimately, I thought “Avatar: The Way of Water” was a visual masterpiece and a sequel that greatly improves upon the groundwork of the first film. In terms of directing and technical achievements, I doubt you will see a finer looking film all year and I certainly expect that Awards nominations will be in order for the team behind this film. As far as the performances, I thought all of the returning and new actors did a excellent job with the material at hand and truly brought the characters to life.
My one criticism of note would be the fact that my aforementioned issues regarding the pacing/runtime slightly affected the overall presentation of the film for me. It could be just me, but I feel that if the prolonged second act of the film was trimmed down a bit, the film would feel much more streamlined and not as exhaustive for audiences.
Overall, “Avatar: Way of The Water” is another outstanding effort by Director James Cameron that will be a huge hit with several demographics. On the surface, this is the type of elaborate blockbuster that must be seen in a theatre with the biggest tub of popcorn you can purchase. However, beneath the surface, there is also a wonderful story here about family and relationships that is both emotional and very moving. Whether you watch for the technical direction, the story and characters or the spectacular visuals throughout, I truly think there is something in this film that everyone can enjoy! “Avatar: Way of The Water” is in the theatres everywhere on December 16th – Enjoy!