"Avatar: The Way of Water" stars Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Cliff Curtis, Joel David Moore, and Kate Winslet. Released on December 16, 2022, the film has Jake Sully and Neytiri journeying beyond the regions of Pandora.
The film is directed by James Cameron, who also directed films such as "The Terminator", "Aliens", "True Lies", and "Titanic". It is a sequel to the 2009 sci-fi film "Avatar", also directed by Cameron. If you're planning on going somewhere for your Christmas vacation, Mr. Cameron may have just the destination for you. The tail end of the 2000s ended up being one of the most important events in the film industry. The main reason was the arrival of James Cameron's "Avatar", an epic science fiction blockbuster about a tribe of tall blue aliens that set the box office on fire. With its groundbreaking visuals and ambitious 3D technology, the film became the highest-grossing film worldwide and has remained in that position since. Although it was overtaken by "Avengers: Endgame" a decade later, it eventually retook the top spot thanks to its 2021 Chinese re-release. Thirteen years later, the acclaimed filmmaker is back again to take his audiences back to the breathtaking world of Pandora despite some of them lacking any interest in it. It has been a long wait in-between the two movies regarding the delays, but after seeing the footage, it seemed like it would be worth the reward for our patience. With that said, let's return to Pandora and see if this long-awaited sequel is as ambitiously dazzling as its predecessor.
The story takes place more than a decade after the first film. Jake Sully (Worthington) is living his new life in Pandora as the chief of the Omaticaya clan. He is also raising his family with his wife, Neytiri (Saldana). Their kids consist of their adopted teenage daughter Kiri (Weaver), Neteyam (Jamie Flatters), Lo'ak (Britain Dalton), Tuk (Trinity Jo-Li Bliss), and a human teenager named Spider (Jack Champion). Unfortunately, their tranquil life is eventually shattered by the return of the Resources Development Administration. Even worse, Colonel Miles Quaritch (Lang) and his allies have been resurrected by the RDA as Recombinants, avatars with human memories. Quaritch's quest to finish the RDA's mission and get revenge on Jake resulted in the Sully family evacuating their home. Afterwards, they come across the reef people clan of Metkayina led by Tonowari (Curtis) and his wife Ronal (Winslet). With the RDA closing in on their locations, the two families must put aside their differences to protect their homes.
The first "Avatar" film was a cinematic experience unlike any other, with its mind-blowing visuals compensating for its flawed narrative. So much so that it couldn't be replicated with our smart televisions at home unless we have a home theater sound system and an 80-inch television. It may not leave much of a cultural impact compared to the other classics, but it did impact the movie-going experience for the right reasons. I really enjoyed the first film when it first came out, and I still enjoy it today, mainly due to its visual effects and entertaining story. So I was curious to see how its sequel expands the world introduced in its predecessor, which is considered a technical marvel by many. More importantly, I wanted to see if it could copy the success of its predecessor regarding its story and characters. After all, Cameron has other sequels on the way, so there's a lot riding on this one if they were to see the light of day.
Like my experience with the first movie, I managed to see "The Way of Water" in 3D because I enjoyed watching its predecessor in that format. Since it serves as the film's selling point, it's only fair that I share my reaction to the 3D before I give my thoughts on the movie. Without delaying the inevitable any longer, here's my brief response: It looks great. Like "Avatar", "The Way of Water" uses the 3D immersion to its highest intent without making it look like a cheap gimmick. The best uses of its 3D are undoubtedly the underwater sequences, which make me feel like I was actually swimming with the Na'vi. Of course, there were also a few scenes that didn't look 3D-ish compared to the ones that did. Besides that, the film is another excellent example of how 3D movies should be, and we have James Cameron to thank for that.
So what about the movie itself? Was it able to capitalize on the first film's success regarding its plot? Well, I can tell you this: if you liked "Avatar" for its thrilling sequences, visual effects, and likable characters, you'd surely like "The Way of Water" for those same reasons. I'm one of the people who enjoyed "Avatar", so that all checks out. It's ambitiously grand in its world-building and visuals and rightfully compelling in its story, emotion, and action sequences. Unfortunately, it also has some minor issues that kept it from being a vast improvement over its predecessor. Luckily, they didn't do too much damage to make it worse than Cameron's 2009 visual treat.
The thing to know about the story is that it expands on the world of Pandora and the first film's themes. Both "Avatar" and its sequel serve as big-budget nature documentaries that share anti-war and environmental messages. We see the characters, mainly Jake and Neytiri, striving to protect their cultures and families from the violence and death caused by the RDA. However, in the case of the Sully family, it's easier said than done, as they were treated as outcasts by the Metkayina reef people due to their genetic human heritage. "The Way of Water" expands on these themes of acceptance and respecting others' differences through Jake's children, especially Lo'ak. While it does result in the story being similar to other films with familiar messages, including "Avatar", and a bit cluttered, the movie compensates by delivering a good amount of emotional weight into its characters.
Another issue I've been dying to address since its confirmation is its runtime. "The Way of Water" is a beefy sci-fi epic that is surprisingly 30 minutes longer than its predecessor, resulting in it being three hours and 12 minutes long. That's nearly as long as Cameron's other epic masterpiece, "Titanic"! What a madman! A runtime like that can either make or break a film, depending on the story it's telling. As long as the plot keeps my attention and the pacing is suitable, its length hardly matters. I happened to love "The Batman" because of its exciting story despite it being as long as a televised football game. Thankfully, "The Way of Water" became another movie that offers decent pacing and an intriguing story to distract me from its length. Although, it does make me wish that it was 20 minutes shorter, so it doesn't leave me feeling mentally exhausted.
Most of the main cast reprised their roles from the first film, including Worthington and Saldana as Jake and Neytiri, respectively. Additionally, it included a few new characters who'll likely serve their parts in future sequels. Unsurprisingly, they were all serviceable in their performances despite their characters falling prey to some of their formulaic traits. Sam Worthington makes a solid comeback in the movie business, thanks to his solid performance as Jake. I might even say he was a tad better here than he was in the first movie. Zoe Saldaña was also very good as Neytiri, even though she was a bit underused in some scenes. Although, her involvement in the final act was enough to make up for that. Then there's Sigourney Weaver, who plays Kiri in the sequel instead of reprising her role as Grace Augustine from its predecessor. Kiri makes for a fine addition to the cast regarding her arc, and Weaver did a good job distinguishing her voice to make herself sound like a teenage Na'vi. Stephen Lang also continues to do well in playing the biggest asshole in the sci-fi genre, Miles Quaritch. Seriously, that guy is a total D-bag, even in a Na'vi body. The young actors who portrayed Jake's kids (Flatters, Dalton, and Bliss) also did well with their performances, especially Bliss as Tuk. She's just so adorable.
Another element I should give high praise to is the visual effects. We've repeatedly been saying that Cameron knows how to make great use of filmmaking technology and never fails to deliver what he promised. Cameron's other films like "Terminator 2" and "Avatar" have all succeeded because of their groundbreaking effects changing the way we see a movie. I'm happy to say that "The Way of Water" is another addition to that list. The CGI effects mark a stunning improvement over what "Avatar" delivered by showcasing the waters of Pandora and the film's creative creature designs. The visuals also work in making the Na'vi clans look and feel distinct from one another. However, the best CGI work comes from the film's underwater sequences. The filmmakers developed new technology to film performance capture underwater, which has never been done until now. The result is another breathtaking historical moment that James Cameron should be proud of.
Through Cameron's direction and Russell Carpenter's cinematography, the movie displays its massive set pieces and visual splendor to its fullest, making for a beautiful experience worth seeing on the big screen. Everything about Pandora in "Avatar" was gorgeous and surreal, making it a great starting point for some world-building in its follow-ups. "The Way of Water" accomplished this daring task by making the waters of Pandora even more awe-inspiring with its production design and visual effects. It would be interesting to see what Cameron can come up with in the upcoming third installment. Additionally, Simon Franglen's musical score was good enough to match James Horner's score from the first movie, and the action scenes were thrilling and well-directed.
Overall, "Avatar: The Way of Water" takes me back to the world of Pandora in more ways than one. While its screenplay fell short regarding its formulaic elements and runtime, the movie easily overshadows it with a blast of visual wonder, intriguing world-building, and thrilling action sequences. This is another sequel that provides more of the same as its predecessor but also puts enough care into them to make it stand alongside the first movie with pride. From its suitable cast to the awe-inspiring visual effects, the film is a remarkable feat that's worth the 13-year-long wait. With more sequels on the way, we can bet that our first trip back to Pandora won't be our last…unless the box office numbers say otherwise.