Movie Review: Avatar: The Way of Water

  • 3h 12m
by Jason Koenigsberg

After thirteen years James Cameron finally brings audiences back to his groundbreaking vision of Pandora with Avatar: The Way of Water. The opening shot is dark lit blue clouds for a few seconds and then, bam! Cameron blasts the audience with a screen filled with floating islands, vibrant colors, and the unmistakable exotic jungle locales of the first movie. We are transported back to Pandora and, for better or worse, stay there for the next three and a quarter hours. Let us not skip around the bush, the big question you may have is does Avatar: The Way of Water need to be three hours plus and the answer succinctly, is no, it certainly does not. Most of the runtime is dedicated to action and showing off special effects, not character development or intricate story details. However, if you have even the slightest desire to see Avatar 2, then by all means, get out of the house and go see it in 3D on the biggest screen possible. Like the first movie, no matter how big and amazing your HDTV and home theater system is, it will not do this movie justice. Give James Cameron credit, the man knows what to do with $300 million and it shows on the big screen. These state of the art special effects are the best in the business and the movie looks amazing. Every corner of every frame is filled with the best possible CGI and MoCap effects, that alone makes Avatar: The Way of Water worth the price of admission.

But what about the movie itself? Sure the first movie had bright images and groundbreaking special effects for 2009, but it was basically Ferngully (1992) on steroids. Avatar: The Way of Water is a commendable expansion of the world James Cameron created and he expands it even further with more world building. Cameron has a reputation for being the self-proclaimed ‘King of the World’ but beyond that he sort of is the King of Sequels. His films Aliens (1986) and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) are two of the best sequels ever made. His second of multiple upcoming Avatar sequels is good, but not nearly on the same level as those two movies. Avatar: The Way of Water succeeds at transporting you the same way the original film did but the first film was just that, original. Sure the story was a duplicate of several other screenplays involving oppressed indigenous people but the way it was presented was fresh and new. Back in 2009 Avatar put the special back in special effects and gave audiences something we had never seen before. Avatar: The Way of Water is just more of the same.

It follows the same formula as the first movie. Marines are coming back to get revenge and take over Pandora but this time it is not just to secure valuable resources like the poorly named ‘unobtainium’ from the first movie. No, this time the Marines are here to take over because our Earth is dying and humans are going to need to populate another planet. Stephen Lang is back mostly in Avatar form and he is out to find Jake Sully and get revenge on him for the events of the previous movie. Jake Sully and Neytiri are still together and very much in love and as we catch up with them we find that they are parents of four children. They are chased out of their home and flee to protect their tribe since the Marines will not stop until they find and kill Sully and his clan. The family leaves the forest and goes to a tropical island region of the planet. The Bora Bora of Pandora is the best way to describe it and this is where the majority of the action takes place. At least two of the three hours are spent here and it is beautiful to say the least. We are introduced to a different tribe of Na’vi with more aquatic skills. Broader tales for swimming and different skin tones and tattoos. There is less hunting and climbing and the main characters and their children need to adapt to survive. Obviously this creates their own set of problems and being accepted by the nautical Na’vi is a major struggle of the second act but we get to meet some outstanding new fish and whale types of creatures.

Speaking of Jake Sully, Sam Worthington got a lot of flack for being an uncharismatic lead in the first movie and his career since starring as the lead actor in the biggest movie of all time does support that argument, however in Avatar: The Way of Water he is pretty useless, just bringing death and pain to those around him wherever he goes. His character is easily the most annoying and difficult to empathize with even though he is the one we followed in the previous film.

Avatar: The Way of Water had a chance to really be bold and kill off a major character early on about an hour into the runtime but it chickened out, only to have a surprise death later on that resonated more because of its shock value than the fact that the audience cared about the character. The movie should get credit for killing off the character that it does near the end even though we have learned with the Avatar movies, just because a character dies does not mean that they are really dead. Sigourney Weaver is back in this movie as well after dying in the first one, but seeing her in any movie is never a bad thing.

The predominant themes this time around are about the strengths of family and the struggles of being a parent. The first one was about forbidden love from different cultures but now they have evolved beyond that and are protecting and raising their children. As with the previous film this movie is all about the importance of protecting our environment so we can live longer on a planet and not waste their resources. The first movie was a metaphor for imperialism, Avatar: The Way of Water makes clear allegories about the Vietnam war as we see Avatar Marines burn down villages and needlessly kill animals in their search to find Jake Sully and his family. There are blatant lines about how wasteful the military is and it is an obvious criticism of our industrial military complex. It also continues to the environmental themes from the first movie about taking care of our planet and respecting nature since we may not have it forever if we misuse the and waste the resources our planet provides us.

Avatar: The Way of Water is predictable but amazing to look at. It is an expansion of the first film, not a complete Xerox and the visual effects alone are worth recommending because this is the kind of movie that demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible. James Cameron once again proves that he is the David Lean of his generation and continues his reputation of consistently delivering a worthy sequel and consistently delivering astonishing cinematic spectacles the way few other filmmakers can.

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