Written by: James Cameron, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Kate Winslet
After heavily disliking the first film in a series, convincing me to check out the sequel will prove to be a daunting task. Sure, lessons can be learned to improve the second go-around, but when the foundation is so empty, it becomes hard to believe it can be saved with another at-bat. With that in mind, Avatar: The Way of Water proved me wrong and it managed to do so in a spectacular way.
Following years of humans staying away from Pandora, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) now has a family with Neytiri (Zoe Saldana). With humans returning and posing a definitive threat to Jake’s family, he decides to flee from the danger, which leads him to a whole different population of Na’vi, who instead of navigating the forest, rule through the waters.
My relationship with the Avatar films has produced quite the journey. I will not belabor much on what made me strongly dislike the original, it can be read in the review here. To briefly sum it all up, the original film was unoriginal white savior nonsense with laughable dialogue but also very pretty. The Way of Water comes in providing a story to match the visuals, which allows for everything to have weight in a world that can be cynically described as watching video game cutscenes with the use of high frame rate. Through it all, even with its eye-watering runtime, the film grounds itself on being a story of family and the emotional stakes allow for the typically eye-rolling tendencies of James Cameron to be ignored.
A return to Pandora after so many years meant that Cameron had to up the ante in how he would present this world and what he does with the water effects in this feature shows why this man cannot be doubted when it comes to creating a spectacle. Not only in the scale of his features but also in how he advances the technological possibilities in filmmaking to a degree no one can think of. You could say this feature continues to solidify Cameron’s love of water with several of his film having this element as an integral aspect of their story and the way they both give and take away life. Here he goes all in with his environmental perspective and creates something meaningful in more than just the visual, go figure.
With the focus on family, this feature introduces the kids of Jake Sully and the film does a tremendous job of defining their personalities and their relation to each other in a way where others can see themselves amongst these blue creatures. Neteyam (Jamie Flatters) represents older brothers in a beautiful way in how he serves as a source of wisdom but will always help his younger siblings when they find themselves in a bind. Yes, I’m an older brother who very much related to his struggles throughout the feature. Each of these kids gets their moments to shine, which also puts less of the burden of carrying the emotional weight of this feature from the shoulders of Worthington, who has improved marginally as an actor since the last feature. It shows a passing of the torch happening between Jake Sully and his children, which will undoubtedly make even better films with the three remaining ones Cameron wants to make.
As a narrative overall tethering between this film and its predecessor, the common villain has been corporate greed and the way it seeks to destroy everything in its path in order to ensure profits. This feature doubles down and it demonstrates how humans have returned to Pandora because they have destroyed Earth and need a new planet to inhabit. This threatens the indigenous Na’vi and causes issues, as you would expect going on the events of the last film. This becomes the overall struggle, but this film brings back a villain in a way that would only ever be accepted within a soap opera in its ridiculousness simply to have Stephen Lang return. Listen, I get it, Lang is a tremendously intimidating villain but perhaps this film could have sprung for another person to pose a threat to Jake Sully and his family.
Coming in at over three hours, this feature had plenty of story to tell and the pacing certainly allowed it to feel engaging throughout. Yes, moments came where it dragged but there was a distinct purpose to each act of this film, and that all culminated in a final hour filled with emotional stakes, incredible action, and jaw-dropping visuals in a way that shows Cameron working at his best once again. It makes for a whole experience and if individuals are going out to pay the prices they need to for IMAX 3D then at the very least they get enough movie in every aspect to make it a worthwhile endeavor. That certainly cannot be taken away from this film.
Impeccable visuals come part and parcel for an Avatar film but The Way of Water provides a story and characters that match up to it in a beautiful way. Never did I think that a moment between a character portrayed by Sam Worthington and others would make me get emotional, which alone is an incredible accomplishment. At the very least, if there are moments where one gets bored watching this feature they can just tune out and enjoy the visuals but this film presents the complete package and shows the promise of what Cameron can do in the world of Pandora that he failed to do, in my opinion, in 2009.