Avatar: The Way of Water (2022)

“The most dangerous thing about Pandora is that you may grow to love her too much.”

It’s been 13 years since Avatar released and would go on to break every box office record imaginable including surpassing another film by the same director in Titanic. In that time spent away from the luscious and unpredictable environment of Pandora, co-writer and sole director James Cameron, who has already proven himself with sequels has been hard at work reinventing the wheel for his near 3-billion-dollar franchise. In 2009 it was his use of 3D technology and the resurgence of a dying format. In 2022, its Cameron once again, advancing technology, crafting something as trivial as water effects to look and feel astoundingly life like that you can reach out, touch it and feel the moisture on your skin.

To pull this off, Cameron would require fans to be patient as water effects can be greatly mishandled. The same way Titanic was shot to feel the claustrophobia when the famed ship began sinking would be given a massive upgrade. In Avatar: The Way of Water, water becomes its own character, providing an essential connection between the Na’vi and the reef people clans. Below the surface is an entire unexplored ecosystem of creatures the reef clan of Metkayina cherish that will be learned by a family of forest Na’vi hiding for their lives from past RDA members.

Getting to that point, Cameron sets up the first act of his film reestablishing the central characters in Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and his wife Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña). A decade in time has passed and the two have a family to protect including Neteyam (Jamie Flatters), Lo’ak (Britain Dalton), Tuktirey (Trinity Jo-Li Bliss), and their adoptive daughter Kiri (Sigourney Weaver) born from Dr. Grace Augustine (Weaver) and an unknown father.

After living with these characters for 3 hours and 12 minutes, remembering their names or just learning them in the first place is a tall order. 13 years is a long time to forget certain important names in this world.

Once established, Cameron and co-writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver introduce the threat that the Sully’s and other Na’vi will face off against. The sky people – some seeking revenge for the traitorous Jake Sully and what he did whilst in the Avatar Program and some looking to bleed the world dry of its natural resources. The same imperialism and colonization that Cameron centered the first film in the franchise around.

Two thirds of the way through as the film transitions into the final act of the film which would last roughly an hour, the revenge party using a scorched earth tactic to flush out Jake and his family would join a poaching party that “pays the bills” for the transport to the planet. These poachers disguised as businessmen and scientists will hunt these whale-like creatures called tulkun, kill them, and take a single vile of brain enzymes that hold anti-aging secrets. If there was ever an opportunity for Cameron to add allegorical message, it’s here, beat for beat that he added in his first Avatar film.

Hunting Jake and his family is Colonel Miles Quaritich (Stephen Lang) and a group of marines. Nearly identical in set up, motivation and execution, The Way of Water becomes a distraction, recycling the same narrative threads from the first film just with new locations and environments, characters and creatures to protect. Going into The Way of Water, the biggest fear was the lack of a hint at what the plot would be in the trailers and marketing. All showing the beauty of Pandora with narration by Weaver and Worthington. Having trepidation toward what the plot would focus on will leave some with a bitter taste.

Despite the narrative struggles that The Way of Water establishes, the true beauty of this film is in its breathtaking visual effects. What has not been done before that separates this sequel from others pushing the boundaries in filmmaking is in the motion capture of the Na’vi cast. Centered around the ocean and the connection with the water, it’s the underwater sequences that will dazzle, stun and take the breath out of your lungs. Each underwater sequence is full of life and color and adding the motion capture of the characters, the depth is unlike anything that has been attempted before. Cameron has set a high bar for his filmmaking and every time he’s doubted, Cameron proves those who doubt wrong.

For its lengthy runtime, The Way of Water insists on your patience, just as the waiting period between films has. Moving into the second act, we meet a Metkayina family consisting of chief Tonowari (Cliff Curtis), his wife Ronal (Kate Winslet), and their kids Tsireya (Bailey Bass), and Aonung (Filip Geljo). But even here some of the momentum is lost halting any progress in story. Jake and Neytiri have to learn how to connect with their hosts and find the connection with the water and the creatures.

Again, just like the first film.

Where the narrative thrives is when the perspective shifts to the children and their journeys. Because of this, some of the supporting roles are forgotten about and their development stays stagnant or left at the wayside. It’s the children that keep the heartbeat of this film pumping strong – their disagreements, their bonds and their emotions surpass their parents.

The Way of Water is a worthy sequel that is a spectacular technical achievement in filmmaking. Cameron found a way to recapture our imaginations of Pandora while pushing the story forward and bringing in new characters to attach ourselves too. Sprinkled throughout are pieces of previous Cameron films like Terminator, Aliens, and Titanic. Each added piece is given the Pandora makeover but the subtle narcissistic influence on the film industry is prominent when the sequences take over. From the gorgeous cinematography by Russell Carpenter to a score that brings Pandora to life without words and gives those without voices a purpose from Simon Franglen, The Way of Water needs to be seen on the biggest screen possible to fully capture its beauty and scope. Like Top Gun: Maverick, the wait was worth it regardless of a lengthy middle section and a poorly written story.

Screenplay By: James Cameron, Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver

Story By: James Cameron, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Josh Friedman & Shane Salerno

Directed By: James Cameron

Music By: Simon Franglen

Cinematography: Russell Carpenter

Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Kate Winslet, Cliff Curtis, Joel David Moore, Dileep Rao, Edie Falco, Jemaine Clement

Release Date: December 16, 2022

Running Time: 3 Hours 12 Minutes

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 78%

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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