After 13 years, James Cameron’s Avatar franchise makes its triumphant return in the form of its sequel, The Way of Water, making waves with audiences around the globe. Fans of the original Avatar movie have waited a long time to keep exploring the bewildering world of Pandora. The sequel expands on the original movie bringing new characters, new environments, new animals, and new conflicts for audiences to feast their eyes upon in glorious visual detail.
Famous for its escapist and pioneering visual effects, especially in the realm of 3D, the original Avatar (2009) grossed over $2.7 billion at the worldwide box office, becoming the highest-grossing movie ever in just under a month. It even managed to beat out its best competitor, Avengers Endgame (which had 23 movies of build-up to contribute to its success), with a theatrical re-release in 2021, grossing another $57 million dollars.
Avatar: The Way of Water was a fantastic emotional journey, not just through the ever-engaging world of Pandora, but through the expanding array of characters that bring new life and energy to the franchise. While the first movie focused on Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) learning about the Na’vi and falling in love with the Warrior Princess Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) while combating the capitalistic human military force led by Colonel Miles Quaritch (Steven Lang); this new outing focuses on the Sully’s and their five children. Each of these brings their own engaging story to the plot. The oldest, Netayam (Jamie Flatters) brings the calm older brother presence that contrasts the antics of the younger kids. His younger brother Lo’ak (Britain Dalton) brings emotional weight to the story with his plotline about being an outcast and earning the respect of his father Jake. This also gives Jake an opportunity to grow in his own right, struggling to be the perfect father and keep his family out of danger. The sequel brings much-needed new complexity to the characters and the overarching story, setting up three more sequels Cameron currently has in the works.
The other three Sully kids also bring a lot to the story in their own right. The youngest, Tuk, (Trinity Bliss) brings some innocent humor to the film that never stops being cute. Meanwhile, the two adopted children, Kiri (Sigorney Weaver), and the human Spider (Jack Champion) also bring lots of intrigue to the story. Without getting into spoilers, their respective plotlines are very engaging and I’m looking forward to keeping up with their characters as the franchise progresses. Especially when it comes to Sigourney Weaver’s new character, whose very conception remains clouded in mystery. As viewers of the original movie know, Weaver’s original character, Dr. Grace Augustine, dies in the first film after her consciousness was “uploaded” to the planet’s bio-neural network known as “Eywa.”
Surprisingly, the film’s returning villain Miles Quaritch, now in permanent Na’vi form, receives some of the most extensive character development in the film. Without spoilers, Quaritch’s story about revenge against the Sullys takes on several new layers throughout the film, making audiences suspicious about his loyalties going forward into the next installment. Many of the new characters, who are part of the new water tribe (the Metkayina), also bring some added emotional weight to the movie. However, a handful of Jake’s interactions with the Metkayina felt as though they were repeating his interactions with the Omaticaya (Neytiri’s clan) from the original film. There is also some teenage drama between the kids adding a little something new that can be more or less forgotten as the story progresses. But this may be frustrating to some viewers who aren’t looking for Disney channel-like conflicts. But the drama is minimal and mainly acts as a plot device to help the central Sully family complete their respective character arcs.
When talking about a James Cameron Avatar movie, it’s impossible to ignore the visuals. This movie sports the most breathtaking computer-generated images since the first movie in 2009. And that’s not an understatement. The beauty and precision within the movie make most Marvel and other recent blockbusters look like cheap fan films by comparison. Every single frame of this movie looks like it was meticulously designed and combed over hundreds of times to create the most satisfying and kinetic experience, suited only for the big screen. The movement of the camera and the way it follows a subject through an action sequence or just swimming underwater makes you question exactly how everything was made. Especially when you realize that Pandora and the 10-foot-tall Na’vi definitely do not exist.
All of the central characters, environments, and animals were entirely created through motion capture CGI. Part of the reason the movie took 13 years to create was that the revolutionary new underwater motion capture technology had to be pioneered from scratch. While every scene is a breathtaking experience, the stunning VFX is undoubtedly the reason the film’s budget is humongous. Since the film has passed $1.7 billion at the box office, Cameron (Who now has three movies above $1.7 billion at the box office) has confirmed his three planned sequels will be made and released.
The biggest criticism of the first film was its simple plot structure, reminiscent of films such as Pocahontas, Dances with Wolves, or Fern Gully. And while this new installment does follow a simple story about a man trying to protect his family from the revenge-driven villain, it manages to tell the story in a unique and interesting way. A standout part would definitely be the 3rd act. The climax of the film was an intimate, action-driven, emotional rollercoaster that wraps up all the impassioned arcs of the film while also giving the audience a nail-biting action sequence reminiscent of Cameron’s claustrophobic work on Titanic and The Abyss. Other standout sequences include a gripping train ambush near the beginning of the film. As well as the opening montages which seamlessly, and frighteningly raised the stakes of the franchise moving forward.
Overall, The Way of Water is an amazing second film in the Avatar universe that left me super excited for the future of the franchise. Its visual effects leave every other movie in the dust and truly deserve to be seen on the biggest screen possible. If you’re wondering if you should see it in 3D, your hesitation would be understandable. I’m not the biggest fan of 3D either, but I did see this movie in 3D because I know that James Cameron knows how to use it to the film’s advantage. Not once was I motion sick or overwhelmed and the 3D really did help enhance the movie. The characters and the world-building the film offers were also highly intriguing, the animals and environments of Pandora are worth exploring over the 3-hour runtime. Which also felt like it flew by besides a little lull in the middle. Other than that I would highly recommend this film to anyone who may be interested. Do yourself a favor and see it in Imax 3D. It’s worth it! See you next time on Pandora!