Avatar: The Way of Water is almost upon us, and I had the absolute priviledge of checking out James Cameron’s long awaited return to Pandora a few days early. It was a busy day, ripe with anticipation, but it was well worth it. As the room darkened, and the audience hushed with the exception of a few rustling sweet wrappers, I strapped in
Set more than a decade after the events of the first film, Avatar: The Way of Water begins to tell the story of the Sully family (Jake, Neytiri, and their kids), the trouble that follows them, the lengths they go to keep each other safe, the battles they fight to stay alive, and the tragedies they endure.
There’s always a part of me that is going to be slightly biased towards this film. I spent months absolutely captivated by Avatar and it quickly became my new comfort movie. With each new trailer and poster, my excitement increased dramatically. Thinking back, the last time I was this excited about a film was Avengers: Endgame. Avatar has a very special place in my heart, and I just knew that The Way of Water was going to elicit a very similar response on a personal level. My experience may have been different compared to some of the other attendees, and I want to revel in that honesty and fully explore what was going through my mind. I was incredibly emotional before the film, during the film, and then after the film. Emotions were high, but laying out my thoughts in this way has really allowed me to focus on particular elements. So strap in on this journey with me as we dive into one of the most highly anticipated films of this year- perhaps even of this decade.
Spoiler alert… I loved it. Of course I did, it had everything I needed in a film and more. Obviously, I’m no fool, no film is perfect and Avatar definitely had its issues. But in the grand scheme of things, there was so much to enjoy. From the sweeping landscapes, to the ridiculously innovative and utterly spellbinding visuals, all the way to the charming new characters that helped carry the story. This sequel took everything we loved, and everything we didn’t like from the first film and improved upon it. Cameron redefined Pandora and gave it a well-needed spark of life, and then went one step further by presenting us with this visual feat that defied expectations. In terms of a technological achievement, The Way of Water may just be the most cinematic and advanced movie of our time.
The thought of returning to Pandora was quite daunting at first. How could you top Avatar? What will this sequel focus on? And will we care enough? After 13 years, it was difficult not to have these questions wondering around. I knew that the sequel would dominate on a visual level, but my fears gravitated towards the story. It’s not a perfect story. In fact, I’d argue that it suffers from the same issue as the first film… It’s quite simplistic. However, because this sequel takes on a lot more it becomes instantly more engaging. We have Jake’s family dynamic which is plentiful with each child taking on a different role- the primary focus being on Kiri (Weaver), Lo’ak, and the human outsider Spider. Then we have Colonel Quaritch, The RDA’s new mission, the Metkayina Clan and their way of life, as well as this poignant message regarding nature and our obligation to protect it. There is a lot there, and it does a great job of finding this perfect balance.
Every story beat impacts the next and they work together cohesively to form a beautiful and sincere story about family. It unfolds into something very strong and intimate, and it’s unlike anything we saw in 2009’s Avatar. Now, being able to explore more of Pandora was a highlight in itself, but seeing how Cameron raised the stakes and crafted a family dynamic that we can genuinely care about just elevated the film to a whole new level. A lot of this review may just be me gushing over the visuals, but I was so impressed by the level of world-building, care, and direction that was implemented into this sequel. It was a monumental task, and Cameron came in like a force of nature and proclaimed that this is a true cinema experience.
So, Avatar: The Way of Water clocks in at over 3 hours long. That may be a deal-breaker for some audiences, but many modern audiences have been trained to withstand these hefty runtimes. The runtime wasn’t a major issue but some moments definitely felt quite long. However, I was trying to see how I could trim this movie down… And I couldn’t. Yes, it’s long, but there’s purpose behind everything. The time we spend with Jake and Neytiri’s children, and the moments of pure bliss where we get to enjoy the spiritual beauty of Pandora all serve a greater purpose in regards to the story. If you were to reduce some of that, I think you’d lose some of the substance and feeling that Cameron sewed into this project. This film tackles a lot, but nothing felt too wasted or completely unnecessary.
The Way of Water is bigger and better in every sense, especially in regards to its cast. There is a clear evolution for the characters that we do recognise. Jake and Neytiri have become parents, and it was fascinating to see them balance their paternal role, as well as their role as a warrior and protector of the clan. Their old traits still shine through, but Worthington and Saldaña shine brightest when they’re putting their family first. The emotions are raw and real, and it circles back to that idea of evolution whereby these characters have transformed into multifaceted beings with depth and purpose. They’re not unrecognisable, they are just very different because of that growth. Honestly, I thought Neytiri’s role felt weaker for the first half of the film, but as we enter the final act… My goodness. Saldaña’s performance is utterly breathtaking and paintfully visceral. Neytiri really did leave me speechless, and that was something I did not anticipate in the slightest.
Of course, this sequel focuses heavily on Jake and Neytiri’s family and they are all so, so delightful. They’re all very playful and sweet, and they behave just as children would. However, with soldier’s blood coursing through Jake’s veins, there’s a heavy weight thrown onto his sons who are constantly training and trying to live up to those somewhat unfair expectations. Regardless, there are still moments of endearment that slip through and it adds an authenticity to Jake’s character and the bond he shares with his children. As characters that are going to impact the future of the Avatar franchise, Cameron and the cast did an exceptional job of bringing these new characters to the foreground. This really applies to all of the new characters introduced, I fell in love with them all and what they stood for. There’s conflict and resolution between the characters, and the stark contrast between how characters developed in the first film compared to this film is striking. So much thought and care has been drilled into each character, they all become so much richer and diverse. People may struggle with character names, which seems to be a must in Avatar, but there’s no denying the focused energy and synergy that these characters have.
Now it’s time for my favourite bit. The visuals. It’s still difficult to comprehend that Avatar came out in 2009. Certain contemporary films have displayed a steep decline in terms of visual quality, but that’s a discussion for another day. However, the Avatar label seems to carry a guarentee that the visuals will not only blow you away, but will actually set the course for the future. Simple put, The Way of Water is a visual and technological marvel. Somehow, it looks even better compared to the first film. The details are so crisp and clear that it blurs the boundaries between reality and fiction. There isn’t a single moment that took me away from Pandora, it is consistently spectacular. The diverse landscapes give the film a richness which its precessor lacked, the water simulation is flawless, and the high octane action is guarenteed to blow your mind. The Way of Water is a visual masterpiece that delivers at every opportunity. We get to see so much more of what Pandora has to offer, and as the film develops you really begin to appreciate the level of imagination required to bring something of this calibre to the big screen.
This one might be somewhat controversial, but I wasn’t fully sold on the 3D and HFR (High Frame Rate) combination. Visuals aside, the 3D was absolutely splendid and ridiculously immersive. From the minute specs and splashes, to the towering world of Pandora, it really felt as though you were transported into that universe. However, the HFR took some time to adjust to and in certain scenes we were on the cusp of entering Video Game cutscene territory. It was rather jarring and I think you lose a hint of the clarity. Having said that though, most scenes were absolutely mesmerising. The film seemed to struggle from a visual point whenever there was too much happening, and that third act definitely suffered as a result. The third act is still visually phenomenal and I was completely glued to the screen, but it definitely took a hit.
The giant climactic battle in Avatar is among one of my all-time favourite battle sequences in cinema. Personally, I don’t think the final act of The Way of Water reached quite the same level, but it excelled in other capacities. It was a lot more inventive with its environment and creatures, but it just didn’t feel as big… And there is a good reason for it. This film is family centered, and the battles feel so much more personal to the extent that you don’t need a full army of Na’vi or an entire armada of machines. The highlight is when the battle shrinks and hones in on the family dynamic which is essential to the Sully family and the The Metkayina clan. As a result, we’re presented with an utterly brutal and unpredictable battle that had me gawking. I was absolutely enthralled by the scale. This sequel may wobble slightly, but its attutude towards providing a visual and entertaining cinematic experience will put The Way of Water on the map. It may not be as financially successful as the first, but this film will leave audiences speechless.
Avatar: The Way of Water is cinema at its best. It is a visual achievement of epic proportion that is packed full of stunning visuals, intense fights, and shear beauty that is unlike anything we’ve every seen before. It’s visually spectacular, and beautifully poignant. Beyond the visuals, this sequel is thoughtful, honest, and ripe with emotion. The first film definitely lacked in that department, but Cameron came in swinging and delivered an emotional and impactful story that actually carries its own special message that we should all respect and adhere to. The Way of Water reinvigorated the cinema experience and I am ready for whatever is next for Jake and his family.
Directed by James Cameron and produced by Cameron and Jon Landau, the film stars Zoe Saldana, Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Cliff Curtis, Joel David Moore, CCH Pounder, Edie Falco, Jemaine Clement and Kate Winslet.
Avatar: The Way of Water will be released on December 16th, 2022 exclusively in cinemas. Are you excited to journey back to Pandora? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.