The Way of Water: Visually Spectacular, Splashy Return to Pandora

Sommerleigh Pollonais, Senior Writer

Plot: Jake Sully and Neytiri have formed a family and are doing everything to stay together. However, they must leave their home and explore the regions of Pandora. When an ancient threat resurfaces, Jake must fight a difficult war against the humans.

Review: Thirteen years. That’s how long James Cameron made fans of his visually spectacular Avatar (2009) wait for a sequel. Mind you, it’s not that long gestating sequels don’t exist as Hollywood famously loves digging through the back of their closets to find any IPs that will put butts in seats. But Avatar wasn’t just another movie, as for a lot of fans of the first it was a whole damn experience.

…part of your world

It was also the first film I ever saw in IMAX and like everyone else I was completely blown away by the visuals and the special effects on display; the story not so much, but the overall experience was one for the record books.

So here we are 13 years later and the questions on everyone’s minds is can James Cameron top himself once more and does the belated sequel outshine its predecessor? Well, if you’re anything like me the answer is simply this—Avatar: The Way of the Water is pretty much on par with the first movie as in, if you loved the first movie then for all the same reasons, you’re going to love this one.

What we have here is a failure to communicate

Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) having fully embraced his Na’vi avatar is living a blissful life on the planet Pandora with his mate Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) and their four kids (plus one adopted human kid called Spider). But their peace isn’t meant to last because humans suck and our very presence makes everything worse as the greedy people of Earth send the military back, this time with the aid of their own “war ready” Na’vi avatars, led by none other than Quaritch (Stephen Lang) to invade, colonize and steal Pandora’s resources for their own profit. Jake and his family are forced to go on the run and seek asylum with another Na’vi clan called the Metkayina whose own beliefs and culture are tied not to the forest but to the ocean.

It is obvious but I’ll say it anyway, The Way of the Water is a jaw-droppingly beautiful movie to look at. Not one wasted frame, not one scene with janky CGI could I find anywhere as Cameron and the special effects team over at Weta FX deliver the kind of visual feast for the eyes that probably has Disney wetting themselves as they’ll now be forced to go back to the days when they ACTUALLY CARED about what the MCU’s visuals looked like.

Blending motion capture, digital puppets and underwater filming (James Cameron’s love for all things ocean-based is pretty well known) and you have a movie that, with the help of a well-executed score by James Horner, delivers that kind of cinematic experience few have ever successfully pulled off before.

Every blade of grass, every grain of sand, every shot of water flowing either on the skin of the Na’vi or in the ocean had me wondering, how did they pull this off?! Hell, halfway through I totally forgot these people were all motion captured and not actually standing on-screen in front of me. THAT’S how great the visual elements of this movie are. And while I thoroughly enjoyed them, somehow I wasn’t surprised by them as this is a director who has proven time (Aliens) and time (Terminator 2) and time again (Titanic) he knows how to deliver the kind of movie where you’ll forget the four hour runtime even exists.

Don’t shoot until you see the white of the human’s eyes

So, we know Cameron can do visuals, but another one of his strengths is giving us likeable lead characters we can root for, and the Sully clan is a clan you’ll find yourself falling in love with. Most of the story and the screentime is dedicated to the newbies in the form of Sully’s kids. There are the two sons (three if you count Spider) Neteyam (Jamie Flatters) and Lo’ak (Britain Dalton), younger daughter Tuk (Trinity Jo-Li Bliss) and biological offspring of Sigourney Weaver’s character from the first movie, Kiri (also played by Sigourney Weaver). The kids are the true heart of this story, and much time is spent on developing them as characters, which I appreciated.

We also have the leaders of the Metkayina clan. Tonowari (Cliff Curtis) and his wife Ronal (Kate Winslet) as well as their kids and a host of other characters, and this is where the water gets a bit murky for me. On the one hand, The Way of Water does a lot to expand on the world of Pandora. What previously felt like a very contained story of one man and his adventures into a different world, now looks and feels like an entire world full of different clans, all loving nature in their own way and all in very real danger from the truly horrible people of Earth (seriously, this movie will make you loathe being human).

Welcome to Earth! Wait, we’re on Pandora. That quip doesn’t make any sense. Forget I said anything

On the other hand, for a movie that’s four hours long not a lot of time is devoted to characters outside of the Sully clan in any major way. I mean you have talent the likes of Cliff Curtis (Training Day, Fear the Walking Dead) and Kate Winslet as well as Edie Falco, Jemaine Clement and a host of others and you don’t at the very least, give us a couple more scenes with them?! I wanted to know more about the Metkayina and yes, they do have scenes of their kids teaching (and bullying) Sully’s kids that explore their way of life to some extent. But with such A-list leading characters and such a long runtime, I was really expecting more interaction between our adult characters.

Overall, though I can forgive a lot in terms of plot threads left hanging and underdeveloped characters because I know Cameron has an entire roadmap planned out for this world, its characters and the colonisers who encroach on it. The dialogue can be a bit cringe here and there but the deeper themes of environmentalism and fighting for your beliefs never feels too heavy handed. Plus, at its core Avatar: The Way of the Water is one of those movies that isn’t really trying to sell you on something new story-wise, but is more about pushing the boundaries of what can be done on the big screen to delight and astound us.

Smiling? We don’t do that here

So, as I said at the beginning, for all the reasons you loved the first, you’ll love the second. Strangely enough the biggest compliment I can pay to Avatar 2, especially now that I have previous experience with this world and the way Cameron wants to present it to us is this— sometimes all you need a simple story wrapped in a larger than life package to truly immerse yourself and enjoy a cinematic experience.

Like the waters it explores, this is a movie that’s best when you go with the current instead of fight against it.

Score: 8 out of 10

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2755F829-2EEC-4A68-B6F7-F963F48C9D92 Sommerleigh of the House Pollonais. First of Her Name. Sushi Lover, Queen of Horror Movies, Comic Books and Binge Watching Netflix. Mother of two beautiful black cats named Vader and Kylo. I think eating Popcorn at the movies should be mandatory, PS4 makes the best games ever, and I’ll be talking about movies until the zombie apocalypse comes.

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