Unless you happen to be like my boyfriend who watched Avatar (2009) for the first time just one day before checking out the new sequel Avatar: The Way of Water in theatres, you’re probably like me and have been waiting over a decade of this long awaited sequel. Ever since James Cameron finally announced an official release date for Avatar: The Way of Water, I’ve been both extremely excited but also rather mystified – very little information was given away from the trailers, leaving the entire plot (one that I’ve been waiting for 11 years!) open to endless possibilities. And finally after all this time, I got to fully embrace this sequel in all its visual glory on the big screen. Avatar: The Way of Water is an epic science fiction action film directed by James Cameron and stars the return of Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, and Stephen Lang. There are more than a couple of new wonderful additions though, including the fantastic Kate Winslet and the fresh faces of newcomers Britain Dalton, Jack Champion, Trinity Jo-Li Bliss, Bailey Bass, and Jamie Flatters. With such a great ensemble, Avatar: The Way of Water really shines brighter thanks to their performances.
[This review will contain spoilers; please read at your own discretion]
With over ten years of anticipation built up, I think it’s safe to say a lot was riding on Cameron’s shoulder with the release of Avatar: The Way of Water. Not only did the first film stun audiences with its spectacular visual effects and overall enjoyable story, this sequel needed to prove to us all that Avatar deserved to be the beginning of a series and not just a standalone film. Not to mention news outlets reporting that this new sequel had to rake in a whopping 2 billion dollars for the movie to profit overall. Welp, that sounds like a pretty big task. But with the movie now grossing a worldwide total of $1.903 billion as of today, it seems people are quite interested as to what the world of Pandora has in store. But the real question is, was it any good? After watching every second of this 3h 10m adventure, I would say I was rather pleased with what was produced and I did not leave the theatre unsatisfied or disappointed at all (even with the 11 years of anticipation). However, like with all films, Avatar: The Way of Water was nowhere near perfect and that’s because there were a few glaring problems.
Although many people I’ve spoken to have not been a fan of the excessively long runtime (yes, it’s over three hours long), I personally didn’t see this as a problem because I love a good long film. And for myself, I can safely say that Avatar: The Way of Water didn’t feel like it was dragging on for three hours long. This lengthy runtime did cause other problems though, namely with the execution and cohesion of the story. It became apparent that Cameron had a clear struggle with the pacing of story; there’s a lot of world building that needed to be done in this film, and while three hours is certainly a sufficient amount of time to do so, I felt Cameron wasn’t able to effectively juggle that alongside developing the original story he created with Jake Sully. My biggest criticism ultimately centers around how rushed and weak the story felt in the third act. While I truly enjoyed watching Jake and his family learn the way of the Metkayina and getting to explore all these new dynamics and environments, a better balance between the world building and actual story would have benefitted the movie much more.
Because the problems with pacing led to a lot of plot inconsistencies and unfinished storytelling, this became even more blatantly apparent when I was reviewing my thoughts on the movie. Certain moments felt choppy or unnecessary while important details were left unexplained. A couple instances that come to mind include how Kiri’s underwater seizures became irrelevant and overlooked, how the Metkayina randomly disappeared and went home during the final battle, and why Jake and Neytiri never learned to breathe underwater the same way their children did. My boyfriend also complained that certain causes and explanations in the movie felt like lazy writing. For example, it really does kind of feel like they’re unnecessarily keeping Quartich alive just to have an antagonist now. Overall, while the three hours didn’t feel excessively long to me, I did feel that vital parts of the story quickly became lost in the overall scheme of things.
And I will admit that there was a sort of generic and predictable felt to the plot. While the story definitely wasn’t terrible by any means, I wouldn’t say it was the most innovative or ground-breaking. While the story is somewhat standard in its entirety, what I do love about Avatar: The Way of Water and these movies in general is the way they’re able to make me feel. There’s something very deep and personal about the characters’ connection with their world that feels very intimate to me. Witnessing that connection always makes me feel a bit more reflective about myself for some reason, and I love that these film can evoke that from me. There’s a nice balance between realistic connection and fantastical imagination that I do think Cameron really excels at drawing out in these films.
Of course, one great thing we did get out of Cameron’s long exploration into the Metkayina’s home was getting to witness the absolutely marvelous visual effects of this beautiful underwater world. Honestly, if you’re not interested in the story, I still think it’s worth it just to witness the marvel that has been created from Avatar: The Way of Water. The CGI is genuinely some of the most breathtaking I’ve ever seen and everything looked so wonderous. Being the first film to ever experiment with motion capture underwater (big props to the actors for learning how to deep dive!), I was stunned by how grand, vivid, and lively they managed to make the ocean look. I absolutely loved all the bright colours and how realistically the characters were interacting with their surroundings. A huge reason why I didn’t notice how long the three hours felt was because I was totally enamored by all the visuals and how incredible the effects were. That alone is a huge feat in of itself.
So if you’ve been wanting something refreshing and different from the usual grand, CGI-packed superhero film, I sincerely suggest you give Avatar: The Way of Water a try. I know quite a few people who have watched the film simply for its visuals rather than for the story – and hey, from what I’ve been reading from critics, they’re mainly just complimenting the visuals too. Compared to the first movie which (upon recent rewatch) still holds very nicely, I did notice this sequel seemed a bit more crisp and fluid in its movements. There was definitely an improvement which was very exciting to note and see.
One big surprise for me was seeing how much Avatar: The Way of Water was much more focused on telling the story of the children, Neteyam, Lo’ak, Tuk, Kiri, and Spider, rather than focusing on Jake and Neytiri themselves. While I had no problem with this and enjoyed learning about the children and their relationships with one another, I still would’ve loved to see a bit more about Jake and Neytiri too. I was especially sad seeing that Neytiri wasn’t given as much screen time given how impressed I was with Saldana’s expressive and emotional performance. I was also shocked to learn Sigourney Weaver would be in this film, but playing the role of a fourteen year old! Given the large age difference between herself and her character, Kiri, she did a pretty good job bringing that liveliness and playfulness that exists in children at that age.
Another thing I loved was Cameron’s decision to cast more unknown actors for the roles of the children – I thought they all performed exceptionally and now look forward to their careers in the movie industry. If I had to name my favourite, I would say I especially loved watching Britain Dalton as Lo’ak on screen and enjoyed seeing him bring the character to life. There was both a softness and roughness to the character that he played brilliantly and I really think he could continue to shine as a protagonist in the future films. I was also really sad to see that Neteyam dies in this film because I liked the brotherly dynamic he shared with Lo’ak. It’s too bad we won’t get to explore his character more!
For fans of this series, you’ll be relieved to hear that Avatar 3 (and possibly 4?) shouldn’t take another decade to make. With the ending of Avatar: The Way of Water making it clear that the story wasn’t finished, I’m excited to see where Cameron will take us next. Story aside, the movie was truly a visual feat and a momentous accomplishment. I’m so happy to have seen it on the big screen where I could properly take in the colours and fluidity of movements. Although the plot itself had its share of mistakes and flaws, I still think the movie was an overall great time. Despite its “normal” story, there’s definitely a lot of feeling and emotion to it that is enough to make you laugh and cry alongside the characters. After 11 years of waiting I can finally rate Avatar: The Way of Water which I’ve decided to give an 8/10. If there’s ever a movie for you to see in theatres, this one is definitely one of them.
I didn’t wait until the day before Avatar 2 to see the original, but I didn’t see the first film until a few years later. Didn’t really understand what all the fuss was about then. The world-building and storyline was a bit cumbersome and clunky for my taste. The visuals were pretty good, as per the film’s reputation. Yet, I hadn’t seen the original in the theater for its big-screen impact so i went into opening day of this Avatar 2 with an very open mind. Mind blown. The sights and sounds are amazing…and the storyline – while pretty simplistic – still resonated deeply with me. Indeed, if readers see one film in the theater this year it should be this one. Big screen and big sound, and this movie also has a very, very big heart. Excellent review, Cathy. Glad you enjoyed it as well!
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Glad to hear you experienced Avatar 2 in the theatres as well and that you enjoyed it! I still can’t get over those wonderful visual effects. It’s definitely more of a visual experience (the plot is definitely simple) but the story isn’t without substance. Very nice to hear that you were able to connect with the story 😄 I wonder how the film will look rewatching it on a smaller screen when it comes out on Disney+!
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On the small screens, people will be like…what was all the fuss about lol. It really, truly is for the biggest screens and clearest speakers. Cameron makes no bones about that fact. It looks so good in 3D Imax for a reason!
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