TL;DR – A visual masterpiece and powerful themes mark a solid return to Pandora
Post-Credit Scene – There is a mid-credit scene
Disclosure – I paid to watch this film
Avatar: The Way of Water Review –
Back in 2009, I might not have gotten all the themes Cameron was dropping, but I felt the power of narrative and the world of the first Avatar. However, I will be honest in that I have not really thought much of the film much since then. Every couple of years, there were mentions of going back into the universe, but they never eventuated. Well, I was surprised as everyone when this finally started coming together 13 years later, but then I re-watched the first Avatar in the cinemas and was reminded how good this world was. That screening primed me to return to Pandora, and I am glad I did.
So to set the scene, in the years since pushing the sky people back into orbit and skulking back to Earth, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) have started a family and live with the rest of the Na’vi people in the forests. But after many years of peace, the sky people return and begin a literal scorched earth policy. Jake fights back, but when his kids Neteyam (Jamie Flatters), Kiri (Sigourney Weaver), Spider (Jack Champion), Lo’ak (Britain Dalton) and Tuk (Trinity Jo-Li Bliss) are put in the line of fire as the family is directly targeted, they decide to leave to limit reprisals. However, no matter how far you run, your responsibilities or a genetically resurrected hellspawn that will try to hunt you down.
Walking into this film, the first thing I was concerned about was the 3D. The last time I watched a 3D movie in cinemas was probably around the time of the first Avatar, the only film I think ever justified the extra cost for the glasses. But that is a long time between drinks, and to be frank, my eyes didn’t get better in the preceding years. The intelligent thing the film did was starting in the same realm as the first film. You didn’t need to re-learn the landscape; they use that as an adjustment period. But once that period is over, the film goes from holding back to exploding on the screen.
Much like the first Avatar, the film’s biggest strength is the effects and worldbuilding. They needed to move into some new territory to differentiate the visual iconography, and they did that and more. To say that the oceans of Pandora were breathtaking feels like I am fundamentally underselling just how stunning they are. Every moment was full of wonder and more than a little menace. I am someone who does have a fear of water I can’t see the bottom of, and this is a film that does make use of that. All the creatures we see also follow the same design motif of being completely alien but also something you can comprehend. For example, the Skimwing is what if a barracuda was spliced with a flying fish and took up Crossfit.
You need to care about the environment because those are the themes that James Cameron is playing in, and subtle, they are not. It is kind of refreshing to see a film that does not hold its punches and, in many places, goes right for the jugular. While the first film dabbled in the exploitation of minerals with a dying Earth, you can feel the shift towards more natural resources. There is an entire sequence that was deeply confronting and may have real-world impacts regarding perceptions about a particular sea-based hunting activity that only a handful of nations still do.
One of the main criticisms of the first film was that the characters were a bit one-dimensional, and not a whole lot has changed here. Jake Scully might be flat as a character, but it kind of works here, much like the characters in films like Kong Skull Island. There are a lot of teenagers getting in trouble for being teenagers, and your mileage on that might vary. The big surprise was the return of Stephen Lang as Colonel Miles Quaritch in avatar form. This was one aspect I was concerned about going into, but the combination of him and Spider worked well. While we say the characters are a bit one-dimensional, if you didn’t care for them, the film didn’t work, and as I sat in a packed cinema, I can tell you the audience was 100% on board.
While I enjoyed the film, it was not a perfect engagement. I have often critiqued films for not having any connective tissue, but we might have gone a bit too much in the other direction. In all honestly, it didn’t need to be three hours long. As well as this, it feels like every filmmaker had to attempt messing with frame rates at some point in their careers, and it never works, and this film is no exception. Also, for a film heavily inspired by the Polynesian culture, it would have been nice to see it engage with that a bit better than what we got. Finally, I am not sure why Zoe Saldaña goes MIA for a large chunk of the film, but that was a presence it sometimes needed.
In the end, do we recommend Avatar: The Way of Water? Yes, yes, we do. It was a stunning visual and worldbuilding masterpiece and told a story that connected with everyone who watched it in the audience I was at. I would also recommend seeing it on the largest screen you can. If you liked Avatar The Way of the Water, we would recommend to you Prey.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Avatar: The Way of Water
Directed by – James Cameron
Story by – James Cameron, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Josh Friedman & Shane Salerno
Screenplay by – James Cameron, Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver
Based on – Characters created by – James Cameron
Music by – Simon Franglen
Cinematography by – Russell Carpenter
Edited by – Stephen E. Rivkin, David Brenner, John Refoua & James Cameron
Production/Distribution Companies – Lightstorm Entertainment, TSG Entertainment & 20th Century Studios.
Starring – Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña, Stephen Lang, Cliff Curtis, Kate Winslet, CCH Pounder, Jamie Flatters, Britain Dalton, Trinity Jo-Li Bliss, Bailey Bass, Filip Geljo, Matt Gerald, Alicia Vela-Bailey, CJ Jones, Jack Champion, Joel David Moore, Dileep Rao, Giovanni Ribisi, Edie Falco, Brendan Cowell & Jemaine Clement
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: PG; Germany: 12; New Zealand: M; United Kingdom: 12A; United States: PG-13