Saturday 17 December 2022

Avatar: The Way of Water (Movie Review)

After what has felt like countless false starts and delays, James Cameron finally takes moviegoers back to the lush landscapes of Pandora in Avatar: The Way of Water. The first film in the series had effectively served as a benchmark for 3D and special effects for many years following its 2009 release, while also growing to become the highest-grossing film of all time, a title it still clings to today. But does this long-gestating sequel manage to conjure up the same awe and wonder as the first film, or has it perhaps arrived too late to replicate that film's magic and success?

The film is set several years after the events of the first one. Since we last saw Jake Sully and Neytiri, the two have started a family together. However, their home is soon threatened by the return of the "sky people" who are once again doing what they do best, exploiting the resources of the forested moon with no regard for their impact on its indigenous life. So to ensure his family and people's safety, Jake must seek help from a neighboring clan that calls the waters of Pandora home.

As usual, I've tried my best to avoid sharing any specific plot details or spoilers in my synopsis. But if the narrative as laid out sounds a bit more basic or barebones than what one might expect from a film of this scope, then it is because Avatar: The Way of Water is, at its core, yet another easy-to-follow story about one man trying to right the wrongs of his people. The first film hadn't exactly gone down in history due to the complexity of its plot, and I feel neither would this one.

In fact, I'd hazard a guess that anyone looking to go back to Pandora for this sequel would have more interest in how the movie looks than anything else. And nobody does visual spectacle quite like James Cameron, as already proven by his work on films like Titanic and the first Avatar. But his latest film easily manages to upstage both those movies and in so doing sets a new high watermark for the veteran director.

The movie boasts some of the most breathtaking visuals to grace cinema screens in recent years, even as it moves most of the action from the familiar forests and floating mountains of Pandora to previously-uncharted territories. I particularly love how lifelike the Na'vi and various Avatars look this time around, with even more detail packed into every square inch of their bodies. That said, I'll admit that some of the sheer novelty of seeing Pandora brought to life in lush detail has been lost in the 13 years since the first film. But this one still found other creative ways to shock and amaze me.

Going beyond the visuals, the new Avatar film once again treads some very familiar territory, with themes surrounding our need to be mindful of the effects of our actions against the environment. It even squeezes in a few callbacks to Titanic during its explosive third act. And at over three hours in length, the film appears to be asking a lot from its audience. But even though a good chunk of that time is spent showcasing the beauty and wonders of its setting and underlying technology, the movie never felt like a chore to get through.

This is mainly due to the fact that I was kept engaged by its colorful cast of characters. Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana return to voice the two leads, although it quickly becomes apparent during the film that the new additions to their family are the true stars of the movie. Each one gets to shine in his or her own way, while collectively serving as the emotional core that kept the narrative going. The story itself doesn't attempt to break any kind of new ground, but therein lies the brilliance of James Cameron, who has once again delivered a film that is sure to resonate with millions of moviegoers.

Avatar: The Way of Water has all the crowd-pleasing thrills and spectacle the franchise has come to be known for. It is easily one of the most visually stunning movies I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing. In many ways, it reaches new heights its predecessor never managed to, while laying the groundwork for its own batch of sequels. And even though it remains to be seen if the film would come anywhere close to replicating the first film's success, it still captures enough of the same magic to be considered a more than worthy follow-up.


  1. Not really a surprise that it's another movie with great visuals and a mediocre story. Technically I've never watched the first one all the way through since I had to leave the theater with a few minutes left, though it was obvious that Jake was going to become a Na'Vi and clearly that was the case.

    Anyway, maybe when it's on Disney+ or Hulu or whatever I'll watch it. At least then I can pause it when I need to use the bathroom.

    1. Lol. Fair enough. You could be waiting a while though since the movie will most likely get an extended theatrical run much like the first one and Top Gun: Maverick.

  2. You nailed it - basic story and incredible backdrop. The underwater sequences were stunning. At over three hours it probably was too long, but it's so immersive and amazing, you don't mind as you don't want to leave Pandora.

    1. They could've definitely shaved about 30 minutes off the overall runtime, but like you said, it manages to stay immersive all through it all.