There’s been a long time since James Cameron’s Avatar originally debuted in 2009. There might be some questioning of whether or not the alien world of Pandora is worth returning to. With Avatar: The Way of Water, that answer is a resounding yes.
Avatar: The Way of Water Mild Spoilers Below
Avatar: The Way of Water doesn’t just feel like more of the same. It explores more of Cameron’s lush world, teeming with vibrance and life. It’s pretty much what many have come to expect and love with Cameron’s sci-fi direction.
The Sully Family
Avatar: The Way of Water continues with many of the same characters. Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) has grown into his role as a Na’vi. He’s taken on a grander role within his tribe and started forming a family with his love Ney’tiri (Zoe Saldana).
While the last film was about their romance, this sequel centers on their legacy and children. With their clan being a mixture of birthed, adopted, and even human, there’s a great deal of diversity in their family. Unfortunately, that level of acceptance doesn’t seem as present with the rest of the Na’vi.
Old Friends and Stories
The film finds convenient ways to reproduce the characters and conflict of the previous film. While the humans are driven off the planet in the last film, they return with an even greater assault on the planet in their mining of resources. They’re back with a vengeance.
A few actors you might not expect are also back for this sequel. Sigourney Weaver returns in the role of a teenage offspring to the late Dr. Grace Augustine. Stephen Lang is also back as a replicated version of the vindictive Colonel Miles Quaritch, now placed in the body of a Na’vi avatar.
These two returning characters fulfill the same duties as the previous film, albeit with different outlooks. Weaver’s teen Na’vi makes astounding discoveries on the planet of Pandora but more on a natural than technical level. Lang is again the brash military man, but with a greater thirst for revenge on Jake than fulfilling any other mission objectives.
A Whole New World
Most of the film is spent underwater when Jake and his family flee their colony and seek refuge in a water tribe. As the Sully family learns more about the tribe’s way of life, they get used to the wondrous aquatic worlds of all sorts of sci-fi creatures. Given James Cameron’s love of the ocean, it shouldn’t be a shocker that there are many dazzling scenes under the sea.
For as long as these scenes linger, they are beautifully stunning. Cameron lets the audience bask in the allure of everything without making the camera zoom around it so quickly. So much craft has been placed in this world, and we get to see every inch of its vast detail.
These slow and sublime moments are much appreciated in a blockbuster like Avatar: The Way of Water. Even though the audience knows Cameron will deliver some intense action scenes, it’s great that most of the running time is spent enjoying this world rather than destroying it. It makes the greater thematic drive of family and oneness with nature feel greater than in the last film.
Aliens Versus Humans And Mecha
Of course, Cameron doesn’t skimp on the thrilling action sequences. The attacking human forces are armed with ships, boats, and mech suits. It’s all very exciting, but to the extent that many have come to expect from Cameron’s explosive pictures.
Cameron also makes the human villains much more simplistic. The water tribe is at war with encroaching poachers who seek to hunt and harvest a species of whale. They’re less like people doing their jobs and giddy antagonists who get an almost sexual thrill out of their cruelty to animals.
The action is vibrantly portrayed in the film’s daring fourth-act climax, complete with a sinking ship, explosions, gunfire, arrows, shocking deaths, and grand showdowns. It’s also darkly comedic when karma comes to the lead poacher who gets the best death in the film.
The Kids Are Okay
The film’s script is better than the last, but only because there’s more character to balance. We get to see how brothers balance responsibility and brashness when proving themselves. We watch as a teenager grapples with her mental condition and being more in touch with the planet.
There are also a lot of interesting developments with Spider, the human raised by the Na’vi. He struggles to come to terms with both his human lineage and the identity of his father. There’s a light yet much-appreciated arc about nature versus nurture that is mostly crowded out by the grander special effects of the presentation.
While the kids are unique, it would’ve been nice to have better moments between Jake and Ney’tiri. They mostly remain as bookends and small voices of guidance for their family. In particular, Ney’tiri does so little within the central narrative that it feels like she literally fights for screen time in the final act of Avatar: The Way of Water.
The 3D Experience of Avatar: The Way of Water
As with the last movie, Avatar: The Way of Water is presented in 3D, but this time with an increased frame rate. For as cumbersome as it was to once more throw on the glasses for the theater experience, it’s hard to deny how great the 3D is for this film. Given Cameron’s obsession, it makes sense that this theatrical aspect is given much care.
The initial shots of Pandora’s many jungles and floating islands set the tone nicely. After some time, the 3D becomes less distracting, and you feel as though you’re more immersed in the world. While it’d be easy to scoff at these bells and whistles, they complete the visual allure.
Conclusion: Avatar: The Way of Water
Avatar: The Way of Water does more of what Cameron does best for his sci-fi epic. While the script is fairly light and spends more time finding stuff for characters to do than embracing its diversity and family themes, it delivers where it counts. In terms of a stunning CGI world, Cameron crafts one like no other and proves he’s the master of visual splendor on the big screen.
Have you seen Avatar: The Way of Water yet? Was it better than the last film? Let us know in the comments below.
Avatar: The Way of Water is currently playing in theaters.