Return to Pandora.
Avatar: The Way of Water is a 2022 science fiction film directed by James Cameron, written by James Cameron, Rick Jaffa, and Amanda Silver, produced by Lightstorm Entertainment, and distributed by 20th Century Studios. It stars Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldaña. This is the second film in the Avatar franchsie. It was preceded by Avatar and will be followed by Avatar 3.
"Wherever we go, this family is our fortress." - Jake Sully
Thirteen years after becoming one of the Na'vi, Jake Sully is now chief of his tribe and has raised a family with Neytiri. When the humans return for revenge against Jake, he has no choice but to turn to an allying Na'vi clan and protect his family at all costs.
Avatar: The Way of Water is an experience.
That's what I'm calling this movie. An experience. It truly feels like a journey. That's how immersive this film is. It's a visual masterpiece. I don't know how you create something that looks this real. From the Na'vi to the animals in this film to the landscapes of Pandora itself, The Way of Water all looks one hundred percent real. The level of detail and care that is injected into this film is ridiculous. The cinematography is gorgeous. Pandora is just this beautiful, sweeping world that you cannot get enough of. It's fantastic.
This movie also takes our characters on an entirely different journey than the first. Avatar is a film about a warrior learning to adapt to a new culture and a new group of people. The Way of Water is a family film. This movie is all about family, meaning it has a much deeper emotional layer. A lot of this movie is spent getting you invested in the family and letting you in on their life, so you feel every time that they are in danger. You feel all the emotion. You feel all the tension. It makes for a deeply compelling movie with deeply compelling characters.
The Way of Water also expands the scope and size beyond what the first Avatar did. This movie is three hours and twelve minutes long, so it has a gigantic runtime to fill out, and it uses a good portion of that runtime to show us different parts of Pandora that we didn't see before. We move out of the forest and into the water, and that just makes for another breath-taking place that we get to experience.
I also like how it follows up the first Avatar. I think one of the most underrated aspects of a sequel is its ability to actually build upon the story of the first film, and The Way of Water does that very well. It takes Jake and Neytiri in a new direction. It brings back Colonel Quaritch and has him in a different place. It introduces new characters that fit into the world of Avatar perfectly. It's a really good follow-up story that gives you an idea of where this franchise might be heading in the future.
The film also has some deep, resonant themes and complex ideas that it presents to the audience. The first Avatar had an environmental subtext, and The Way of Water has that also. But even beyond that, this film creates moral dilemmas and questions that don't have easy answers. I always love it when a film is able to make the audience think and peel back the layers of what's happening, and I think The Way of Water does that very well.
I appreciate The Way of Water just for existing. Yeah, it's a sequel, but it's so creative and so original. It isn't Marvel or DC or Star Wars. It's its own thing, but it's still a huge, sweeping blockbuster. And that's what James Cameron is so good at. He's able to create enormous stories with beautiful worlds and compelling characters. And these are stories that you have to go to the theater to see. He is able to bring in herds of people to see his movies without having an IP connected to his film. And that's impressive. Avatar: The Way of Water is a must-see blockbuster that we do not get enough of nowadays.
While I appreciate this film for being a huge blockbuster, it is way too long. I've realized that movies are not meant to be three hours long. No three-hour movie that I've seen has merited its runtime. Yes, that means Endgame. Yes, that means The Batman. No movie requires that long of a runtime to develop its characters and tell its story. The Way of Water drags on for a long time. You're exhausted about two hours into the film...and you've still got an hour and fifteen minutes left. There are scenes that can be cut. There are storylines that can be trimmed. It does not need to be this long. At all.
Secondly, Jake Sully and Neytiri are a little bit sidelined in this film. The focus is put a lot more on their kids than on them. Once again, it's three hours long, so they still have plenty of screentime, but a good portion of the film is dedicated to developing their children. Now, their kids are good characters, but you want to see more of them, because they are great. Jake definitely gets some moments near the end, but I wasn't really satisfied with what they gave Neytiri. She's still awesome, but I just wanted more of her.
I also think there are obvious story choices that could've made this movie better. They introduce this whole new tribe of Na'vi called the Metkayina...and they don't really get a ton of development. They don't really serve the overall narrative as much as you'd like them to. It feels like there are moments setup throughout the movie where they could come in and have a big payoff, but they don't.
And this movie is clunky. There's a lot happening in this film. It isn't overstuffed because it's three hours long, but the way that some of the storylines play out is done in a very messy way. For example, Kiri, Jake and Neytiri's daughter played by Sigourney Weaver, is a major, major character in the first half of the movie, but then she is tossed in the background for about an hour. She comes back and serves a purpose in the finale, but her character arc and usage was clunky. And it's stuff like that that makes this frustrating.
I heard a review of this film before I saw it that said the biggest thing working against The Way of Water is expectations. And that's absolutely true. James Cameron has made two sequels in his lifetime: Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Aliens. Those are two of the greatest sequels ever made. Before Avatar, he made Titanic, which became the highest-grossing film of all time. Titanic was then beaten as the highest-grossing film of all time by Avatar, which was Cameron's next film. So now, James Cameron hasn't made any movies in thirteen years because he's been working on Avatar sequels. And, after thirteen years of hype and build-up, we finally get his sequel to the highest-grossing film of all time. No movie can live up to that. The Way of Water isn't Terminator 2. It probably won't surpass Avatar as the highest-grossing movie of all time. That is too much for any movie to live up to.
Final Thoughts and Score
Avatar: The Way of Water is a worthy return to Pandora. It's not as good as Avatar and it does not need to be over three hours long, but this is a visual masterpiece that is as exciting and visceral as any movie you'll see in the theater.
I will go Savory here. Age range is 9+.
SWEET N' SOUR SCALE
Sweet (Great) Savory (Good) Sour (Bad) Moldy (Terrible)
"Avatar: The Way of Water"
Fun Factor: 8.5/10 Acting: 8/10
Directed by James Cameron
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action, disturbing themes and images, minor language, thematic elements
Released on December 16, 2022
Sam Worthington as Jake Sully
Zoe Saldaña as Neytiri
Sigourney Weaver as Kiri / Grace Augustine
Stephen Lang as Colonel Miles Quaritch
Britain Dalton as Lo'ak
Bailey Bass as Tsireya
Jamie Flatters as Neteyam
Cliff Curtis as Tonowari
Kate Winslet as Ronal
Trinity Jo-Li Bliss as Tuktirey
Jack Champion as Miles "Spider" Socorro
Filip Geljo as Aonung
Matt Gerald as Corporal Lyle Wainfleet