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Review: Avatar: The Way of Water (2022)

Avatar: The Way of Water (2022)

Directed by: James Cameron

Premise: A sequel to the 2009 film. Picking up the story about fifteen years later, human beings return to Pandora. Jake Sully and Neytiri (Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldaña) and their children flee to a Na’vi village by the sea where they must adapt to a new environment.

What Works: The Avatar films are a spectacle, employing cutting edge filmmaking technology to conjure a fantastic bioluminescent world in which the adventures play out. The Way of Water exceeds the original film in every technical facet. Like its predecessor, this film was created almost entirely digitally but everything in it looks organic. The detail and texture of the images are impressive. Everything appears solid and tactile and the visuals inspire awe, at least fleetingly. The Way of Water is a beautiful film especially when the action shifts to the sea. The underwater creatures and environments don’t come across as special effects but as living beings existing in their habitat. Due to its technical craft, The Way of Water should be seen in a theater with as big a screen as possible and in the 3D format. This is some of the best stereoscopy exhibited in a commercial feature film.

What Doesn’t: The great sequels, such as Aliens, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, and The Empire Strikes Back, are distinguished by the way in which they expand the story world, complicate the conflicts, and deepen the characters. Avatar: The Way of Water doesn’t do any of that. In many respects, this sequel reiterates the underlying plot of the first film. As in the original Avatar, Jake Sully and his family adapt to a new life, are gradually accepted by the tribe, and lead their new kinsmen into a final confrontation with the invaders. The Way of Water gives us new environments but the conflicts are basically the same. The movie never overcomes the sense that we’ve seen this before. The original Avatar had the love story going for it but the sequel has no equivalent emotional stakes. The characters are thin. Neither Jake Sully nor Neytiri grow as characters and their kids don’t have much personality. The family drama is repetitive with Jake repeatedly disciplining his sons but without any sense of escalation. Neytiri is almost completely sidelined as the cranky wife. The Way of Water is dramatically and emotionally flat and it’s too long. The film has a lot of beauty shots and they are technically impressive but the pacing is baggy and the storytelling is uneconomical.

Bottom Line: Avatar: The Way of Water is an impressive technical exercise and for that reason alone it is worth viewing in the theater. But it plays as a three-hour demo reel and it has about the same emotional impact.  

Episode: #931 (December 18, 2022)