James Cameron takes us back to Pandora in Avatar: The Way of Water. The peaceful Na’Vi are once again under attack from humans and Jake Sully will do anything to protect his family in this sequel to the highest grossing film in history. Read our review.
Arriving 13 years after the first Avatar, the highest grossing film of all time, Avatar: The Way of Water has a lot to prove. Many, including myself, have doubted whether director James Cameron can pull it off; surely this is an impossible task, will anyone care for a sequel to a sci-fi film about blue aliens?
Within minutes of the opening shot, those concerns disappear. Avatar: The Way of Water is nothing short of awe-inspiring. This is stunning, mesmerising filmmaking, a true visual treat. Cameron seems to be operating here at the very top of his powers; Avatar: The Way of Water shares DNA with several Cameron films such as Aliens, The Abyss and surprisingly, Titanic, but it’s a completely singular experience.
The film picks up many years after Avatar. Jake Sully, now living as one of the Na’Vi, lives a peaceful family life with his wife Neytiri and their 4 children, until humans return to Pandora and a war ensues.
Eventually, the Sullys are forced to leave their tribe, the Omatikaya, and seek refuge with the reef people, the Metkayina. They adapt to their new environment, but danger is never far and Jake must once again battle an old foe to save his family.
Much has already been said about those incredible water effects, glimpsed in trailers, but they really do take the film to another level. Everything in The Way of Water looks incredibly realistic, perhaps too much so.
Cameron uses HFR here; the higher frame rate makes the images very smooth, but because almost all of The Way of Water has been created on a computer screen, the film sometimes resembles a very, VERY long cut scene from a video game.
While the 3h 12min runtime might seem daunting, it flies by. Cameron knows how to pace a film. There’s enough wonder and inspiration to be found in The Way of Water to justify such a mammoth runtime. It’s simply a pleasure to once again exist in the world of the Na’Vi and on Pandora. Speaking of Pandora, it’s never looked this lush. The opening shot of the Hallelujah Mountains is mighty and the 3D really brings the environment alive.
The entire cast do a very good job, Sam Worthington potentially being the standout. Zoe Saldaña brings the fire in a role that has been reduced considerably. Similarly, Kate Winslet’s Ronal makes very little impact.
The Way of Water is mostly about the Sully kids; Neteyam, Lo’ak, Kiri and the young Tuk. Kiri is played by Sigourney Weaver, who pulls off playing a teenager surprisingly well. If anything, we’re bothered by the 73-year-old playing a 14-year-old only because we know it’s Weaver rather than anything being wrong with her performance.
That being said, the film isn’t without its flaws. The story is a simple rehash of the first one, with a similar conflict and structure, which will prove disappointing for those who didn’t enjoy Avatar. The Way of Water doesn’t do anything to try and convince those who didn’t enjoy Avatar that the numerous planned sequels are worth their attention and money.
Cameron, while otherwise in complete control, has never been a particularly strong writer and the dialogue in The Way of Water does occasionally ring hollow. Perhaps the problem is that the film is so earnest in its approach to its themes and plot, the dialogue comes across as pretentious. Kate Winslet crying out “She was the composer of songs!” in regards to a whale does seem to take it a little too far even if it makes sense in the context of the scene.
Even with its flaws, The Way of Water is an immersive, gorgeous cinematic journey through Pandora. It won’t be for everyone, but with its masterful visuals and a family-centric story which sets up the sequels, it might just be the most important cinema experience of 2022.
Avatar: The Way of Water is in cinemas 16 December.