Avatar: The Way of the Water (2022) – Reel Review

Director: James Cameron | 3h 12mins | Sci Fi, Adventure

Living peacefully with his family on Pandora, Jake Sully must fight to protect his loved ones when humans return to the planet.

It’s been 13 years since James Cameron’s first Avatar was released to the world. The visual phenomenon became the highest grossing film of all time upon release, somehow luring an audience bigger than any movie ever. The question of ‘how’ or ‘why’ the film got so much attention is still a mystery to this day, aside from the visual spectacular it offered, there was nothing particularly groundbreaking in its “Dances With Wolves in Space” plot or in its stale dialogue. The sequel – either long awaited or dreaded depending on who you are – bolsters the same enchanting visual style of the first film but can’t help but fall victim to the same staleness. 

The biggest change to The Way of the Water, as the title suggests, is the aquatic realm of Pandora we get to explore. As Jake, Neytiri and their four children leave the forest to find solace in the water tribes, the best parts of the bloated 3 hour and 12 minute runtime are found when Cameron is showing us the spectacle of this new place. The sheer beauty and detail of the creatures lying beneath the water’s surface merits a trip to the cinema on its own, and no matter how drab the human elements of Cameron, Jaffa and Silver’s screenplay are, the quality of the visual effects is outstanding. 

With such a long runtime the film needs to pad itself out with numerous new characters. The biggest addition to the cast are Jake and Neytiri’s four children who feel more like the main characters as the film goes on. In particular Lo’ak, the second eldest son and the Pandorian equivalent of an angsty teen and Kiri (voiced by Signourney Weaver putting on a child’s voice), an adopted child who feels a deep connection to the spiritual side of Pandora, are the closest thing the film comes to an emotional engagement. Their stories feel a little more grounded in the epic tale Cameron is telling, however, these stories begin to get lost in the films grandeur – making the character work just as fleeting as the first film. 

For all of the beauty and new exploration in the world of Pandora what remains the same is the threat. The Humans (or “Sky People”) feel like clones of the first Avatar, while as a force they are larger and more equipped it’s their motivations are the same. They still talk to each other with a misplaced machismo, something which feels distinctly 80’s James Cameron but here it feels stale, much like the characters delivering the dialogue. The most fleshed out villain is a returning Stephen Lang as Quadritch, a villain that despite being given a proper arc, still remains relatively lifeless even in his avatar skin. 

Despite the fact that Avatar’s success has always remained a giant question mark, it does have to be applauded visually. Much like its predecessor Avatar: The Way of the Water deserves the same plaudits – boasting a slick and jaw-dropping visual experience that stands as a technological achievement on its own. However, the stretched out runtime, poor dialogue and odd pacing often make this ‘epic’ flawed at best.

Rating: 3 out of 5.
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