Avatar: The Way of Water (2022) Review

THE WAY OF WATER HAS NO

BEGINNING OR END…


 

In 2009, with large blockbuster endeavors exploding into movie theaters throughout the year, including Star Trek, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Fast & Furious, and Terminator: Salvation, 20th the year closed out with the release of Avatar, an ambitious sci-fi blockbuster that set the bar high for visual effect storytelling. Directed by James Cameron, the film, which starred Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, and Sigourney Weaver, followed the journey of Jake Sully, a paraplegic marine, who sent to the alien world of Pandora, to help perform in the studies on the Na’vi, the local natives of Pandora, through the genetically engineered Na’vi avatar body host that’s operated from the brain of a remotely located human, while private sector military forces begin to demolish the lush forest of Pandora in attempt to mining precious minerals from the planet. Released on December 16th, 2009, Avatar, while met with criticism towards the film’s screenplay, story, and lengthy runtime, received positive reviews and praise from critics and moviegoers alike, with most citing the feature’s direction, cinematography, musical score, and groundbreaking visual effects. During its initial theatrical run, the movie went to break several office records and became the highest-grossing film of all time (at the moment), beating out Cameron’s own Titanic, which held the record for over twelve years. The movie remained at that number spot for many years until 2019 when Avengers: Endgame overtook as the highest grossing film of all time. Yet, Cameron’s mega blockbuster retook that position in 2021, with the release of Avatar in China. To this day (as of writing this review), Avatar holds the number one position in that category and has collectively grossed $2.923 billion at the box office. In addition, Avatar went on to be nominated for numerous awards during the award season that year, including being nominated for nine Academy Awards and won three of them (Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, and Best Visual Effects). Now, thirteen years since the release of the 2009 film, 20th Century Fox and director James Cameron return to the world of Pandora in the movie sequel Avatar: The Way of Water. Is this long-awaited sequel worth the wait or has the world moved on from Cameron’s expansive sci-fi world of Jake Sully, the Na’vi, and the alien world of bioluminescent flora and fauna?

THE STORY


It’s been nearly two decades since paraplegic marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) transferred his subconscious spirt into his Na’vi host, with the former human building himself a family, alongside his mate, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), who are raising multiple children, including Kiri (Sigourney Weaver), who was born from Dr. Grace’s avatar. Becoming a tribal leader on Pandora for his clan, Jake finally has peace and purpose, but such tranquility is soon disturbed by the return of the “sky people”, with General Frances Ardmore (Eddie Falco) leading the charge of claiming the planet as Earth continues to expire. Joining Ardmore is Colonel Miles Quartich (Stephen Lang), with his subconscious mind plugged into an avatar body, who is looking for revenge against Jake for killing his human form, setting out on a hunt to find the former Marine, with his plans to exterminate all the Na’vi. Jake recognizes the potential danger he’s in, leaving the forest with his family to hide with the “reef people” Metkayina clan, who are led by Tonowari (Cliff Curtis) and his wife, Ronal (Kate Winslet), hoping to stay out of sight and protect the innocent. Yet, the military man isn’t easily outsmarted, joining a marine hunting team to find his prey, while bringing war to the open waters where Jake, his family, and the people Metkayina clan must prepare to the battle with the “sky people”.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


It’s been a while since I can recall a lot of the big blockbuster-esque movies of 2009, with the theatrical releases of such highly anticipated films that year were bit of a mixed bag. I mean….Star Trek was amazing, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was just okay, Terminator: Salvation was pretty “meh”, Fast & Furious was good (yet a bit clunky at times), and so on and so forth. So, barring a select few, 2009’s blockbuster feature films varied with difference of opinions of not living up to their inherit hype. That certainly wasn’t the case for James Cameron’s Avatar. I won’t go into intricate detail about the reasons why I loved this movie as I already describe that during my “cinematic flashback” for Avatar recently (here’s the link). That being said, it was definitely a visual blockbuster film that I love to watch. With early development began all the way back in 1994, Avatar saw a long road to getting made, with Cameron looking to wait for “filmmaking techniques” and visual effects to catch up to his ultimate vision for the movie. The result is something that works and works wonderfully well. Yes, the story is a bit limp in a few areas, with a recycled nuances that echo Dances with Wolves or even Ferngully: The Last Rainforest, but almost everything about the film was fantastic. For its presentation, Avatar dazzled and sparkled with colorful vibrancy that hadn’t being seeing in any movie of that time, with intricate detail for its visual effects as well as a powerful score from the late composer James Horner. Even the acting talent involved was solid across the board, even if the characters were written a little bit broad. In the end, there is no denying that Avatar was a major hit in 2009, bringing Cameron’s sci-fi tale and vision to life with such blockbuster visuals and cinematic greatness of which left its mark on the film releases that year as well on the grand tapestry of filmmaking.

This brings me back to talking about Avatar: The Way of Water, a 2022 sci-fi action blockbuster and the long-awaited sequel to 2009’s Avatar. Given the amount of success that the first feature received, it was a forgone conclusion that a proper sequel to Avatar was on the horizon, with Cameron (as well as several of the acting talents involved) expressing interest in the next installment project. However, the actual timeline of getting the movie to the big screen certainly took a while, with Cameron teasing the project every so often (throughout the years), but nothing concrete, which (like many out there) certainly confused and baffled myself. The acting talents involved (mostly Worthington and Saldana) had gone on to work on other projects and franchise and many of the crew’s “key players” went onto lend their skills on other motion picture endeavors. Thus, the idea of getting “the band back together” seem like a tall order for Cameron as well as the financial means of getting Avatar 2 up and off the ground, especially since his vision for this planned sequel to be even bigger and more expansive than the original one. So, news would come and go every few months throughout the years until a few years ago when it was officially announced that Avatar 2 was greenlit with a theatrical release date set for December 2022. This, of course, excited me greatly with the anticipation of the long-awaited sequel was going to arrive in 2022, yet that same excitement also bred some leeriness, with Hollywood not having the greatest track record of belated sequel endeavors from popular IPs. Still, I was very curious to see what Cameron and his team would cook up for Avatar 2, which was now being called Avatar: The Way of Water. It wasn’t until summer of 2022 when the film’s marketing campaign began to appear, with various promos and movie trailers appearing, which surely got a lot of people, including myself, quite excited for the upcoming film at the end of the year. So, I waited and waited, and finally…. after 13 years since the conclusion of the first film, the time has arrived for sequel to 2009’s Avatar, which I did see opening night, but, due to my work schedule, had to wait a couple of days get my review formulated and completed for you (the readers) to read. And what did I think of this movie? Did it meet my very high expectations? Well, it did and then some. Despite its lengthy runtime and a few story beats fumbles, Avatar: The Way of Water is a dazzling and visual spectacle sequel blockbuster that expands Cameron’s sci-fi universe in fantastic ways that’s definitely worth the long gap between films. I still think that the first Avatar was better of the two, but The Way of Water still delivers an impressive and large-scale blockbuster that’s worth the wait!

As mentioned above, Avatar: The Way of Water is directed by James Cameron, who previously directed the first film as well as directing other memorable feature films such as Titanic, Aliens, and Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Given his overall familiarity with the first movie and his desire to see another sequel materialize, Cameron does seem like the most suitable choice to helm such a project like this and do so with such clearly and precise detail as to what he wants to show in this film. After an opening salvo, which catches everything up about the events of the first Avatar as well as what has happened since, Cameron dives headfirst into the movie, projecting a lot of familiar sci-fi wonder and amazement, with the focus returning to Jake Sully, who has started a family with Neytiri. While taking some beats that were a bit reminiscent of the first one, Cameron slowly reintroduces the world of Pandora in the first act, which sets the stage allowing moviegoers to get “reacquainted” with everything that has happened and what was established in the first Avatar, with the second and third act branching out into the unknown parts (well, at least unknown to the viewers) that explores a new region / realm of Pandora….the sea. Thus, the juxtaposition of the forest of the first Avatar to the open waters in The Way of Water is one that feels like an interesting aspect to showcase, especially in the visual presentation as well as in the narrative for the film (i.e., new scene / setting, new story). For story purpose, this makes sense as Cameron has always wanted to expand upon what he visions for Pandora and exploring the various landscapes that the Na’vi have, so I was kind of expecting this….and that’s a good thing! That’s not to say that this new Avatar movie is unrecognizable as Cameron evokes plenty of aspects and nuances, especially with plenty of scientific technobabble, plenty of sci-fi visuals, and collage of natural / environmental usages. Of course, the action takes center stage throughout the movie, especially the latter half, with Cameron staging such events with a lot of frenetic energy and bombastic action that is very much in-line to what was previous done in the last film, yet still feels grandiose and creates a lot of adrenaline-filled moments. This also applies to the usage of water and how this particular element plays a part during those said action scenes, which are terrifically well-done and choregraphed with precise execution.

Perhaps one of the biggest (and most ambitious) aspects that Cameron envisions for The Way of Water is expanding both the cultural understanding of the Na’vi, the indigenous natives to Pandora, and in several new characters that move beyond the established ones previously highlighted in the first feature. The former aspect is quite ingenious on Cameron and his team (mostly the writers) in how they (in the movie) introduce the people of “reef people” Metkayina clan of the Na’vi race and their society integration with the water, much like how the Na’vi clans from the first movie were spiritually connected to the forest. Of course, this doesn’t stop just from terrain / landscape, with The Way of Water showcasing the importance of cultural understand for the “reef people” in their ways and customs of how they do things, which are a bit different from the Sully clan ways. Cameron takes the time to develop such methods and shows the cultural Na’vi differences by expanding upon several ideas and adding a ton of more world building aspects to Pandora, which is amazing to see play in the movie. This portion of the movie was perhaps my favorite part, which brings something new to the table and something I wasn’t exactly expecting to see. Thus, making the world building for the Metkayina people quite interesting.

The latter aspect that I liked was of the way that the movie introduces several new characters. Rather than just focusing on Jake and Neytiri as the primary characters (they kind of still are in a few ways), but Cameron seems to broaden the scope of the Avatar franchise by selecting to focus on several new characters, with most of them being part of Sully clan as Jake / Neytiri’s children, which makes the “next generation” leap to help further advance the expansiveness of the story that the director wants envisions. Thus, it’s quite interesting to see the movie’s main narrative move away from Jake and Neytiri in few areas to see the character growth of several of their offspring children. Some payoffs are good by the time the film reaches the conclusion, while others are “planting the seeds” for future resolution in the planned sequel, but one can not simply deny that arena sandbox that Cameron is plotting and planning for this particular blockbuster series. Altogether, Cameron return to the world of Pandora and the next chapter in Jake Sully’s adventure therein feels like terrific sequel endeavor that, while it took a longtime to get to, is worth the wait as well as finding the director’s skills up to the task of producing another visual spectacle to the proceedings.

For its presentation, The Way of Water is a stunning and drop-dead gorgeous film to behold from the first opening scene to final closing sequences. The first film was a wonder to see and definitely achieved the blockbuster visual aspect that the narrative (and Cameron) was looking for, with the follow-up sequel delivering on that particular nuance once again with such vibrancy and lush detail. There is no doubt about it that the movie oozing with visual characters, with Cameron and his team returning to Pandora with colorful vigor to help build upon what was established in the first Avatar feature (something that I mentioned above). For its visual aspect, The Way of Water masterfully expands upon the world of Pandora and creates an exquisite duality of both familiar and unfamiliar within the picture, showcasing the expansiveness and imagination that Cameron had with his vision for Pandora. This results in a cascading effect of new locations that feel different, yet also feel like something familiar. This is clearly shown in the opening act with such background setting that feels customary for an Avatar endeavor, including lush forests, floating mountain rock formations, vine pathways, and beautiful bioluminescence flora and fauna life all around. Yet, the unfamiliar comes in the form of the story moving into the opening water of the “reef people” Na’vi, with Cameron displaying a whole color palette that is brimming with character, color, and detail that helps build upon the Avatar foundation. The intricate look, distinct feelings, and depicted visual nuances of the Metkayina clan / village helps create a “brave new world” feeling for both the movie and the story to uncover on Pandora and all is drawing out and brought to life in such an amazing way. Thus, it comes at no surprise that the movie’s “behind the scenes” key players, including Dylan Cole and Ben Procter (production design), Vanessa Cole (set decorations), Bob Buck Deborah L. Scott (costume designs), and the entire art direction team, for their efforts in making this sequel’s background setting have a very visual appealing in almost every scene from both natural-looking depictions, tribal cultural dwellings, and sci-fi aesthetics that encompass the world of Pandora and in The Way of Water.

This, of course, brings me around to talking about the visual effects for the movie and I cannot understate how beautiful and intricately detailed. The CGI effect shots were the big milestone hit of the first film and are in full force in The Way of Water, with the feature being a dazzling spectacle from onset to conclusion. The grace and majesty of what made the first Avatar movie shine and memorable is brought back with such breath-taking moments, with the sequel showcasing such incredible cinematics in the way of CGI effects to help present some of the more fantastically elements. Of course, the Na’vi looks quite interesting (the ones introduced in the first picture), but I did really love the Metkayina Na’vi look and how they have different physical characteristic (i.e., bigger eyes, different color eye pupils, webbed / clubbed arms and legs, etc.). This also applies to the various aquatic creatures depicted in this particular portion of the movie, especially the flying fish-esque Skimwing, the massive whale-like Tulkuns, and Metkayina’s Pandoran aquatic style horse Ilu, which look stunning in every scene that they are in. Additionally, the movie’s action (as mentioned above) was really good and entertaining, with the visual effect team developing a blockbuster wizardry throughout these scenes and makes all the computer-generated shots so beautiful to look at and really brings the “fantastic” to The Way of Water.

In addition, the cinematography work by Russell Carpenter, who was work as the director of photography for Cameron’s True Lies and Titanic, is top-notch in the movie, with Carpenter creating some fantastic sequences where the film’s imagery comes alive….be it an explosive action sequence or just the camera lingering on such quieter moments of natural beauty. It’s in these scenes where Carpenter’s talents are shine immensely and letting the sweeping camera angles, dramatic shots, and lightning / shadowing effects, especially those in the underwater shots) come alive and soak up the cinematic nuances that Cameron and his team wants to display. The result is something truly wonderful to behold on-screen and captures those particular aspects in glorious cinematic representation, one that is filled with amazement and cinematic wonder.

Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Simon Franglen, is cinematically brilliant and definitely helps elevate the feature’s various scenes. Of course, there is no denying the fact that original Avatar composer (the late James Horner) delivered a breathtaking and emotional soundtrack composition that help established the world of Pandora (musically speaking) and gave the movie its own distinct voice through the power of music. Franglen honors Horner’s score as you definitely hear all the familiar riffs, tones, and themes from the first feature being played throughout the movie as well as several new tracks that musically fit into the picture’s narrative / setting. All the songs that Franglen creates (again) helps build upon the original Avatar, with an end result revealing a beautiful soundtrack of orchestral melodies, sweeping dramatics, and emotional appeal throughout. All in all, The Way of Water is a terrific soundtrack and admirable generates sound of Horner (respectfully)

While there are a lot of positives that help make the feature highly enjoyable and find its stride / rhythm in its entertainment value, there are a few areas where The Way of Water becomes a tad clunky in its storyboarding and execution process. Of course, these points of criticisms aren’t a full dealbreaker for the feature (and don’t derail the movie) yet hold the movie back from becoming more than what it could’ve been. Perhaps the big one that mostly everyone can agree with is in the overall length that the movie runs through. This aspect was definitely a big criticism in the original film and becomes so again, with the 2022 sequel clocking in at around 192 minutes (three hours and twelve minutes). Naturally, this is the big “elephant in the room”, with the elongated blockbuster sci-fi sequel churning out such a prolonged narrative that could’ve been easily trimmed down a good length and could’ve had the same result (impactfully) as a movie. Yes, of course, the long runtime of the movie does help out flesh out several new characters (mostly the Sully children) and a lot of the film’s new nuances for world building (mostly in understanding the Metkayina culture), so there are some justifiable reasons for such an extended narrative feature length. That being said, The Way of Water does indeed feel like quite an elongated endeavor that has a lot of “filler” moments where not a whole lot is happening. With such a hefty runtime for the movie, Cameron (as well as the film’s editor) could’ve easily “trimmed the fat” to The Way of Water, cutting here and there throughout the movie for a slimmer and easily compacted movie (roughly down to two and half hours) feature film.

Of course, another point of criticism that most have with this movie (as well as the first Avatar) is the actually overall story being told. While The Way of Water has a lot more complexity to offer in comparison to its predecessor, with a more layered / interwoven narrative of various characters being presented throughout the story, but, like the first Avatar, this movie faces several problematic areas within its storyboarding process and comes up a bit limp in that particular department. How so? Well, the story, while engaging, feels thin at times and doesn’t have enough time to fully explore certain aspects; a very much a paradox as The Way of Water, given its lengthy runtime, has plenty of opportunities to explore and uncover various plot (and subplot) points. Yet, this makes the endeavor have a very ambitious feeling (more so than what the original 2009 movie sought), but several areas do fumble and don’t get fully developed in the movie. Certain characters get shortchanged, several subplots aren’t fully fleshed out, and a few narrative threads are left open ended and / or unresolved by the time the film concludes. Don’t get me wrong, the story beats are clearly represented in the movie and a lot of them I do like, but the script shaping, which was penned by Cameron as well as Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Josh Friedman, and Shane Salerno, needed to be more refined in the storyboarding process. What’s presented works, yet there could’ve been so much more that the movie could’ve examined and / or uncovered, especially with its over three-hour runtime. This is even more apparent when looking how long that this movie has been development hell and could’ve been clearer and more precise in its story. This is even more apparent when examine the film’s ending conflict and how elongated that particular climax point is. Don’t get me wrong, it was a lot of fun and exciting to watch, yet it still feels like there’s a lot of excessiveness throughout this portion of the movie, and this is where the film could’ve trimmed down this portion greatly. It just keeps going and going and could’ve ended a lot sooner than intended.

This script for The Way of Water does also include some “hand wavy” ideas and expositions moments where certain things aren’t fully explained properly and kind of left me a bit perplexed. This includes Kiri’s spiritual connection to Eywa (and unexplained origins to Grace), the full reason why the “sky people” return to Pandora and their plans for establishing life on the alien plant, the importance of Tulkuns to the harvester (I mean it’s interesting, but why introduce if it isn’t that important to the main plot as much), and what is to become of Ardmore’s intentions, especially since Quartich hunt goes awry. All these particular notions are introduced in the movie, yet don’t fully materialize (or fleshed out) enough, which makes them feel a flat and underwhelming in the feature.

What definitely helps those points of criticisms is in the film’s cast, with the selected acting talent involved in The Way of Water up to the task in bringing these characters to life. Of course, some of them main players from the first Avatar feature return to reprise their respective character roles, but the new film also introduces new players in this sci-fi blockbuster world. As with the case of the original movie, the character (as written) is little bit broad, which could be a little bit detrimental to their personality and character complexity, yet this didn’t really bother me (in neither films), with the acting talent helping elevate these particular points. Leading the charge once again in the feature is actor Sam Worthington and actress Zoe Saldana, who return to reprise their Avatar character roles of Jake Sully and Neytiri. Worthington, known for his roles in Hacksaw Ridge, The Shack, and Terminator: Salvation, has certainly done a lot in his career since the last time he played Jake Sully, a paraplegic human marine that has his avatar body host permanent, and it’s a lot of fun to see him return to the character and act like he never walked away from it. From the moment he appears on-screen, Worthington embodies the qualities and personality of Jake, picking up with where he left the character, yet still gives him enough material to play around with to make his story arc in The Way of Water interesting and entertaining as well. Rather than just protecting Neytiri and their people, Jake is also given the responsibility of protecting his family, watching over them as he makes decisions that will affect their respective safety. It’s quite good that Jake is growing / evolving, with Worthington up to the task of reinforcing those ideals within his performance of Jake Sully.

Likewise, Saldana, who is known for her roles in Star Trek, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Live by Night, has also advanced her career since she last portrayal Neytiri, a proud and fierce warrior of a forest Na’vi clan and Jake’s mate, with her return to the project a welcomed sight. Saldana easily slides back into the role of Neytiri with effortless ease and imbues the character once again with sense of pride, honor, and maternal protection for her family, especially now with her children. She personally doesn’t have her own personal character subplot in the movie as much as in the first Avatar picture, but she does play a part in the film’s main narrative arc, especially in the climatic third act. Still, regardless of her character not getting much attention as the previous film, Saldana continues to make Neytiri her own and is still a compelling and extremely vehement character in The Way of Water.

While Worthington’s Jake and Saldana’s Neytiri return as the acting main protagonist characters, actor Stephen Lang comes back to reprise his antagonist Avatar role in Colonel Miles Quartich, a military leader who seeks a personal vendetta against Jake Sully and his family. Like Worthington and Saldana, Lang, who is known for his roles in Don’t Breathe, Old Man, Mortal Engines, has seeing and done a lot since his days of playing Quartich in 2009’s Avatar, but easily slides right back into the role with such charismatic vigor and villainous fun in his performance. Like many, it was kind of a shock to see the character return in The Way of Water, especially since his character met his demise at the end of the last film, but Quartich’s return in this sequel was a fun way to see Lang come back to the franchise, who certainly makes the most of the screen-time he has. While Quartich was written as a pretty straight-forward villain in the original movie, The Way of Water adds a little bit layer to the former marine commander, with his understanding of the Na’vi ways with his avatar body as well as feeling some type of conflicting feelings about his son, who he recently reconnects with. That’s not to say that Quartich isn’t evil as he still is and returns with a personal mission to make Sully’s family pay, with Lang quick to return to his malicious way and manly bravado within the character, but there’s still a new wrinkle to Quartich, which makes him more interesting than what he was in the first Avatar.

Perhaps the somewhat disappointment is the rest of the returning characters from the first Avatar movie, including actor Joel David Moore (Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story and Bones) as the human scientist Dr. Norm Spellman, actor Dileep Rao (Inception and Drag Me to Hell) as human scientist Max Patel, actor Giovanni Ribisi (Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and The Gift) as human / former corporate administrator for the RDA mining operation Parker Selfridge, and actress CCH Pounder (Shield and Sons of Anarchy) as Neytiri’s mother Mo’at. They are present in the movie, yet they are delegated to very minor supporting characters in the movie and have that much involvement in The Way of Water’s narrative.

Looking beyond the returning Avatar characters, The Way of Water also introduces plenty of new ones, especially those found in the in Jake and Neytiri’s children. Going from oldest to youngest, the character of Neteyam takes a few moments in the spotlight throughout the movie as Jake and Neytiri’s firstborn son, and who is played by actor Jamie Flatters (So Awkward and The Forgotten Battle). There are some interests (yet somewhat familiar) narrative / character beats that the character faces, especially in protecting his siblings and following instructions from his parents, so there isn’t a whole lot of unique parts to Neteyam’s growth that hasn’t already been done before, but Flatters still makes the character fun and gives him enough personality (and his own style) to make slightly different as the older firstborn child. Who makes for a more interesting character of the Sully children is found Lo’ak, Jake and Neytiri’s second son, and who is played by actor Britain Dalton (Goliath and Thumper). How so? Well, Lo’ak gets more to do in The Way of Water than any other of the Sully children, with the characters getting his own personal story arc in the feature, especially in the middle act and has more growth than any of his sibling, which automatically makes him far more interesting. Plus, I felt like Dalton gives a lot of personality to Lo’ak, which makes his personal character journey in the film, far superior to any other of the Sully children.

Another more interesting child of Sully children is in the character of Kiri, Jake and Neytiri’s adopted Na’vi teenage daughter who share a mysterious origin connection to the late Dr. Grace Augustine, and who is played by actress Sigourney Weaver (who played Grace in the first Avatar film). As to be expected, there is a lot secretive and mystery surrounding Kiri, who acts as the typical moody teenager, but shares a special connection with Eywa of which she can’t explain, with Weaver delivering a solid performance in the role. Yet, it’s still a bit of that “uncanny valley” feeling of hearing Weaver’s voice (and playing the character) of a teenager. It’s a bit jarring at times. Perhaps the downside to her character is that there is plenty of mystery surrounding Kiri, with the film’s conclusion not resolving much of backstory. Clearly, she has a pivotal purpose in the future Avatar sequels, which I can wait to see, but The Way of Water merely showcases her spiritual connection with Pandora’s motherly host without going into further detail. Thus, it’s a give and take for me. Still, for better or worse, I think the character of Kiri is quite an interesting new character, with Weaver’s performance giving a familiarity to her. Lastly, of the Sully children, Tuktirey (aka “Tuk”) is the least impactful character in the movie. Sure, actor Trinity Jo-Li Bliss (Best Foot Forward and The Gracias) does a good job in bring the character to life, but there isn’t much for Tuk, Jake and Neytiri’s eight-year-old daughter, in The Way of Water other than being a plot device for several scenes of being in danger. Hopefully, more time is given to the character in the future planned installments.

Another interesting characters that The Way of Water introduces is found in Miles “Spider” Socorro, a human teenager who was rescued and adopted by Jake and Neytiri, and who is played by actor Jack Champion (The Night Sitter and Message in a Bottle). Spider was definitely an interesting character that will (most likely) be further developed in the future Avatar sequels, yet some of the plot points in the movie felt a bit clunky and could’ve been better handled. Still, Champion makes for a compelling character in the role and it’s clear that he has more to do in the future planning of the franchise, which I am quite interested to see play out.

Beyond the Sully children, the movie also explores several new Na’vi characters, with those who hail from the Metkayina “reef people” clan, who are also quite interesting to behold (visually speaking, as mentioned above) as well as giving new dynamic in their respective parts to play The Way of Water’s story. First there is the clan leader of the Metkayina people, which is found in the characters of Tonowari and his wife, Ronal, who are played by actor Cliff Curtis (Doctor Sleep and Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw. While not as heavily showcased as I was hoping for (one of the downside of these two characters), both Curtis and Winslet are up to the task to make these particular new characters feel genuine and are integrated into the main storyline of the feature. Curtis evokes a sense of strength and proudness in his portrayal of Tonowari, who deeply cares for his people, yet is still willing to give sanctuary to the Sully family, while Winslet offers up a more guarded and ambiguous representation of that situation with her performance in Ronal. Both are good addition to the growing Avatar roster and it was fun to see them in the movie. Just kind of wished that they had more scenes. Like….I would’ve love to see a scene with Saldana’s Neytiri and Winslet’s Ronal, with the pair exchanging words (both good and bad ones), with both fierce warriors who are looking to protect their families.

Behind them, actress Bailey Bass (The Jenkins Family Christmas and Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire) and Filip Geljo (The Waiting Room and Odd Squad) do a good job in playing Tsireya (“Reya”) and Aonung, the teenage Na’vi children of Tonowari and Ronal. Both characters make for strong introduction during the middle portion of the movie, with Reya acting as a little bit of love interest to Lo’ak, while Aonung acting as arrogant opposition youth to Lo’ak training into their culture. In addition, both Bass and Geljo makes good performances in their respective characters and give them plenty of personalities to make Reya and Aonung memorable throughout. Can’t wait to see these character to be further developed in the planned sequels.

Of the new human cast, actors Brendan Cowell (Game of Thrones and Love My Way) and Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords and Moana) make for some fun and interesting characters as the ahead of a private sector marine hunting on the planet of Pandora Captain Mick Scoresby and marine biologist Dr. Ian Garvin. Both of these characters are part of the new angle of the marine life and how the “sky people” (of another private sector…I assume or maybe a part of section of the RDA) are whale hunting these aquatic giants, with both Cowell and Clement make usage of their respective charismatic performance in their characters. Sadly, of the new human characters, actress Eddie Falco (The Sopranos and Nurse Jackie) gets the least amount of screen-time in The Way of Water in her portrayal of the character of General Frances Ardmore, the new military commander in charge of RDA’s interest while on Pandora. Falco is perfectly fine in the character, but her character is barely in the movie (only having about three scenes). Hopefully, there is a plan for her in the third Avatar movie (more of a focus on her as a central antagonist) because General Ardmore part in this particular film is quite disappointing.

FINAL THOUGHTS


The way of water has no beginning and no end. Our hearts beat in the womb of the world. Water connects all things, life to death, darkness to light. The sea gives and the sea takes” an echoing saying that ripples across the lives of the Sully family, who find safety in a Metkayina clan village, learn to the ways of the “reef people”, and soon prepare to defend themselves from the enemies pursuing them in the movie Avatar: The Way of Water. Director James Cameron latest film takes what he established in his 2009 blockbuster feature and helps elevate the narrative (and its characters) for another rousing, big-budgeted endeavor of visual storytelling that helps transcends the movie experience that’s both captivating and energizing the movie. While the narrative is a little bit limp in a few areas and the lengthy runtime could’ve been easily trimmed down, the movie itself was definitely worth the wait and display and great blockbuster sequel, with especial thanks to Cameron’s vision / direction, amazing world building, fantastic visuals, a solid presentation, and good cast to help propel the story forward in an engaging way. Personally, I really liked this movie. The journey of getting to this movie was quite long and arduous, but the end result of finally seeing the movie was worth the wait. Yes, there were a few problems that I had with it (just like the original film), but I overall enjoyed this blockbuster sequel. The further world building of Pandora was great, the visual effects were impressive, the music was amazing, and the cast was solid across the board (even though broad at times). There are a few things that I like about this one more so than the original one and vice versa, so it’s kind of hard to determine which one is the better. Perhaps the first Avatar is slightly better, but The Way of Water is comes off as a worthy successor that doesn’t disappoint. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is a “highly recommended” one, especially if you were a fan of the first one as well as looking for some blockbuster movie escapism. This sequel was definitely everything I was expecting and more, which makes the overall enjoyment of the feature highly effective. The movie concludes with more left to tell in its narrative of Jake Sully and his family, with Avatar 3 (tentatively titled Avatar: The Seed Bearer), which is scheduled to be released on December 20th, 2024. Cameron has explained that the success of The Way of Water will determine if the planned Avatar 4 and Avatar 5 will be greenlit or if the franchise will conclude with Avatar 3. Only time will tell. For now, Avatar: The Way of Water succeeds in what it sets out to do by presenting a new adventure with a dazzling and visual spectacle tale that delivers on impressive cinematics, terrific action, and a wonderful experience of returning to the lively and luminescent world of Pandora.

4.4 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)

 

Released On: December 16th, 2022
Reviewed On: December 21st, 2022

Avatar: The Way of Water  is 192 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence and intense action, partial nudity and some strong language

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