With an estimated budget of more than 350 million dollars, Avatar: The Way of Water, the sequel to James Cameron’s 2009 box office smash hit Avatar, is a mere 700 million dollars away from claiming the title of the highest-grossing film in history. But monetary success does not guarantee a compelling story. Its predecessor was heavily criticized for its overall simplicity, and The Way of Water differs only slightly in all aspects other than visuals and soundtrack. However, does that mean you shouldn’t watch it? Read on to find out.
The plot of the first Avatar movie was simple in the sense that it did not develop any storylines or challenge the audience to think beyond the main plotline. The Way of Water shares this structure by giving world-building priority over the plot, leading to some parts being considered boring. James Cameron pays homage to early silent films by using a form of dialogue-less action to tell his story with The Way of Water. By limiting the amount of dialogue throughout the film, Cameron asks the audience to be consumed by the experience of exploring the world alongside the Sully family. Cameron uses performance capture continually throughout the film, scanning an actor’s movements into a computer and superimposing the data onto a CGI character. He utilizes it to bring every character in this film into the body of a nine-foot-tall Na’vi.
Longtime fans of the franchise may be disappointed that the role of the characters from the previous film are diminished in favor of ushering in the new generation: Jake and Neytiri’s children. Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) returns as the protagonist but takes a back seat as the film is centered around his children. Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) is also barely in the movie, which is disappointing due to the immense run time (3h 12m). As in the first movie, the god Eywa is placed center stage as a foil for the characters to learn about her presence as the spiritual lifeblood of Pandora. Colonel Quartich (Stephan Lang) reprises his role as the series’ villain, although this time in an avatar body, which provides an interesting view into his psyche since he is a man who despises the Na’vi.
The theme of The Way of Water centers around family and the struggles that assault the family structure. In many ways, I believe The Way of Water did not quite reach the level of profundity that Avatar did. While the dynamic between the Na’vi people and their god, Eywa, is still present and more in-depth than in the previous installment, it is less prevalent and used more as background filler than in the first Avatar.
The emersion in the world of this film is challenged only by Denis Villenueve’s Dune (2021). The performance capture is on a level of intricacy that puts Marvel productions to shame and makes Thanos look like a sock puppet. In a sense, The Way of Water is the purest form of escapism. It transports us to a completely alien world and gives us a glimpse into this world through the eyes of Jake Sully and his children. The world of Pandora looks and sounds alive because of the remarkable visual effects, and in some ways, it makes Earth look boring.
Now to the question on everyone’s mind, why should I spend three plus hours watching a bunch of blue people swim in blue water? This film asks an audience conditioned by flashy, mass-produced superhero films to slow down and enjoy the view. I advise anyone interested in this movie to go and see it in theaters. The spectacle is the driving force of this film. Once the opening credits play, silence your phone, accept your fate, and just enjoy living in a world unlike our own. Overall, I give Avatar: The Way of Water an 8/10. There are some interesting directing choices that, at first, I thought would ruin the film entirely, but they surprisingly worked and made the film a solid Friday night excursion.