James Cameron’s Avatar was nothing anyone has ever seen in theatres at the time with the use of 3D. Even though the film borrowed multiple story beats from plenty of films such as Ferngully and The Last of the Moegans, Cameron’s bet paid off and Avatar was a success earning $3 billion(with a couple of re-releases) and several Academy Award nominations. The downside is that the film was not held in universally high esteem among the public and the 13-year wait for a sequel increased skepticism.
Now with Avatar: The Way of Water, Cameron has changed the game yet again. On a technical and visual level, Avatar: The Way of Water is nothing short of jaw-dropping. It’s rare that films actively demand to be seen on the biggest screen possible in a specific format to yield the highest levels of enjoyment, but watching the long-awaited return to Pandora in HFR IMAX 3D is perhaps the single most immersive theatrical experience there’s ever been, and that’s not even being even gently hyperbolic.
The production design, world-building, motion capture, action sequences, choreography, visual effects, and sense of awe-inspiring scope, scale, and spectacle are utterly off the charts in terms of ambition, conception, and execution. Although when trying to do game-changing visual wizardry onto a compelling story that can sustain 192 minutes proves to be several steps too far. While an attempt is made to broaden Avatar: The Way of Water‘s storytelling horizons, it doesn’t quite come off the way you imagine the five credited writers wanted it to, which is a major disappointment given Cameron’s career-long desire to keep raising the bar on every level.
The story for the sequel is ripped straight from the first Avatar, with minor cosmetic changes slapping on a fresh coat of paint that quickly turns stagnant. Once more, Sam Worthington’s Jake and Zoe Saldaña’s Neytiri are forced to battle back against the invading forces of the Resources Development Association, except this time they’ve got a family.
The family unit is rounded out by Britain Dalton’s Lo’ak, Jamie Flatters’ Neteyam, Trinity Jo-Li Bliss’ Tuk, and Jack Champion’s very human Spider, who really should have been called Plot Device based on how his contributions to Avatar: The Way of Water continually play out in a forced and inorganic fashion that coincidentally and rather clunkily threads several major plot points together from beginning to end.
Forced on the run after being targeted by the RDA, the Sullys seek refuge with Cliff Curtis’ Tonowari, Kate Winslet’s Ronal, and their brood – who are the leading clan of the seafaring Metkayina. Again, we can’t stress enough how mesmerizing it is to witness unfold on a gigantic screen, but it’s not a coincidence that things slow to an almost tedious crawl around the midway point.
Cameron admitted he’s ready to draw a line under the franchise if the threequel under-performs, but it’s not as if he hasn’t written off before. Avatar: The Way of Water doesn’t quite deliver the best of both worlds, however, it’s nigh-on impossible not to get swept up in the director’s bespoke form of cinematic excess.