By Samuel M Acosta
This review may contain spoilers for “Avatar: The Way of Water”
After thirteen years of waiting, the sequel to James Cameron’s blockbuster “Avatar” has finally been released. After rewatching the original film in IMAX and being blown away by its beauty and world, I rushed to the theaters on opening day to see what the newest installment has to offer. What I discovered is a film that is almost more engaging than the original, and somehow presents an even more awe-inspiring world as well as a strong story about family.
“Avatar: The Way of Water” continues to follow Jake Sully and his wife Ney’tiri, played by Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana respectively, as they raise their family on Pandora after kicking most of humanity off the planet. Yet after several years, the humans have returned to hunt down the native race who forced them to leave, including their leader Jake. This time, however, they are equipped with Avatars of their own, led by the Avatar of the first film’s villain, Colonel Quaritch, played by Stephen Lang. Unable to take care of both his family and his people, Jake takes his family and flees their home to seek refuge with the water tribes far away. The threat does not rest, as they hunt Jake across the sea, and eventually, war finds its way to the water tribes. Once again, the Na’vi must defend their homes against human invaders.
First and foremost, this film is meant to be seen in IMAX. If you are judging your opinion based on a viewing of a standard 2D or even 3D version of the film, you are judging it on just a few elements of the larger piece. James Cameron masterfully uses the IMAX filming power to create a world that is not only breathtaking but seemingly alive. Things don’t pop out at you, but they do feel like they have depth, as if you are in the process of walking straight through the screen into Pandora. So an IMAX viewing is essential to understanding what makes this film so incredible.
I will also go ahead and address this film’s only significant flaw, its runtime. Clocking in at three hours and twelve minutes, “Avatar: The Way of Water” is an experience. For those not prepared beforehand for that length of a movie, it can run the risk of feeling tedious. Yet, as I think about all the aspects of the film, I also can’t think of anything that could be cut out without detracting from the overarching story. So if you are going to watch this film, you have to give it the “Lord of the Rings” treatment. It’s going to be long, but it’s going to be good.
While this sequel installment of the franchise continues to build and improve on what made the original so good, it also brings in a lot of new story elements. One of the ones that fascinate me the most is watching Jake struggle as a father. He now has two sons, an adopted older daughter and a younger daughter, all of whom he loves dearly. Yet his marine ways make him strict and militant, sometimes running his family like a squad. This causes conflict and tension within the family, particularly with his two sons, Neteyam and Lo’ak. Being the oldest, Neteyam struggles with trying to make his father proud while also looking out for his younger brother, Lo’ak, who feels unseen and unappreciated by his father.
I think that this added family element, especially watching the perspectives of both Jake and his children, is quite marvelous. It adds a great deal of humanity to the film, making the otherworldly setting feel more tangible. It feels so easy to relate to the characters in this way. The desire to care for one’s family but not knowing the right way to do so, the desire to be seen and heard and the desire to have someone you love feel proud of you resonates deeply. It is a wonderful addition that isn’t as present in the first film.
That humanity even ends up spreading to the villain of the story, making him a father and also wrestling with what he is feeling and what he is supposed to do. While the Colonel is in no way redeemed in this film, he loses the black-and-white evil persona that he donned in the original.
With this sequel performing extremely well at the box office, it is expected that James Cameron’s saga will continue very soon. Before we know it, we will find ourselves on Pandora again, and if this film is any indication, it will be a sight to behold.
I give “Avatar: The Way of Water” a 9/10
“Avatar: The Way of Water” is now playing in a theater near you
Samuel M Acosta is a Senior Theatre Comprehensive Major and an Arts and Entertainment writer for Cedars. He likes spending his time watching movies, drinking Dr. Pepper and writing plays.
Images courtesy of 20th Century Studios.