Avatar: Way of the Water Review


Tristan Medd, Staff Writer

Avatar: Way of the Water Review

Avatar 2: Way of the Water is the long-awaited sequel to Avatar, James Cameron’s passion project and the highest-grossing movie of the past decade. The first film imitated Kevin Costner’s Dances with Wolves from 1990 using anthropo-morphic alien cats known as Navi, instead of Native Americans. In the movie, Jake Sully, the main character, goes to a distant planet, Pandora, as part of a violent military unit thirsty for its ripe resources. He discovers, through the use of an alien Avatar, that the suppressed natives have a beautiful culture deeply rooted in the preservation of the natural environment. As his bond deepens with these aliens, Jake realizes that they have to be saved, and joins their side in the fight against human oppression.

Avatar 2 attempts to escape the reused plotline that bound its predecessor, creating its own story that expands on the first movie’s world and the characters. Jake has now fully transformed into his alien avatar, as his human body died at the end of the Avatar. Now one of the Navi – the official name for the cat-people -, he must protect his partner and children from the humans who are returning to Pandora, starving for unearthly materials and bend on the destruction of the natives. Jake decides that he must move away from the Navi tribe with whom he lives, determining that to remain would be to put both them and his family at risk as he has been leading the Navi resistance, and is targeted by the human militia). Thus, the Sully family travels away from the Pandorian forests and out to the sea, where they spend the rest of the movie adapting to a new culture and way of life. They bond with the ocean race of Navi and prepare for a human onslaught.

Two major criticisms that most people had with the first movie were the dialogue and the story. People claimed the clunkiness of both burdened the most impressive visual showcase of the 2000’s. The CGI in Avatar forever changed the public notion of what could be created with a computer. The narrative did not captivate in the same way. As previously stated, these types of fish-out-of-water stories were trodden grounds by then, and to be unique, one needed to grab the audience with interesting characters and unique situations, and Avatar did at most a sufficient job at both. CGI saves this movie from being unmemorable and clunky. This being the case, people expected two things from the sequel: a decade-defining display of special effects and a narrative that improved upon the pitfalls of its predecessor. Does Avatar 2 meet these expectations?

For the first count, yes. The visual effects in this movie are jaw-dropping. I was skeptical upon entrance to this film because I couldn’t imagine, in an age where special effects are consistently almost one-to-one with reality, that we could achieve a higher standard with CGI. I exited the theater understanding I had been proven wrong. James Cameron builds an entire world out of computer-generated imagery, to the point where Avatar 2 could almost be considered an animated movie, yet I never once recognized it. I found myself having to remind myself that the cat-creatures I was watching on screen weren’t real; that I couldn’t dive into Pandora’s crystal clear oceans; that the beautiful flora and fauna the Navi mingle amidst didn’t exist. I’ve never seen underwater effects pulled off to this degree, and this movie, as with the first one, reminded me of the power of computers, and the miracles we can create with them. The CGI isn’t all that’s impressive either. The way computer-generated imagery is mixed with practical effects and live sets in Avatar 2 is a testament to Cameron’s skill as a director and the attention to detail his stage crews achieve. Every shot in this movie is precise and planned, and yet still manages to be artistic, not allowing itself to be standard and trite like so many science fiction movies these days. Even when a shot is entirely computer-generated, attention is paid to expressing emotion and heightening immersion through the movement of the camera. 

The action is impressive. When an action occurs in Avatar 2, it lasts for a long time, which I thought might lead these parts to stale and repetitive. They weren’t. The action is choreographed amazingly and animated even better, with each individual shot of CGI chaos seeming original and gripping. Because of this originality, Avatar 2 towers above other modern action movies, showing younger audiences what a true blockbuster adventure movie should look like.

On the second count, however, I think there is more debate. 

What I will say, is this: Avatar 2: Way of the Water is far better and more engaging in its story and dialogue than Avatar. Does this mean that the franchise has learned from its mistakes? Yes and no. While Avatar 2 does move in its own direction when it comes to its plot, it still focuses heavily on unoriginal concepts. At its essence, it is still a fish-out-of-water story that relies on a lot of overused cliches, made interesting only because its cool visual worldbuilding ties scenes together and makes a run-of-the-mill story about cultural integration fascinating.

For this reason, it can be argued that Avatar 2 does not improve upon Avatar

Where it does improve, however, is with its characters. Avatar: The Way of Water’s characters had me drawn in from the onset to the offset of its three-hour runtime, and I have to say, I was impressed with some of the decisions made here. The writers made the right decision in taking the focus off of Jake Sully and putting it on his children. Through the lens of a child, the character development is fresher, fuller, and more interesting and Pandora’s sunny coasts can be portrayed more innocently. This shift allows the story to move above simply serviceable, delivering interesting characters with arcs that are, while not unique, certainly engaging. When the time comes for the emotional payoff at the end of the movie I felt it, because I found myself caring for the Sully family. That is all I could have asked for when it comes to the story for Avatar 2, and the fact that they rise above the bar of mediocrity is something to be celebrated. 

This movie is a definite improvement in dialogue as well. The writing can still be clunky at times, but is, in general, far better. I found myself getting distracted far less by forced comments and exposition here than in the first movie. 

It is more than worth it to watch Avatar: The Way of Water. The visuals and action alone make this a stunning cinematic achievement. This CGI prowess and a solid story make Avatar 2 an experience that will have you captivated and interested for the full three hours, something that cannot be said for many modern action “blockbusters”.