James Cameron’s Avatar broke box office records when it released in 2009 and became the highest grossing movie of all time. The long-awaited sequel, Avatar: the Way of Water, has finally released thirteen years later. It has some big blue shoes to fill, but it’s worth taking a look at to see if it’s equally as epic as the original or if audiences have moved on.
One of the most successful elements the original film had to offer was its incredible worldbuilding. It’s probably one of the best examples of great worldbuilding in film. The sequel expands on that more than one could imagine. It still feels like the same world we learned about thirteen years prior, but still introduces us to just as many new aspects of Pandora as before. The film delves deeper into Na’vi culture, the wildlife, and how the world works in general, and it’s all spectacular. Not only does the audience learn more about this fully fleshed-out world, but the movie completely immerses them in it.
Avatar is known to have some of the greatest visual effects of all time, even to the point where some say it’s the main reason people flock to theaters to see it. Avatar: Way of the Water not only has incredible effects, but they’re even more stunning and impressive this time around. Even the most fantastical environments and creatures look very genuinely real. Waiting to create the new form of motion capture certainly paid off because every Na’vi character truly looks lifelike. Seeing these beautiful effects on the big screen is nothing short of a captivating experience.
The drama between the characters is emotional and manages to feel grounded and relatable despite the film’s fantastical elements. Whether it be from a child trying to earn a parent’s respect or fit in with their peers, or someone being forced to leave their home, or even someone being confronted by a relative they thought they’d never see again, there’s big heart and character moments that audiences can see themselves in. These character moments, along with a handful of characters receiving their own arcs and subplots, make everything feel even more real than the effects do.
This sequel has more of a focus on the beauty of life. The original movie showed audiences that the Na’vi cherish all life on Pandora, even making sure to honor the life of the creatures they hunted for food. Avatar: The Way of Water reveals more of a reason for that. There’s more of a spotlight on the relationships between Na’vi and the other lifeforms on Pandora, and some non-Na’vi creatures feel more like characters. These bonds add more heart and emotional weight to the film. There’s a clear message regarding the beauty of life throughout the story which is quite nice to see in an action blockbuster.
That being said, the action is also remarkable. The fights between the Na’vi and the humans are absolutely exhilarating and suspenseful. New robots, weapons, creatures, and vehicles are used during the battles this time, and it all leads to a creative and high-octane thrill ride. There’s even some impressive combat on a sinking ship (a James Cameron classic move) and underwater. It all looks amazing. Like everything else, that action manages to feel real despite the fantastical elements. There are even a couple of moments some may find themselves holding their breath and sitting on the edge of their seat for.
There are also brilliant science fiction ideas explored throughout the movie. This isn’t much of a change from the first movie, but certain ideas being carried over and expanded on as well as introducing some new ones is always welcome. There are several creative and original ideas used throughout to make the audience think while enjoying the fun action.
It’s also quite nice to see a modern blockbuster take itself seriously. It never tries to force in any unnecessary humor. There are organic laughs here and there, but it’s ultimately a serious movie with a serious story, and it takes the time it needs to for its emotional moments.
At times, Avatar: The Way of Water tends to mimic the formula and premise of the original movie a little too much. With how original many other elements are, it’s fine this time around since it takes on the task of reintroducing audiences to the franchise. However, if this is an issue that continues in further sequels, it won’t be quite as forgivable.
There’s a fascinating new character named Spider whose father is someone fans will be familiar with from the first movie. However, we don’t find out who his mother is. Given how long the humans were on Pandora and when they left, she had to have been on Pandora during the events of the original film. Who she is is pretty important. She either went back to Earth and left her son behind, or she stayed and is completely absent. There could have been a quick throwaway line about who she is and what happened to her, but there isn’t. Given Spider’s relationship to Jake Sully’s family, it’s a bit of a plot hole to not have any information on his mother.
Sigourney Weaver’s character, Kiri, has incredible powers that seem to relate to the Tree of Souls. These powers could have been explored much further, but they leave the audience with questions about them. We will likely discover more about these abilities she has in the upcoming sequels, so it’s a great thing that we know they’re actually on the way.
Some major characters take a bit of a backseat halfway through the story. That being said, it allows the audience to get to know other vital characters who are a delight to spend the movie with. It’s just a little off-putting to realize you haven’t seen a protagonist of a movie for some time while the story is focusing on other characters. It mostly works for the story, but perhaps certain things could have been moved around a little to keep things feeling focused on all the main characters rather than just some of them.
Avatar: The Way of Water isn’t flawless, but it’s a truly immersive experience that reintroduces audiences to a beautiful world and features incredible action and characters that we can all relate to. The visual effects are some of the best that has ever been seen on the big screen and the heart makes the story feel grounded. Let’s hope the upcoming sequels help to fix some of the minor issues with this one. Until then, this movie provides a “must see on the big screen” experience.