Avatar: The Way of Water is an incredible experience

Avatar: The Way of Water is an incredible experience

It is a simple fact of life that if you are the type to see movies in the theater, you are already planning on seeing Avatar: The Way of Water. It is extremely likely that you already have tickets, a ride, and a plan as to when you’ll be using the bathroom during its three hour-plus runtime. Chances are you’ve decided to wear contacts that day to make room on your face for 3D glasses, and if you’re like me, you’ve got a group of friends joining you for the film as well as some post-film drinks and discussion. You may even have tickets to a second showing in a slightly lesser premium format because $25 for IMAX 3D HFR is a lot of money to spend twice.

But lemme tell ya, whatever you have to pay to see this one in the biggest, most immersive format you can manage, it’s worth it. Even if you don’t like the movie, you will be blown away by the experience.

Even as a fan of the first film, there are few criticisms of the story that I can dismiss outright. It’s a rather basic script overall, heavily overshadowed by the technical wizardry on display. I believe this was a calculated move by Jimmy James Camera(on), who knew that the wowza factor of the visuals would make a more convoluted and dense story frustrating to follow. Even so, he managed to pack a decent amount of mythology into things, and it’s from this base set of ideas that Avatar: The Way of Water is given the opportunity to flourish. While what we see this time round is nothing short of jaw-dropping, it is no longer “new” (even if some of the technology is indeed brand-spanking new). What I mean to say is that we’ve seen something like this before (Avatar), as well as over a decade of cinema visually inspired by it, so instead of being waylaid by visuals, we get to appreciate their incredible refinement, employed to tell an unexpectedly moving story.

When we last left Pandora, the Na’vi had sent most of the Sky People back to Earth, Jake Sully had been made permanently into a cat person, and nobody watching the movie knew whether or not the Na’vi have penises and vaginas or if they just bang by connecting their hair USBs together. Where The Way of Water begins, Jake and Neytiri have a family of their own: two sons, a daughter, an adopted daughter borne of the deceased Dr. Augustine’s comatose avatar (yes), and a human boy who was born on Pandora but was too young to be put in cryostasis and sent back to Earth.

After a decade of peace, the Sky People return to Pandora begin a new resource mining mission. Jake and his clan regularly sabotage their operations, leading the Sky People to bring in their big guns, namely avatars that have the memories of every bad person from the first movie uploaded into their brains. Yes, that means Colonel Quaritch is back. Yes, that means his avatar has military tattoos. Yes, that means Jake and his family must relocate to another part of Pandora in order to hide from Quaritch’s vengeance.

Yes, they hide amongst a clan of Na’vi who operate mostly in the water.


It’s a hell of a lot of plot, but this time around it is in service of a more complete story. There are a lot of character arcs being managed, and most are given equal weight/screen time (except for Neytiri, who is shamefully sidelined for much of the film), all to mostly satisfying ends. But the central tale is one of family (not to be confused with Fambly — a different blockbuster franchise’s concern). Notions of both natural and chosen family, and how each intersects with differing cultural norms are explored. These thematic concerns give the action a weight that only half-existed in the first film, even if it does feel a bit bloated at points.

But Jimmy James Camera(on), absolute fucking mental patient that he is, manages to keep it all moving at such a pace that it isn’t until after the film that the small shortcomings even get a chance to manifest. In the moment it’s all wildly effective. I’ll put it this way: it was really hard to pick a time for a bathroom break.

The powerful combination of IMAX, 3D, high frame rate, and honest-to-god filmmaking know-how results in a non-stop series of absolutely breathtaking images and positively insane action beats that had me drooling. There were at least a hundred points where I thought to myself “how the hell did they do that?!?!”

Occasionally there are some issues with rubbery physics, perhaps enhanced by the high frame rate — your mileage may vary on that particular piece of visual flair (I’m a fan in limited amounts, which is how it’s employed here) but it’s in service of such cleanly conceived action that it’s hard to care that much. Spears flying, limbs being ripped off, space whales breaching, seabird dragonboys dipping in and out of the water, splash bang boom KASHOOOOM! It’s a game changer.

Did I mention that Sigourney Weaver’s avatar’s daughter is played by a Na’vified and de-aged Sigourney Weaver? Because Sigourney Weaver’s avatar’s daughter is played by a Na’vified and de-aged Sigourney Weaver!

Will the movie stand up on its own without the visual bells and whistles the franchise has become synonymous with? Based on my recent blu-ray viewing of the first film, I’d say so. Avatar: The Way of Water is a marked improvement in both visuals and story, but like its predecessor, the idea that it lives and dies by the projection is a matter of personal taste. But at the end of the day, Jimmy James Camera(on) simply knows how to make a movie, even if he, for some godawful reason, had Jemaine Clement try and do an American(?) accent.

He ain’t never gonna top True Lies, though.

Directed by James Cameron

Written by James Cameron, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Josh Friedman, Shane Salerno

Starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang

Rated PG-13, 192 minutes

Leave a Reply