Avatar: The Way of Water (2022)
Avatar: The Way of Water (2022)

Genre: Sci-Fi Adventure Running Time: 3 hrs. 12 min.

Release Date: December 16th, 2022 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: James Cameron Actors: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Kate Winslet, Cliff Curtis, Jemaine Clement, Jack Champion

 


 

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he Na’vi of Pandora fought fiercely against the “sky people” from Earth, and upon defeating them in battle, forced them to return home. Years have passed and Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and his beloved wife Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) find happiness amongst the forest-dwelling Omaticaya, raising three of their own children, Neteyam (Jamie Flatters), Lo’ak (Britain Dalton), and Tuk (Trinity Jo-Li Bliss), as well as adopting Kiri (Sigourney Weaver), the child of a dear friend, and “Spider” Socorro (Jack Champion), one from a former nemesis. But the Sully Family’s peace is momentary as the humans eventually return, once again devastating the wildlife of Pandora in search of new resources. When a vicious enemy from Jake’s past also makes a reappearance, renewing his quest to eradicate the Sully clan, Jake and Neytiri take their children and flee to the far off islands of the water-adept Metkayina people, where they hope to protect their family and avoid further conflict.

There’s not much of a recap, but the production is probably under the impression that spending the time to brush up on past events isn’t necessary; the original was, after all, one of the highest grossing films of all time, seen by a considerable amount of audiences – including nonstandard moviegoers, thanks to wide-reaching marketing campaigns. But once the premise gets going, it’s obvious that imagery won’t be entirely fresh; plenty of recycled settings and characters and wildlife return, though a wealth of new family members are introduced, glossing over just how connected they all are to personas that really shouldn’t have offspring running around in Pandora. Jake’s narration is once again present, while a useful language gimmick removes much of the need for subtitles.

“Happiness is simple,” explains Jake, yet conflict quickly arises in the most expected of ways. Rather than crafting new predicaments for the Sully horde, the “sky people” come back to continue doing exactly what they were doing before, even if the specific natural resource has shifted to make use of the new underwater locations. With this revisitation to a recognizable invasion, opportunities abound for CG augmentation and additives; so much of it is computer-animated that the film could arguably be up for awards in animation categories. Curiously, it’s the brief bits of live action that are seamlessly integrated into the digital realms. Fortunately, the environmental visuals still look stunning – from action sequences with military machinery to explosion-filled combat and stunts to routine activities in the Na’vi villages to underwater monstrosities breaching surfaces (some of these shots look so realistic that surely the effects team mo-capped a whale). The world-building is phenomenal, especially from a technical standpoint; if nothing else, “Avatar: The Way of Water” is worth seeing for the cutting-edge effects.

And yet, though the graphics are still astounding, it’s difficult this time around not to realize the repetition; here, the story is far more important, since the sheer spectacle of Pandora and its inhabitants and hostilities no longer pose the luxury of never-before-seen wonderment. Once photorealism is achieved, there isn’t anywhere else to progress to; completely tricking the human eye is the apex of computer animation. The plot remains virtually the same as before, which will undoubtedly stretch viewers’ patiences over the course of a more than three-hour runtime. And writer/director James Cameron still doesn’t seem concerned with rehashing past material from his filmography; whereas the 2009 film borrowed heavily from “Aliens,” this follow-up takes inspiration from “The Abyss” (and “Titanic”), particularly as Cameron’s affinity for the deep grows evident in the extensive submerged locales and creatures (and photography and gadgetry and submersibles). To its credit, the water effects are absolutely fantastic, not only convincing in their simulated realism, but also with the creativity – the abundance of new, aquatic flora and fauna is a constant delight.

Unfortunately, the primary villain’s return poses perpetual storytelling problems, not only in the potential for reappearances akin to “The 6th Day” or “Moon,” but also in his terribly cliched tough-guy dialogue. Thanks to this tiresome villain, a good portion of the adventure feels like watching a video game, with the recurring antagonist popping up every so often for a boss fight. And now that Jake has a bundle of children, they’re stuck in a frustratingly stupid cycle of getting captured, then rescued, then captured, then rescued, with self-aware lines like, “I can’t believe I’m tied up again!” and “Do not test me!” after the umpteenth sequence in which the enemy fails to simply execute one of his hostages. These situations are also exhaustingly coincidental; this specific gang of youngsters can’t stay out of trouble, repeating their insubordination much like Sully unconvincingly did in the previous film, since his military training wouldn’t have tolerated such blatant disregard for procedure and decorum.

Although a few moments of humor are an improvement, too much time is spent learning the ways of water, with Sully’s children undergoing fairly commonplace coming-of-age trials and tribulations – from bullying and related pranks to fitting in with a new crowd (as if attending a different school) to first loves to sternly misunderstanding parents. And, once again, the last hour of the picture is essentially just an epic battle – as action-packed and good-looking as it may be. The visuals are still thoroughly engaging, even if they’re not of a noticeable advancement that could wholly surpass the original (the 3D version is comparably unable to top anything from before; within the first few minutes, after a spear or two is thrust toward the screen, audiences won’t remember that they’re wearing the heavy, specialized glasses for any particular reason); it’s admittedly exciting when elaborate showdowns are prepared and when colossal sea creatures join in on the revenge schemes. For the most part, it’s a fitting companion piece, even if it’s largely unnecessary; by the end of it all, there isn’t even much of a resolution – perhaps setting the stage for the inevitable onslaught of additional sequels.

– The Massie Twins

  • 6/10