The short version: It’s a must-see, and in a theater with the best screen and sound you can find. It IS 3 hours and 10 minutes long, with no good spots to run for the restroom, so go before the movie starts. There are no mid or post-credits scenes, so once the credits roll, you can run for it. And lastly, if you enjoy 3-D effects, it’s definitely worth it for “Avatar: The Way of Water.” But, if you are prone at all to getting motion sick from 3-D visuals, then you might want to hold off and stick with the 2-D version.
James Cameron‘s original 2009 “Avatar” was one of those films that was lightning in a bottle. From holding the worldwide box office at $2.92 billion, to launching the theatrical 3-D craze of the early 2010s. It created an immersive world and story that resonated, becoming one of those rare films in the post-VHS era people went to see numerous times, hunting down friends who hadn’t seen it to bring them along to share the experience again (not unlike Cameron’s earlier mega-hit, “Titanic“).
When films become so lauded with praise there is often a kind of bitterness about it. Sure they’re good, but are they THAT good? Are they really just a hair shy of curing cancer and unlocking world peace (as some hardcore fans would have us believe). I myself had gone into the screening of “Avatar: The Way of Water,” fully intending to hate watch it. I was tired after the years of “Dances with Smurfs” (a reference to the blue-skinned Na’vi, and the original’s storyline similarities to “Dances with Wolves“). Surely, Cameron couldn’t pull off the same stunt again.
Well, much to the dismay of my hubris, they have succeeded. The film is nothing short of a vast step forward in CGI and production integration. The story is generally solid; in a number of ways better formed than the first outing on Pandora. Picking up many years after the events in the earlier film, Jake Sully (played by Sam Worthington), and Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) have had children of their own, as well as adopting both Kiri (Sigourney Weaver), and “Spider” (Jack Champion), a human child born too late to be able to be evacuated with the rest of the retreating humans back to Earth.
Earth’s forces haven’t taken their defeat well, and have returned in force. Though this time not with the goal of resource extraction, but to pacify Pandora’s inhabitants so that it can become the new home for humanity (Earth it seems has become all but uninhabitable). When the offensive begins again, it’s with an aim to give payback to Sully for his betrayal. Not wanting the treefolk of the Na’vi to be destroyed, they flee far across the ocean to a Māori-inspired tribe of Na’vi called the Metkayina. The Sullys are begrudgingly accepted into the tribe, where they have to learn to adapt to the sea.
Eventually their hiding places are uncovered and the battle rages back up once again. As with the first film, the story and characters are really secondary to just sitting back and going on an extended journey through Pandora’s magnificent visualization and creatures. There is no lack of on-the-nose environmentalism and love for whales, but the amount of heart Cameron so clearly has for his messages makes it a point rather than a distraction. There are a few moments where you can tell there was probably edits, which make some scenes feel clipped, or don’t have the narrative cohesion that the rest of the film has (in particular a communication between Jake and Neytiri’s son Lo’ak, and a large sea creature which results in more of a laugh with it’s abruptness than the moment of sincerity which had been clearly hoped for).
But more often than not, it’s a solid action story with a family and community-bonding heart. There is plenty of options these days to see films at home rather than in a theater, but “Avatar: The Way of Water” is one that deserves a communal large-screen (and even larger sound system) experience.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10 stars.
“Avatar: The Way of Water” opens in theaters worldwide December 16th, 2022.