As we inch nearer to Christmas, and of course, the end of 2022, I am beginning to wrap things up for another year. As far as film reviews go, pretty much all of the major (and minor) movies have come and gone, and as it stands, I’ve published 199 movie reviews throughout 2022.
But of course, I can’t just end the year with 199 movie reviews, as that would just be weird. So, for you (and YOU only), I’m offering up one final movie review ahead of the Christmas break.
The review is for a little ol’ movie you might have heard of called Avatar: The Way of Water. The film is new to UK and US cinemas from today and is the sequel to 2009’s Avatar.
Now of course, I jest about the idea of this being a film which you ‘might’ have heard of, because obviously this is a high-profile release. Avatar: The Way of Water is one of the most eagerly anticipated films of the year, and at present you can’t move for online marketing campaigns, billboard posters, bus advertisements, and various news reports about the film.
The original Avatar currently stands as the highest grossing movie of all-time, and there’s every chance this sequel will perform well too. Avatar: The Way of Water has been in development for over a decade, and this has allowed the film to build up a huge amount of hype, as well as that all-important publicity.
But whether or not the movie achieves the same financial success as its predecessor is kind of a moot point, as a third Avatar movie is already on the horizon for 2024. This is a world that is set to continue expanding beyond two movies, so if Avatar is your thing then look out for more very soon.
But I guess the most pressing question is: Regardless of what’s to come, does this new sequel live up to the years of hype? Well, I’ll get to that in a moment, but before I do, there is a little bit of housekeeping to do first. I need to tell you who stars in the movie, what it is all about, and who is calling the shots.
Directed, co-written, and co-produced by James Cameron, Avatar: The Way of Water stars Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña, Stephen Lang, Jack Champion, and Sigourney Weaver. The movie picks up in real-time, more than a decade after the events of the first film, with Jake Sully and his family finding themselves caught up in a spot of trouble.
In the movie, after surviving the battle of Pandora, Jake Sully has settled down with Neytiri, and the couple have started to raise a family. Life is going well, and Sully is at peace with his new existence as a Na’vi.
However, Sully’s idyllic way of life is threatened when a fleet of ships arrive on the planet and begin to destroy the wildlife. These ships – which belong to the same mining and security team that previously threatened the inhabitants of Pandora – bring death and devastation, which plunges the Na’vi into a year-long fight for survival.
Meanwhile, with Sully busy engaging in combat, another old enemy resurfaces. Sully’s former adversary, Colonel Miles Quaritch is back and he is out for revenge!
With the immediate future looking bleak, Sully and his family are forced to leave their jungle home in search of a safe haven. But as they soon discover, nowhere is safe from Quaritch and they will find themselves in yet another battle for freedom.
OK, so that’s what happens in the film, but is Avatar: The Way of Water worth your time and money? Well, the short answer is yes; while the slightly longer answer is yes, BUT largely if you’re already invested in this film series.
Those who love Avatar will be more than satisfied with this latest offering, and will enjoy the chance to revisit Pandora – of this, I am in no doubt. As for everyone else, there is enough visual wizardry and spectacle to cover the cost of your cinema ticket, so you will be entertained, but if the first film wasn’t really your thing, or you haven’t given it a thought since 2009, then I doubt you’ll be all that bothered about this sequel.
To be clear: Avatar: The Way of Water is fine, and it offers plenty of bang for your buck! However, it isn’t perfect, and special effects aside, it still suffers from the same problems as its predecessor.
I’ll start with the effects first, as these are easily the most impressive aspect of the film. Director James Cameron has recreated his fictional world, filled it with colourful flora and fauna, and once again he has made it pop off the screen.
There is no denying that he is a master when it comes to technological advances, and there are some scenes in this movie that look stunning. For this sequel, the action is mostly relocated to a coastal setting, and every scene that is set in the water is truly magnificent.
The cast had to conduct special diving training for this picture, and all their hard work certainly paid off. The water sequences beat anything previously seen onscreen, including all of the underwater action in Aquaman (2018) and more recently, all the aquatic scenes in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022).
To accompany the sea-based sequences in the movie, there is also plenty of jungle action, as well as some aerial combat, and the sheer scope and scale of the effects work is staggering. This film is filled with the sort of imagination and visual creativity that we’ve all come to expect from Cameron, and here he is once again meeting expectations while still pushing the envelope.
However, while Avatar: The Way of Water does boast some truly impressive imagery and this really can’t be denied, the film still struggles with one very crucial problem. Huge amounts of the movie look like scenes from a computer game and this is less than ideal.
The film also suffers with the sheer amount of screen time devoted to the Na’vi. Unlike the first film, which featured plenty of human characters, especially toward the beginning of the movie, this sequel seems to spend a bit more time with the Na’vi and this is an issue.
It is an issue, because despite all the photorealism, the Na’vi never stop looking like CGI characters, and with less humans around to ground their scenes, they all start to feel a bit cartoonish after a while. I’m sure many Avatar fans will vehemently disagree, but I feel the Na’vi work best when they are sharing the screen with humans, and because they are ever-present this time around, it all gets a bit too much.
Moving onto the story now, and in terms of the movie’s themes about environmentalism, capitalism, and the destruction of indigenous species, I don’t believe Avatar: The Way of Water has anything more to say than what was already said in the first film. Cameron might be convinced he’s delivering an important message about the destruction of an eco-system with this sequel, but this film doesn’t go to any new places.
However, despite no further expansion in this area of the story, I do feel that Avatar: The Way of Water has a better script than its predecessor. The narrative looks at family bonds, with a focus on the ties that bind us, and this gives the film some emotional heft.
The film also flows a little better than the first movie, with both the opening and closing acts of the movie working well. There are still pacing issues throughout, and the mid-section of the movie feels VERY bloated, but it isn’t quite as slow or plodding as Avatar.
Jumping over to the cast now, and for the most part everyone is fine. Stephen Lang and Sigourney Weaver return from the first movie, in slightly new roles, while newcomer Jack Champion impresses as new character, ‘Spider’.
As for the film’s main stars, Zoe Saldaña and Sam Worthington, Saldaña does what she can with some clunky dialogue, but sadly Worthington is as bland as ever. I’m sorry to all you Sam Worthington fans out there, but he’s not very charismatic, and his mumbling and uninspired line delivery is the weak link in the casting department.
As for the rest of the movie, the musical score works perfectly with the emotional beats of the film; the action is strong, with the finale proving to be engaging; and the lighting and colour palette shine. Cameron’s desire to expand the world of Pandora, with new variations on the Na’vi design is also interesting, and provides plenty of scope for sequels.
Ultimately, there are some good things, and some not-so good things in Avatar: The Way of Water, but it really is one of those movies where you simply have to be interested in this world to care. I’d say I marginally preferred this movie over Avatar, as I think the story works better and it is slightly less dull, but I can’t say there is much in it, and some of it does feel a bit self-indulgent on Cameron’s part.
But to reiterate an earlier point, if you are a huge Avatar fan then you will be happy with the film. Everyone else can take it for what it is, be impressed by the visuals, and feel safe knowing you can nip to the loo during the boring bits and not really miss anything.