Movie Review: ‘Avatar: The Way Of Water’

Review by James Lindorf

2009 saw a nearly exponential resurgence in the number of 3D films being released, and James Cameron’s “Avatar” led the way. The visual masterpiece started slowly but would earn 2.75 billion dollars and three Academy Awards from its initial release. Typically two billion dollars in profit would have the studio working on the sequel while fans were buying their second or third ticket. Unfortunately for Fox, James Cameron has always worked at his own pace. Thirteen years have passed, and it is finally time to return to Pandora, but has it been too long? The only way to know for sure is to once again put on the 3D glasses and let Disney take us from the forest to the ocean in “Avatar: The Way of Water” on December 16th.

It has been more than a decade since Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) led the Na’vi in the battle against the sky people. In that time, Jake has become the leader of the forest Na’vi, and their family has grown many times. The Sully family now includes oldest son Nettayam (Jamie Flatters), middle child Lo’ak (Britain Dalton), daughter Tuk (Trinity Jo-Li Bliss), as well as an adopted human child Spider (Jack Champion), and Grace’s (Sigourney Weaver) daughter Kiri (Sigourney Weaver). Jake’s life is perfect, but the tranquility comes to a sudden and violent end with the return of the sky people. Chased from their home, the Sullys take refuge among the water Na’vi, learning their ways and hoping to live their days in peace. Their pursuers, Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) and his crew, have been reanimated in the bodies of Avatars and will stop at nothing to complete their mission. What follows is 192 minutes of visual mastery from the forests to the skies to the ocean floor that will leave you believing not only are we not alone, but James Cameron found them.

In 2009 the visuals captivated audiences, but it was the story that detractors attacked. It was called unbelievable at best, accused of being silly using words like unobtanium, or worst of all, being derivative. While not the most original story, it was well presented and suffered most of these complaints as a side effect of being king of the box office. To prevent those accusations and build goodwill with potential moviegoers, Cameron partnered with Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver on the screenplay. Their script is based on the story conceived by the trio and Josh Friedman & Shane Salerno.

While their new story isn’t groundbreaking or shocking, it offers more depth than its predecessor by focusing heavily on the youth. Their idealism, the wonder and ease at which they can adapt to new environments, and their capacity for outrage are the heart of the film. The adults act as facilitators to their story and buffers to experiences they aren’t ready for or challenges they couldn’t believably take on. In many ways, “The Way of Water” is a coming-of-age story built into the larger saga of the colonization of Pandora. The kids are faced with leaving home for the first time, crushes, being bullied for having too many fingers or skinny tails, and even death. Lo’ak, Spider, and Kiri have the most complex journeys as they try to figure out who they are and their roles in their family and the war. Much of their stories will be expanded upon in future sequels. Still, you can see several possible paths each of them may go down that could unite or tear everything apart.

They may bring a new and improved story, but Cameron wouldn’t miss a chance to push the visuals further. The entire movie was filmed in 48 frames per second, double the normal speed. During the dramatic scenes, this new look was toned down through a new process they are calling motion grading. Unlike color grading, where the appearance of a scene is manipulated to elicit an emotional response, motion grading artificially creates the impression of 24 fps immersing the audience in the emotion of the moment. The new look can shine in full glory during the grand nature scenes and the bombastic action sequences. However, past experiences with increased frame rates have disappointed audiences with its “too real” look. But Cameron and cinematographer Russell Carpenter crafted the most beautiful film I have ever seen and handled the new frame rate perfectly, except for a couple of shots. Luckily we are talking a matter of seconds in over 3 hours of runtime.

“Avatar: The Way of Water” is an improvement in every meaningful way over its predecessor. Make sure you plan any bathroom breaks accordingly. From the horrifying moment the Tulkun hunt begins, the film enters an unrelenting final act that will keep your eyes glued to the screen and your bottom firmly in the seat. “Avatar: The Way of Water” earns a 4 out of 5 for its stunning visuals and emotional storyline.

Rating: PG-13
Genre: Sci-Fi, Adventure, Action, Fantasy
Original Language: English
Director: James Cameron
Producer: James Cameron, Jon Landau
Writer: James Cameron, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Release Date: December 16th, 2022
Runtime: 3h 12m
Distributor: 20th Century Studios

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