Avatar: The Way of Water (2022)—Review

There are several key moments in my life that cemented my love for movies: my aunt and uncle taking me to see Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001), wearing out a VHS of The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine (1968) movie, watching Kill Bill (2003) on television for the first time, and the list goes on. Another massive influence was the first time I experienced James Cameron’s world of Pandora when I saw Avatar (2009) in 3D. While its nowhere near the top of my list of all time favorites, the sheer sense of awe and wonder the 2009 film delivered has stuck with me all these years. Unfortunately, the thirteen year wait for this sequel has led to many of the movie going audience to forget how great the first film was in theaters as it was over-saturated on television, but the wait was worth it. Never doubt James Cameron. With the best visuals I have ever seen on screen, Avatar: The Way of Water (2022) is a familial epic diving deeper into Pandora, creating yet another cultural event, a pure cinematic spectacle.

Sam Worthington, Kate Winslet, and Cliff Curtis in Avatar: The Way of Water (2022). Via 20th Century Studios

Avatar: The Way of Water (2022) begins with the formation of Jake Sully (played by Sam Worthington) and Neytiri’s (played by Zoe Saldana) family. Since we last spent time with these characters, they now have four children: their eldest son Neteyam (played by Jamie Flatters), their middle son Lo’ak (played by Britain Dalton), their youngest daughter Tuk (played by Trinity Jo-Li Bliss), and their adopted daughter—born from the deceased avatar of Dr. Grace Augustine—Kiri (both played by Sigourney Weaver). After the “sky people”, humans, return to Pandora to retaliate against Sully and the Na’vi and colonize it, Sully and Neytiri take their children into hiding in order to protect the forest people. They find shelter among the Metkayina reef clan, led by its chief Tonowari (played by Cliff Curtis) and his wife Ronal (played by Kate Winslet). In order to adjust to this change, the Sully family must learn the way of water to pull their own weight for the clan.

The obvious accolades for this film stem from its innovative visual effects from James Cameron and Wētā FX. Cameron has been doing Hollywood’s R&D for years, and over the thirteen years it took to get this film on the screen, he pioneered brand new technology in underwater motion capturing. The results are absolutely stunning: every scene taking place in, on, and underwater looks unbelievably real and every shot, honestly, puts every other visual effects shot ever put to screen to shame. While the water scenes are going to be the main spectacle that everyone will be talking about, the rest of the film is on equal ground. The environments and creatures from the first film are even more gorgeous and impressive than they were in the first, and the new creature and Na’vi designs and environments feel natural to the world of Pandora and are, arguably, even more inventive and wonderful. The designs and world are not the only technological upgrades that this film delivers: just like the first film, The Way of Water brings new innovation to IMAX and 3D. If you have an IMAX or Dolby screen with 3D near you, that is the intended way to see this film. There are moments with weather and particles in this film where the 3D was so immersive, I felt like I needed to wipe water off my face or brush away dust. Also, a huge technological achievement in this film that I’m shocked no one is talking about is how well the human characters are composited into the entirely CGI environments—out of all the feats of visual prowess in this movie, this may be the most surreal.

Britain Dalton in Avatar: The Way of Water (2022). Via 20th Century Studios

Another aspect of the technical specs for this film that may throw some people off is its use of high frame rate. The standard frame rate for films is 24 frames per second, so whenever we watch something that exceeds that, it is very jarring as we are not accustomed to it. Avatar: The Way of Water utilizes 48 fps at multiple points in the film, and I know for a fact that it did not sit well with some people in my audience. I found that with my first viewing of movie the HFR was really distracting/disorienting for the initial hour of the film, but as my mind began to adjust, it became less and less distracting and more of a strength for the film. It becoming a strength of the film was even more apparent when I went to watch it a second time—the HFR in the first act of the film that initially did not sit well actually enhanced the scenes for me the second time around. So, while showings that have HFR may worry you, I would recommend trying it out regardless, and if you grow used to it by the end, try watching the film a second time.

As with all James Cameron films, the cast is absolutely spectacular. The returning cast of Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, and Stephen Lang all fall back into this world and bring even better performances this time around. The new cast is also all wonderful, and I personally cannot wait to see more of Trinity Jo-Li Bliss’ Tuk and Jack Champion’s Spider in future installments. The additions of Kate Winslet and Cliff Curtis were also phenomenal and they both command your attention every time their Na’vi appear on screen. The real star of this film, however, is Britain Dalton as Lo’ak. Dalton’s performance and his character drive the story and emotional heartbeat in this installment, and he was by far and way my favorite character upon leaving the theater.

Sigourney Weaver in Avatar: The Way of Water (2022). Via 20th Century Studios

While I fell in love with all of the characters, I can see why some people are walking away from this film less enthusiastic with them. This movie does not have one main character—this movie is truly a familial epic as each character has significant story arcs in this film. This is what leads to the film’s incredibly long runtime. With its plotting going between multiple characters, many of the main characters that we fell in love with in the first film feel like they are taking a back seat. This is where most people’s criticism comes in: the many character arcs and long runtime really show how simple the overarching story is in this film. Critics calling this film a “Best of James Cameron album” are really not wrong. This movie borrows a lot from Titanic (1997), The Terminator (1984), and The Abyss (1989) in terms of set pieces and it does borrow many plot ideas that we have seen before. Does the simple plot ruin the entire movie though? While it would appear that several critics think so, I would whole heartedly disagree. This film has a lot of high sci-fi concepts within it, and it is clearly meant as an “act two” in a trilogy. I believe that a more complex plot would actually weigh down the film too much.

With the most beautiful visuals I have ever seen in a motion picture and an incredible cast of characters, I think Avatar: The Way of Water is a must watch cultural event. Is the plot the most complex or original we’ve ever seen? Definitely not. However, I believe that as long as you still have a sense of joy and wonder, you will walk away from this film awestruck and thoroughly entertained. This is the type of cinematic event that will define an entire generation of film technology and will, beyond a shadow of a doubt, create new avid movie fans and develop a deep love of movies in them. If you do not see this in theaters, in 3D, you are doing yourself a disservice. If you are a parent and do not take your children to this film in 3D, you are depriving them of a life altering, out-of-body cinematic spectacle that will instill in them a love of film. This is a film that inspires awe and demands to be seen. I have never been more convinced that the theater going experience is the superior way to watch film, and I have never been more sure of my unbridled love for the art of movie making.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

9/10

Avatar: The Way of Water (2022) is rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence and intense action, partial nudity and some strong language.

One thought on “Avatar: The Way of Water (2022)—Review

  1. Pingback: Top 10 Best Movies of 2022 – Saving Movie Night

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