REVIEW: Avatar – The Way of Water (2022)

A Film Directed by James Cameron

When it was finally confirmed that James Cameron’s Avatar – The Way of Water was going to be hitting theaters after such an insane wait, I was VERY skeptical. Not only was I worried that it would always be in development hell (to suffer delays and such), but I was also honestly assuming that it was going to be some sort of a box office failure due to lofty expectations from Cameron and the studio. Being regarded as one of the better uses of CGI in film as well as certifiable status as the top grossing film of all time worldwide, one would think that there would be a LOT of goodwill for a sequel, but somehow that is not the case in today. James Cameron’s Avatar has somehow become less popular than when it was released, likely (in my opinion) due to the general audience swaying their opinions based on the perception that having an opinion counter to trendy reviewers and internet personalities makes them uncool. If you talk to most people about it, they likely brush it off as if people weren’t fanatically seeing it multiple times back then. I’ve seen people start to parrot guys like Red Letter Media (which I enjoy) or Overlord DVD (which I do not) almost verbatim versus having their own opinions on most films, so this not just an issue here. But I digress…One can’t go very far without seeing people deride the first Avatar as nothing more than a copy of Fern Gully, Pocahontas, Dances with Wolves, or any number of other films with similar thematic elements.

Whether it be the sparse information given in the initial trailers for Avatar – The Way of Water or a general lack of interest in the franchise that most people had (as stated above), it just didn’t seem like this movie was generating any real buzz, which is crazy because it has eventually gone on to make almost as much as its previous iteration. As of this moment, Avatar – The Way of Water is the number THREE highest grossing film of all time. So now the question is, with the movie being a certified hit was all of the harsh criticism and facetious disdain that people seem to have for the property warranted? Personally, I would say no As Avatar – The Way of Water is actually one of the rare cases where I might like the sequel more than the first film!

While the first Avatar was a breathtaking realization of what computer effects could do for any sort of feature film and what I would assume most would agree is perhaps the best use of 3D cinematography ever used, it was a film that somewhat unravels under multiple rewatches. I already talked about why up above but it’s one of those films that is technically amazing, but kind of weak in other ways. The film has a fairly ham-fisted ecological message, somewhat poor writing (“unobtanium” for example) and a general lack of any sort of emotion, largely due to the cast being almost entirely comprised of computer-generated characters. In the sequel an ecological message remains, albeit this time involving our exploitation of the ocean. Thankfully, the messaging is done in a more subtle way this time around. Also, by not having the film center around a strict love story between two people from different sides of a war, a lot of the cliches in the film dry up.

By having the nefarious character of Miles Quaritch (as played by Stephen Lang) return, this time resurrected as an “Avatar” (or a fake clone of the local dominant species), we get an interesting look on what It actually means to be a (I would say human but that’s not always the case here) person. There’s a lot of ideas on whether or not a clone of someone considered an evil man is predestined to do the same sort of evil misdeeds that their predecessor may have done, or if you can truly look at them as a wholly different person. These overarching themes are planted into the middle of an interesting setting of an aquatic landscape that you almost never see in any other science fiction films, save perhaps Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Because of this, the movie feels fresh and utilizes the world building from its predecessor well.

I of course ended up seeing this film in 3D like I’m assured James Cameron probably intended, and it did not disappoint in any way whatsoever. The film was not the jaw-dropping feast for your eyes that the first film was, but I believe that it is largely down to the fact that the technology was so new a decade ago that there really wasn’t anything like it that had been seen at the time. 3D is very tired and seemingly dying now, and even went through an oversaturation period to which most 3D films more or less got phased out of theater rotations as well as a home theater markets. Rather than rely on stupid gimmicks where random items will stick out of the screen at you like some movies choose to do with 3D, Avatar – The Way of Water likes to show layers of depth and occasional flourishes into the foreground such as fluorescent underwater creatures and sparks. These layers of depth make the film gorgeous and awe-inspiring. Cameron has an eye for nuance and does not let new technology ruin his artistic eye when it comes to filmmaking, and for that I commend him.

I think the only bad thing I can honestly say about the film is that it does drag a little bit in the middle. The movie clocks in at just under three hours long and as such has some slower moments towards the middle of the film that honestly were necessary but ground the narrative to a halt. When you begin and end of film with such strong action-packed battle scenes anything short of that stuck directly into the middle of a feature film is going to come across as slow and somewhat tedious and that is exactly what happened here. I will say that I enjoyed some of the more mysterious elements of the plot including the introduction of a new character – a young girl named Kiri, that is seemingly a miracle child born from the deceased Grace Augustine’s avatar , as played in the first film by Sigourney Weaver. She is now the fourteen-year-old adopted daughter of Jake Sully and Neytiri, and possesses “powers” that not even the strongest Na’vi shaman could dream of possessing. Kiri’s origin and placement in future films will be very interesting, and I can’t wait to see how everything pans out.

It’s hard to judge the acting prowess involved with this film because it is ostensibly an animated film in many regards. The melding of live action and computer-generated characters is a lot less pronounced than it was in the first film, with there being a lot more computer-generated characters and such. Perhaps everyone involved realized that merging the two worlds together was one of the shakier bits in the original film. With that in mind, almost everyone involved did an adequate if not pretty impressive job conveying emotions and giving real personalities to the various characters in the film to such a degree that it is very easy to lose yourself in whether or not what you’re seeing is real. The movie never really crosses into the uncanny valley territory that some video games do because the special effects are not actually going for that kind of realism, especially considering the majority of the characters are eight foot tall “alien cat people.” Overall, the presentation all comes together very well, and I felt the film was more cohesive as a whole than the original film.

Perhaps it’s just recency bias speaking, or the fact that I have dealt with and been aware of ten years of people somewhat slagging off the original motion picture, but I honestly did feel that Avatar – The Way of Water was better in most ways than its predecessor. It takes more chances, it has more of a voice of its own, and it does not slide too far into tropes seen in most basic romance movies for a very very long time. The special effects were very good, and it was one of the first 3D films that I’ve seen in the better part of five years or so and as such it looked pretty awesome. With any luck it will not take an insane amount of time to get any of the next iterations of this franchise, as the longer and longer it takes between releases, fans could slide away from the property entirely. Granted, I said that about the difference between the first and second movie and look how wrong I was. Do not take the overall lack of enthusiasm or mediocre reviews seriously especially from people that actually have not seen the movie. Avatar – The Way of Water is definitely worth seeing if you can still find it at your local theaters. More so than I was after the first film, I’m actually pretty excited to see where James Cameron takes this franchise moving into his third of some number of planned sequels that he apparently has up his sleeve (supposedly five, I guess).


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