It’s been a long wait, but Avatar: The Way of Water is finally here. We think James Cameron’s return to the world of Pandora was worth the wait – here’s our review.
Part of why Avatar: The Way of Water “works” is James Cameron himself. Despite everything he’s done before, it feels like he jumped into this one (and the other planned sequels) to make something that’s truly “his”. We thought Aliens was fantastic, but ultimately that’s Ridley Scott’s franchise, and although the first two Terminators were classics there have been so many sequels that it no longer feels like a Cameron franchise. Avatar, in many ways, is James Cameron.
He spoke very early about the need to develop new technology that wasn’t available yet to shoot underwater sequences – possibly a decade ago at this point, way before The Way of Water went into production. It shows how strong his vision for the franchise is, and from a technical perspective alone this is another benchmark product – just like how the first film pioneered 3D back into the movie theater perspective as a viable format to the point where now we see a good deal of blockbuster releases get a 3D/4DX treatment.
Pandora comes to life through spectacular imagery and fantastic action sequences, but the main driving force is still all about interpersonal relationships – though the film takes its time to (re)introduce the viewer to them. Sam Worthington returns as Jake Sully in his Na’vi form, where he and Neytiri have started a family with two sons and a daughter. Sigourney Weaver also returns to portray Kiri, who was born out of her original character.
Mankind (or ‘the sky people’) returns to wreck family life once more though, and Cameron even brings back Stephen Lang in an avatar Na’vi form. He, and a squad of others who have taken a Na’vi form, are on a seemingly personal vendetta to finish what they started, making for one of the core narrative dynamics in the film.
This development prompts our protagonists to leave and find safer places, especially for the more vulnerable members of their family – all in light of the menace that Lang and his team represent. This is where Cameron’s fancy underwater ambitions come into play – a passion we previously saw in his work on The Abyss and his journeys to the bottom of the ocean. This time, we meet the Metkayina clan, run by a couple played by Cliff Curtis and Kate Winslet. They’re hesitant to help the Na’vi because of the danger that follows them around, but are swayed when they see the destructive power of these sky people themselves as the sea creatures they revere are hunted by poachers.
What Avatar: The Way of Water also represents is an attempt to set up the already announced sequels – Avatar 3, Avatar 4 and Avatar 5. There’s some focus on the younger generation here, new characters are introduced, and some ideas (like Kiri’s connection to Pandora) aren’t fully explored yet, but you can tell these are the story threads that will be seen in more detail in the films that are yet to come. And luckily, with Avatar 3 already in post-production, the wait shouldn’t be that long this time around.
Avatar: The Way of Water clocks in at over three hours and at times feels like a long film, but once things pick up speed is a blockbuster of a film that demands to be seen in a theater setting – preferably in 3D or even 4DX. The world that Cameron has crafted in Pandora almost feels like a character in and of itself, and the big screen experience is the best way of bringing that to life. We’ll be eager to check out the 4K version when it lands, but this is a stunning example of cinema entertainment that’s destined to break more records – and that’s without relying on any kind of Marvel/DC property, which is impressive enough in this day and age.