‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ is a huge gamble. One might think that the sequel to the most successful film of all time would have no trouble matching that success, but with a $400 million budget BEFORE marketing, and a release 13 years after the original, ‘The Way of Water’ needs to not only match the first film but exceed its quality. Thankfully for both James Cameron and 20th Century Studios, the sequel delivers in every way possible.
‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ is a true achievement in filmmaking, a movie that supplies some of the most beautiful and intricate visuals put to screen. It demands to be seen and heard on the biggest screen possible; experiencing this on a computer or even a small TV is virtually impossible. Every single frame can be studied and dissected, and surely will for years to come. ‘The Way of Water’, built for 3D technology, also showcases immersive visuals in 3D that seemingly transcends its known capabilities; insects and water droplets feel tangible and almost annoyingly in your face at times. The water environments that take up the vast majority of the screen time are overwhelmingly dense with detail, creatures and coral filling up a large portion of the screen especially in the first half of the film.
‘The Way of Water’ is not perfect by any means. The first half of the film, despite some intense action, feels plodding and long, with many of the initial scenes dedicated to catching viewers up with the happenings of Pandora and introducing the plethora of new characters. The original ‘Avatar’ focuses on the story of Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and his growing romance with Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña), while ‘The Way of Water’ explores the next generation of Na’vi: their children. Not only do the kids’ experiences take up most of the movie’s character exploration, but they are what spurs the plot forward. When humans return to Pandora, led by the deceased-but-also-alive-through-Avatar-science Commander Quaritch, Jake decides to leave the forest alongside his family and takes refuge among the reef-people of Metkayina. The family’s arrival in Metkayina is where the film starts to pick up significantly; the visuals grander, yet the story more personal. Although the story is simplistic, and one can certainly spend the time poking holes in it, ‘The Way of Water’ still delivers some powerful emotional punches, one such punch kickstarting an explosive third act that never seems to stop moving, explosions and gunfire constant right up until the end credits. Cameron, an environmentalist, especially ratchets up the emotion involving the many new aquatic creatures that are introduced alongside the water environment. Tulkuns, the obvious parallel to earthly whales, contribute to the most heart wrenching moments of the film, with criticisms aimed at the real-world issues of poaching and whaling.
Despite the staggering scale of the visuals, it is the rare quiet moments of dialogue and introspection that really showcase the jaw-dropping advances in visual effects. Closeups of faces and hands are practically indistinguishable from real life, the little micro-movements of eyelids and finger muscles utterly astonishing. The many action sequences that pepper this movie are also visually stunning, but also seem much more brutal than the first, Cameron seemingly pushing the PG-13 rating to its limits at times. Arrows slam into chests, bullets pierce flesh, even arms are removed, contributing to the overall chaos of the experience.
The story isn’t great, the dialogue can feel very basic and derivative at times, but that honestly doesn’t make a difference. James Cameron delivered a perfect film for theatres, a film that will assuredly replicate the word of mouth that the first ‘Avatar’ carried to the number one spot. ‘The Way of Water’ is an improvement on its predecessor in every aspect, a popcorn film that will leave audiences questioning how something so fake and manufactured can feel so real.