“Avatar” was something the world had never seen before. While high-budget action entertainers have been prevalent since the 80s, the creation of a new planet from scratch and performance capture at that level was unprecedented. The boundaries of filmmaking were completely removed: anyone could make anything, as long as they have the money.
The success of James Cameron’s 2009 film “Avatar” laid the foundation for future box office blockbusters — a powerful cinematic experience through high-budget action sequences and illusionist Computer-Generated Imagery (CGI) is much more valuable than a thought-inducing story and good acting performances.
With aid from other cinematic universes like the Marvel Cinematic Universe and action stars who can’t act getting themselves into movies (i.e. The Rock), Cameron helped start a new generation of films that took over movie theaters and changed what Hollywood would look like for over a decade.
This genre of filmmaking has been heavily criticized by other filmmakers and movie fans alike, with criticisms of cringe attempts at humor, a lack of substance and below-average storylines held together by average acting performances. Though some films are exceptions, the overused tropes and ancient humor that attract younger audiences reduce the quality of these movies.
“Avatar: The Way of Water,” however, is the exception. Everything that the 2009 “Avatar” did, “The Way of Water” did better — a lot better.
Shot primarily underwater using new camera lens technology, the film follows Na’vi Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) as they struggle to keep their family safe following the return of humans to Pandora. The Sully family, whom the film introduces at the beginning, is the emotional focus of the film, as Jake and Neytiri struggle to parent the young Lo’ak (Brian Dalton) who feels like an outsider.
The film sees Sigourney Weaver return as a young Kiri, the biological daughter of Weaver’s character in the first film. The mysterious circumstances of Kiri’s birth and her connection to Pandora’s deity Eywa become a mystery yet to be explored.
Stephen Lang reprises his role as Colonel Quaritch, but instead of the mean scar-faced human, he returns in a Na’vi body, hunting Jake Sully for revenge. New additions Kate Winslet and Cliff Curtis play Ronal and Tonowari, leaders of the Metkayina clan who take in the Sully family as they flee from Quaritch. Ronal is hesitant throughout the film as their presence disrupts many aspects of their life, while Tonowari struggles between doing the right thing and pleasing his wife.
The cinematography, beautiful CGI, edge-of-the-seat action sequences and excellent performances are all backed up by a fulfilling story. A step up from the predictable plot of the previous film, “The Way of Water” explores a deeper side to all the characters and relies more on the plot than its predecessor.
The film even explores Colonel Quaritche’s soft side, as the audience learns that he had a son named Spider (Jack Champion) and that he has sided with the Na’vi after his supposed death.
While the first film’s emotional connection is only Jake and Neytiri’s love track and a bit of nature vs man sprinkled in, the second film has conflict within each character. Lo’ak struggles to fit in, Jake cannot decide between saving his family or fighting for all Na’vi and Neytiri enters a dark place to protect her loved ones.
Its only weakness comes in its extremely long second act, which seems a bit detached from the film at times; however, Cameron explores a lot of the cinematic world and shows us beautiful Pandora scenery, making the 3-hour runtime worth it.
As of Dec. 27, “Avatar: The Way of Water” has grossed over 900 million dollars in 11 days, meaning Cameron’s streak of creating records continues.
The third “Avatar” film is slated for a 2024 release and if the trend continues, our Na’vi friends will smash the box office for years to come.