Review | Avatar: The Way of Water | 2022

Lo’ak (Britain Dalton) and a Tulkun in 20th Century Studios' AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios.
© 2022 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

There's a saying on Twitter - "Never bet against James Cameron." And as cliche as it has become in Film Twitter circles, it's an apt saying - because Cameron continues to dazzle audiences and draw massive crowds despite bloated budgets and marathon shoots that seem destined for failure. His latest, Avatar: The Way of Water, comes 13 years after his last film, Avatar (2009), became the highest grossing film of all time, beating out Cameron's previous film, Titanic (1997).

Some wondered if audiences were still interested in the alien world of Pandora and the blue Na'vi, but if nothing else, the success of Avatar: The Way of Water shows that audiences are hungry to be blown away. Avatar itself represented a huge step forward in visual effects back in 2009, and in The Way of Water, Cameron takes his world to the next level with some of the most stunning visual effects ever put on screen. But is it more than just a great spectacle? Absolutely.

The Way of Water improves on Avatar on several fronts - most noticeably in its script and story. Cameron knows that you don't need apocalyptic stakes to keep an audience on the edge of their seats - so the stakes here are far more personal than in the previous film. This is the The Wrath of Khan of the Avatar franchise, in which a villain from the previous film returns in Na'vi form essentially to seek revenge on Jake Sulley (Sam Worthington) who not only lead the Na'vi resistance against the human occupation, he became one of them and now has a family of his own.

And therein lie the true stakes of The Way of Water - Jake is a family man now, and as such will do anything to protect them. The return of Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang) sends Jake, his wife Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña), and their children fleeing to a new tribe of Na'vi, this one living far from the primordial forests of Pandora in its vast and mystical oceans. Cameron has always had a connection to water - see Terminator 2, The Abyss, Titanic, and he's very much in his element here, building to a climax that seems to combine elements of his entire filmography. What's so special about The Way of Water, and what sets it apart from so many modern blockbusters, is the way Cameron takes time to get to know the characters. He lets the audience live in their world so when war finally comes to their doorstep, the losses feel more real.

Cameron remains nearly unparalleled when it comes to crafting an action sequences, but it's the moments of sheer beauty in The Way of Water that really linger. A subplot about a sentient whale makes for some of the film's more resonant moments, while the adventures of the Sully children keep the fantastical story grounded. It feels so refreshing to see a blockbuster deliver such spectacle in such an earnest fashion. Cameron plays it straight at all times, never feeling like he's ashamed of his story or that he needs to pepper the script with ironic quips that put distance between the audience and the world of the film. The result is something truly immersive, impressive in both heart and scope, that shows what a blockbuster can truly be when made by an artist rather than a corporation. It's a grand old fashioned spectacle made with cutting edge technology that knows how to deliver not just thrills, but feelings, and that is certainly something worth celebrating.

GRADE - ★★★½ (out of four)

AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER | Stars Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Kate Winslet, Cliff Curtis, Joel David Moore, CCH Pounder, Edie Falco | Rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence and intense action, partial nudity, and some strong language | Now playing in theaters everywhere.


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