Avatar: The Way of Water (2022): Is the Movie Event of 2022 Worth the 13 Year Wait?
“Avatar: The Way of Water” is directed by James Cameron (The Terminator, True Lies) and stars Sam Worthington (Sabotage, Clash of the Titans), Zoe Saldana (Guardians of the Galaxy, The Adam Project), Sigourney Weaver (Ghostbusters, Alien), Stephen Lang (Don’t Breathe, Tombstone), Kate Winslet (Titanic, Divergent), Cliff Curtis (Training Day, Three Kings), and Joel David Moore (Dodgeball, Bones). This film is the long-awaited sequel to the 2009 film “Avatar,” also directed by James Cameron. This time around, Jake and Neytiri, along with their children, move from the forest and adapt to life by the sea. Meanwhile, humanity strikes once again to kill Jake Sully.
I have not seen every film James Cameron has done. I still have not seen “Aliens.” I still have not seen “The Abyss.” That said, he can direct a movie. I loved “The Terminator.” Its follow-up, “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” belongs amongst my favorite films of all time. “Titanic” is a massive spectacle with a thrilling climax. “True Lies” is a hilarious, fun action movie. Cameron also recently produced “Alita: Battle Angel,” directed by Robert Rodriguez. It has some of my favorite visual effects and action sequences in recent cinema. The man knows how to entertain.
The first “Avatar” is not my favorite movie James Cameron made. Kind of like “Titanic,” the beauty of the film does not always lie in its screenplay, and more so its looks. However, the film made over $2 billion and is the highest-grossing movie of all time. Naturally, whether Cameron wanted to or not, a sequel definitely had to be made. “Avatar: The Way of Water” is the result of thirteen years of Cameron’s transition from one movie to the next. Even I, someone who barely cares about the original “Avatar,” was curious about this film. The trailers looked decent, and whatever visuals they revealed looked stunning. I had a couple chances to see the trailers in 3D, and I was marveled by a couple sequences in said format.
This leads me to my biggest positive with “Avatar: The Way of Water.” This film is the single-greatest use of 3D I have ever seen. For the record, I got to see the original film in 3D last September, and this film surpasses it. It surpasses some other 3D standouts for me like “Gravity,” “Oz the Great and Powerful,” and “The Hobbit” trilogy. As far as blockbuster filmmaking goes, there is no movie I can think of that has done 3D this well to the point where it felt like more than a cheap gimmick. Speaking of unusual technical specifications, “Avatar: The Way of Water” was shot in 48 frames per second. This is an aspect which “The Hobbit” trilogy also utilized both in filming and during select screenings. For the most part, it works. At times, I felt like I was watching a series of video game cutscenes, which sounds like a detractor, but I kind of intend it as a compliment.
However, the unfortunate thing is that since these are my biggest positives, I imagine there are people out there who might never get to experience said positives if they watch this movie. For one thing, 3D at home is not as big of a thing as it may have been over a decade ago. And I am not sure what Disney/James Cameron plans to do in regards to the frame rate for this film’s home release. Although one positive that can be experienced regardless of the setup is the visual effects.
If I have to be honest, if there is any other film that is going to win the Oscar for Best Visual Effects this year, I might start trying to defy gravity because nothing would make sense any more. Similar to what I said about the 3D, the visual effects were great in the original “Avatar,” but they are a step up in “The Way of Water.” The water sequences in this film are some of the best-looking of the year. For the most part, the visuals in this sequel are as perfect as can be. It really felt like everyone took their time with minute details to allow for the perfect color and polish. Some of the cinematography, done by previous Cameron collaborator Russell Carpenter, accompanies said visuals well. There is one shot of a sunset where my eyes lit up. The aesthetic of “Avatar: The Way of Water” does not disappoint.
What does disappoint instead is the story and characterization. You know, the essential things that make movies worth watching.
While I liked the trailers for “Avatar: The Way of Water,” what these trailers always lacked is depth into what the story is about. The film thankfully provides a story, but not a good one. It is less by the numbers than the first movie, but somehow it feels more boring. The visuals are pretty enough to distract me from that, but the characters are uninteresting. In one of my most recent reviews, specifically for “Strange World,” I said the movie is “like a first date with the most attractive woman alive, only to find out she has zero personality whatsoever.” “Avatar: The Way of Water” is kind of like “Strange World” in the sense that the environment feels more important than the characters, but to the point where the characters lack a certain prominence they would otherwise have in most halfway decent movies.
There have been movies where the characters do not stand out that nevertheless find a way to stick the landing. But not every movie can be “Dunkirk.”
“Avatar: The Way of Water” presents a fascinating concept. Specifically, now that Jake and Neytiri have offspring, how does this affect their behavior compared to the first film? In general, I dug the family dynamic, and there were moments in this film that felt relatable based on said dynamic. Although the characters themselves lack dimension and personality. I admire Sigourney Weaver for trying her best at playing an animated teenage girl, but I would not say it is my favorite performance of hers.
In fact, the family dynamic is not the only concept of fascination. The whole water land itself comes with some halfway decent ideas. Similar to the first movie where a particular tree plays a prominent role in societal beliefs and customs, the equivalent to that in this film is a group of whales. Although as fascinating as it is to see the bond between the bunches of blue characters with whales in this film, this leads to yet another story critique where this film feels like another version of the original, only less watchable.
This movie reintroduces familiar characters like Jake, Neytiri, and Quaritch. It also brings in new faces. Some of these include Jake and Neytiri’s kids: Kiri, Lo’ak, Neteyam, and Tuk. I bet some time after writing this review, I will not remember some of these names. At a point in the movie, the story revolves more about the children than it does their parents. I am not against this. In fact, despite my lack of interest with the story itself, some aspects of this were handled with competency. The film’s new characters have their moments. However, if I have to name a least favorite of the characters, it would be this one person named Spider.
Unlike Jake and the rest of the Sullys, who are half human, half Na’Vi, Spider, who Jake also raised, is entirely human. Although he tends to behave like one of the Na’Vi. While I am optimistic about Jack Champion’s future as an actor and wish him nothing but the best, his character was awfully written. At first sight, the character is presented with an intriguing backstory, but as the movie went on, he felt increasingly out of place, and by the end, I questioned his actions. There are few words that I could come up with to describe Spider as a character. “Conflicting” would certainly be one of them.
“Avatar: The Way of Water” takes a lot of what works in the original. Such things include the visuals, the exploration, the flying sequences. Ultimately, this sequel improves those things. At the same time, a lot of I found to be imperfect with the first film such as the story, the dialogue, and its lack of getting me to care for certain characters, make a return here as well. If you want me to be real with you, the climax of this film, at times, is more entertaining than the climax in the original “Avatar.” Should you pay to see this film in theatres, the climax alone makes the film worth the price of admission. I am clearly not a huge fan of the film, therefore I would not pay to see “Avatar: The Way of Water” a second time. That said, I imagine plenty of people will. I think if there is a reason to see this film, the climax would make for a compelling argument.
The theater experience for “Avatar: The Way of Water” rivals “Top Gun: Maverick” in terms of immersion, but if I had to choose a film between the two to watch again, I think “Maverick” is the superior option because despite the film occasionally coming off as another version of the original “Star Wars,” the characters are likable and serve the story. Do the characters serve the story in “Avatar: The Way of Water?” Sure. But I would say they do so with less charisma and personality than those in “Top Gun: Maverick.”
I have not ridden the “Avatar” theme park ride at Disney World. Maybe if I take a trip there in the future I would give it a whirl, but I just never had the opportunity to ride it. Although I must say that “Avatar: The Way of Water,” much like a ride at Disney World, is wildly immersive, but almost to the point of being a pretty gimmick. The 3D definitely stands out, and while I said earlier the 3D does not feel like a gimmick, it belongs in a film that nearly comes off as a gimmick itself. When I left the film, I thought more about how it took me into Pandora, which may sound like a compliment, until I thought about how little it took me into the lives of its characters. While last year’s big movie event, “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” had some imperfections, I would rather watch that again to see the characters go through their individual journeys. Although one imperfection “No Way Home” has, like “The Way of Water,” was that I found the ending to be somewhat poor. Although the journey to get to the ending for “No Way Home” invested me emotionally while getting me to care for the core characters. I will give credit to “Avatar: The Way of Water” for having a more appealing visual aesthetic to it, but as the old saying goes, “Avatar: The Way of Water” is yet another example of style over substance.
I would even say that “Avatar: The Way of Water” has narration that at times that is either as tacked on or as bad as the original “Blade Runner.” When I say the original “Blade Runner,” I am talking the original. As in, the one where Harrison Ford sounds like he is half asleep when voicing what he learned about Roy. The one that I imagine a lot of young people experiencing the film for the first time will not even get to hear. I am sorry, but for a movie that carries itself so much on visuals, I am somewhat surprised in regard to how much narration this film has.
Through the ages, there have been several movies that have been able to tell a great story while also delivering eye candy. “Star Wars” took me to another galaxy while also presenting the relatable Luke Skywalker. “The Matrix” presents a fun tale of good vs. evil while also showcasing a one of a kind digital landscape. The Academy Award Best Picture winner, “The Shape of Water,” is a beautiful-looking film with an unusual, but still captivating romance. “Avatar: The Way of Water,” finds itself choosing to focus a lot on the film’s background and surroundings to the point where I do not care one bit about the characters in the foreground. Yeah, I know what happens in the movie. But I would flock to a multitude of other movies before this one again because they presented their stories more admirably. I would imagine there are people who are going to leave this movie, much like the original, who would claim they want to live in Pandora. I on the other hand, would not. I would rather live in Middle Earth, where the visuals are just as stunning, but the stories are ten times as interesting.
In the end, “Avatar: The Way of Water” is possibly the biggest disappointment of 2022. Not only because it is James Cameron, not only because the film looks amazing, but because this is a film that was thirteen years in the making. I cannot believe I am living in a year where I have gone back to the cinema to watch “Top Gun: Maverick,” which is a sequel I frankly think was not all that necessary until seeing footage. Meanwhile, I do not think I want to go back to watch “Avatar: The Way of Water” a second time. This is crazy because I have thought about seeing an “Avatar” sequel maybe since I was ten years old. I thought the potential was there. Sadly, the execution was lackluster. But who cares? Sequels are already scheduled, and there is a solid chance that this is going to make a billion, possibly a couple billion bucks at the box office. While the original “Avatar” is similar to titles like “Pocahontas” and “FernGully,” when it came out, it felt like a distinctive title. “Avatar: The Way of Water” not only feels like a slight retread of the original, but somehow comes off as more boring. Does it look pretty? Yes, but so did “Elvis.” If you read my review for that movie, you would know that movies should sometimes do more than just look shiny. That said, “Avatar: The Way of Water” is undoubtedly a technical beast. I applaud Cameron and crew for delivering a solid-looking film. I just wish I could say the same for the story. I am going to give “Avatar: The Way of Water” a 5/10.
“Avatar: The Way of Water” is now playing in theatres everywhere, including formats such as Real-D 3D and IMAX 3D. Tickets are available now.
Thanks for reading this review! Next week I will be sharing my thoughts on the brand new DreamWorks Animation “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish.” I am attending a press screening of the film this Monday, so I will share my thoughts on the film as soon as possible. Hopefully it has more substance than “Avatar: The Way of Water.” If you want to see this and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Avatar: The Way of Water?” What did you think about it? Or, which film do you think is better? “Avatar” or “Avatar: The Way of Water?” Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!