If you are a gambling person let me give you a little tip; never bet against James Cameron. You’ll lose every time and just come out embarrassed. Yes the man who screamed out to a crowd that he is the “king of the world,” while accepting his best director award for Titanic is definitely a man who can be seen as full of himself, but when you have delivered some of the biggest and most well-known blockbusters to date, you can kind of get away with it. Cameron for all his pride is also one of the few major directors today that is dedicated to the expansion of filmmaking and bringing true theatrical experiences to a paying audience. In a time where big blockbuster films all look the same (and sole purpose is to get you to stay for pointless end credit scenes) Cameron stands alone. A director that not only wants to give you an experience you won’t soon forget, but he himself wants to push the limitations on how and what makes a film. AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER is a sequel thirteen years in the making, it is also a meticulously planned film that will most likely add to the phenomenon that Cameron gave us back in 2009. For those that didn’t enjoy the original, get ready to be surprised, and for those that loved it well welcome back to Pandora and get ready for the greatest adventure.
Pandora may look the same, but much has changed for former marine turned Na’vi Jake Sully (Sam Worthington). Jake came to Pandora to help fight off the Native Na’vi people, instead fell in loved with Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) and fought off those who swore to protect aka the military and its leader Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang). Years later Jake now has a family of five children which includes a combination of Na’vi humanoids as well as a two adopted children; Spider (Jack Champion) a human boy and Kiri (Sigourney Weaver playing a teenage Na’vi half breed) mysteriously born from former human doctor turned Na’vi Grace Augustine. All seems calm for Jake and his family, but this is Pandora we are talking about and what Cameron wants to stress is that where this is free alien life there are plenty of humans wanting to destroy them. Much has been said about THE WAY OF WATER’s runtime and at over three hours the film both takes it time setting things up and quickly bringing us into the action. It is quickly revealed that government and human scientists had a contingency plan set up in the events of their military leaders death. The plan is as wonderfully absurd as the rest of the 180 minute film. Quaritch and other marines will create an Avatar clone that will live on in their absence. So yes don’t worry Stephen Lang fans, the big man himself is back and with even more 90’s villain catchphrases. Lang’s character may have seem too farfetched or outdated during the time of the original’s release, but now when we have egotistical war hungry leaders in charge he fits right in. Quaritch may be given a new mission of making Pandora a livable planet for humans (Earth is dying and the human race needs a new home), but he only has one goal; kill Jake Sully. Thus begins an epic cat and mouse chase that forces Jake and his family to move out of the forest and towards the seaboards for refuge in one of the smartest moves in a blockbuster sequel. The forest was pretty but the seas of Pandora and home of the Metkayina clan are down right mind blowing. Cameron loves the ocean and every frame displayed on nearly perfect 3D expresses this profound love and respect.
There will be many reviews attempting to describe the looks of THE WAY OF WATER as well as the techniques Cameron used to bring it to life, but none including this one could ever do it justice. This is clearly one of those must see to believe type films. I could describe how every every detail of water bouncing against the Na’vi looks and feels as natural as swimming in it yourself, and I could also say how each creature we discover is so close to your reach that you practically feel it pass by your skin, and I could even talk about how nobody and I mean nobody does underwater glowing creatures like Cameron and when they bob past the screen you feel it lighting up goosebumps on your skin, but hey like I said it wouldn’t do it justice. Instead know this, THE WAY OF WATER for all its technical achievements (and there are hundreds) the film really just wants you to feel connected to the water and all its loving creatures. Cameron and environmentalist himself set up the connection the Na’vi have to nature in the first film, but that was just the set up. Here is one of the best payoffs. As Jake’s kids, especially his middle son Lo’ak (Britain Dalton), learn the how to bond with the ocean creatures we the audience learn (or continue to learn) a newfound respect for these creatures as well as the ones on our own planet. Lo’ak eventually befriends Payakan a lone member of the Tulkun creatures (basically awesome space whales) who has also been cast aside seen as a dangerous predator. Lo’ak and Payakan’s friendship helps carry one of the many film’s themes of family chosen. The scenes between the two especially their first initial meeting involving Lo’ak freeing Payakan from a whaler harpoon are some of the most powerful in the entire film. For those seeing it in 3D prepare for that moment where you look to the person next to you, just to be reminded that you are actually still in a theater.
THE WAY OF WATER has many things on its mind and while it is a sequel it never feels the need to constantly set itself up for the wider picture and journey. In fact it ignores all the staple rules of modern franchises and its sprinkles of setting things up actually end up having its payoff all in the same film. Yes the character of Kiri and her mysterious connection to the Tree of Souls may be further explained in films to come, but for this film it is used as a way to show how children will learn past their parents and eventually be the leaders themselves. It is a beautiful message that homes in on the notion that this film is truly about family. Jake and Neytiri’s only roles now are to be protectors of their children. But even a simple message can have its complexity. This is seen in Spider, who learns that his father is Quaritch and when captured by him is quickly abandoned by Jake and his family. Jake knows he can survive on his own but how easy it is to abandon a child that does not look like them (when Jake once was an outsider himself) is interesting and while not fully developed leads to some strong moments between Spider and the new Quaritch who while not acknowledging Spider as his son clearly has a fondness for him. The ebb and flow of the family dynamics carried by the actual waves of the water allows the pacing of the film to fly by. There is never a dull moment and its quiet and more gentle moments allow the film to patiently build up to its epic conclusion that you know must be right around the corner. But when it arrives you aren’t ready for it no matter what you think is in store. It is a prolonged final that Cameron uses to show the horrors of both military occupation, colonization and even the repulsive whaling business. For all its spectacle in the finale the script is working overtime as well bringing in a much needed depth to the characters. It helps that Cameron has brought on script writers Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa who did a tremendous job with the most recent Planet of the Apes trilogy. They are all able to uses the time to create a strong relationship with practically each child (also credit to the performers) that much like their parents you too are very concerned for their safety. Death can come at any moment to this family and the weight of it all is felt throughout.
Returning to Pandora a second time may have seemed like a farfetched and unneeded journey but by the end of WAY OF THE WATER there is no denying that the thrill of wanting more has grown on you. Five or six sequels is far too many for one story, but at the same time it is clear that the time taken between each one (and everything this film has given us) that any hesitation will soon be gone. Cameron has made it clear that he is not leaving Pandora anytime soon and frankly it’s the best place to be right now.
AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER IS NOW PLAYING EVERYWHERE IN ALL FORMATS