Avatar: The Way of Water – Film Review
Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Kate Winslet, Cliff Curtis, CCH Pounder, Jamie Flatters, Britain Dalton, Trinity Jo-Li Bliss and Jack Champion
Director: James Cameron
Synopsis: After several years of peace, Jake Sully must do all he can when his adopted planet of Pandora comes under attack from a familiar foe…
Review: From an 80-page script drafted in 1994 to spending years crafting a constructed language and working with designers to design the world which came to be the planet of Pandora, James Cameron’s Avatar was a project long in the making. When it was finally released to the world in 2009, it became an instant cultural phenomenon, smashing box office records here, there and everywhere on its way to becoming the highest-grossing film of all time, a record it temporarily lost, but has since reclaimed after a brief tussle with the MCU. Such an accomplishment meant a sequel was inevitable, but as was the case with its predecessor, the sequel’s journey to the big screen has been beset with delays. Now, after a 13-year wait, it is finally time for audiences to return to Pandora, but was it worth the wait?
At least a decade has passed since the first film’s events, Jake (Worthington) having been permanently transferred into his Na’vi form, has started a family with Neytiri (Saldana), living peacefully raising their four children: Neteyam, Kiri, Lo’ak and Tukitrey. However, their peace is interrupted as the Sky People have returned, still desperate to utilise Pandora’s resources to save Earth. However, the mission has some added personal stakes for the humans as they are also out for revenge against Jake after he led the Na’vi to victory against them. Left with no choice, Jake and Neytiri are forced to relocate to take their family to a new region of Pandora, where they meet another Na’vi clan who, unlike the Omticaya, make their homes and livelihoods in the waters of Pandora.
When Avatar first came out, the one thing no one could deny was its utterly breathtaking visual effects combined with the pioneering motion capture technology. Combined together, these incredible feats of filmmaking brought the beauty of Pandora, its majesty, the Na’vi and the incredible array of characters which call this world home to life in a manner so vivid and fully realised, it could (almost) convince you Pandora is a planet which exists somewhere in the vast array of the universe. Yet, having played his card of wowing audiences with astounding immersive visuals once, surely Cameron and his team of visual effects artists could not outdo themselves to create even more impressive visual effects this time around?
Srane (Na’vi for yes), srane they can! By taking this sequel to a whole new section of Pandora, it gives them what is essentially a whole new world to play in and the cast and crew dive (pun definitely intended) straight into the opportunity. The world of performance capture has come a long way since Avatar was released, but Cameron once again goes one better by pioneering incredible technology with visual effects company Weta, enabling the cast and crew to utilise motion capture technology, while actually filming scenes underwater. These scenes illustrate the incredible power of this technology and are so stunning and mesmerising to look at, illustrating there aren’t many better companies than Weta when it comes to crafting stunning visual effects. No words in the English (or Na’vi) language can do justice to how immaculate these visuals look on screen, and they deserve to be seen on the biggest screen you can find in order to appreciate them in all of their stunning glory. They might as well start engraving the names of the artists on the respective visual effects awards trophies now.
While the film’s visuals certainly leap off the screen, they cannot do all the heavy lifting and there’s still a need for the cast to deliver the performances required to drive the narrative forward. The screenplay by Cameron, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, by expanding our horizons of what we know of Pandora, proved to be a smart decision, not just for the technology but for the story too. It puts the characters in a difficult position where they must learn to adapt to the ways in which this water-based Na’vi clan live their lives, which is especially hard for Jake and Neytiri’s children as their lives in the forest are all they have ever known. It is through their eyes that we see this acclimatisation to the new clan and their ways unfold. Each of these young actors’ performances (Jamie Flatters, Britain Dalton and Trinity Jo-Li Bliss) shines through motion capture technology.
However, the biggest revelation here is the portrayal of Kiri by frequent Cameron collaborator Sigourney Weaver as Kiri. It might have seemed an odd choice to have the legendary actor play a 14-year-old Na’vi child, but through the magic of seemingly Eywa herself, it works wonders. Also returning from the first film (in a slightly different role) is Stephen Lang’s villainous Quaritch, now taking the form of the Na’vi to utilise their speed and strength as a weapon against them as he leads the charge for the humans in seeking revenge against Jake.
While the change in location serves the story up to a point, with the film coming in with a run time of 192 minutes, the film does struggles to justify such a lengthy run time with an imperfect second act. Furthermore, by putting the focus to such an extent on the young Na’vi children, certain important characters are relegated to bit-part roles. There is undoubtedly a familiarity in terms of the narrative, but when it is time for the Na’vi and the humans to clash once more, it remains utterly compelling and reinforces Cameron’s credentials as a master of crafting action. It might have taken a bit longer to return to Pandora than he would have liked. Still, when you have a director like Cameron in his element, pioneering ground-breaking performance capture and visual effects, all in the name of our entertainment, you just have to take your hat off to him and say, irayo (thank you).
While it can feel a bit repetitive in terms of its story, the long-awaited return to Pandora goes to extraordinary depths with stunningly immersive visuals which surpass its predecessor, reinforcing Cameron’s reputation as a master blockbuster filmmaker.