After thirteen years and countless delays, CGI auteur James Cameron has finally delivered his much-hyped sequel to his 2009 film that spawned a 3D craze. AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER surpasses its predecessor in every way.
It’s hard to not sound hyperbolic about a film I had no expectations for, but it is absolutely breathtaking. The visuals are astounding, all-encompassing — there’s just nothing like it. The CGI makes every other blockbuster look like it was made in 2002. The color – my God, the color – the creature design, the animation, the environment, the sky, the Na’vi, it’s overwhelming in its beauty. Disney invited us to a media screening in Dolby Cinema 3D, and if you can see the film in this format, you ABSOLUTELY SHOULD. Not a single frame of blur, just stunning details showcased on a perfect screen.
The story picks up years after the events of the original, as Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) have had three children and adopted a fourth, the somewhat mysterious daughter of the late Dr. Grace Augustine (both of whom are played by Sigourney Weaver). Humans return to Pandora to attempt colonization, and priority #1 is wiping out the “Na’vi insurgency.” Jake and Neytiri must protect their family, people, and planet, a saga that will no doubt continue over the next three films Cameron has promised.
Cameron lets us linger in Pandora’s exquisite environments, and really shows off once the story moves to the reef village populated by the Metkayina clan. Walt Disney World guests who have experienced AVATAR: Flight of Passage at Disney’s Animal Kingdom have been getting a preview of this since the attraction opened in 2017, and the promise of exploring it in-depth has been tantalizing. No disappointments here; the gorgeous creatures that live in Pandora’s oceans are a dreamscape. Like the first film, repeat viewers will be rewarded with all the things they couldn’t possibly have taken in the first time around.
New cast members Kate Winslet, Edie Falco, Cliff Curtis, and Jemaine Clement are standouts in an epic landscape that leaves little space for individual performers to shine. Britain Dalton, Bailey Bass, and Jack Champion more than hold their own as the younger generation of Na’vi leaders.
James Horner‘s ethereal themes are augmented by a new score by Simon Franglen, and the effect is nothing short of rapturous in the film’s dazzling underwater sequences. The digital wizards at WETA are to be commended for outdoing all previous VFX work here.
A lot of criticism of the original film centered around its story, a not particularly inventive riff on Dances with Wolves and even Pocahontas. The second film feels more connected, more emotional, with a bigger story that becomes more visceral even if it’s not full of surprises. Despite his unbeatable track record, Cameron is repeatedly underestimated and proves again that there’s no one else working on his level when it comes to blockbuster tentpoles.
See it on the biggest 3D screen you can, and go to the bathroom first! At 3 hours and 10 minutes, you won’t want to miss a frame.
See it for Yourself
AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER emerges in theaters December 16, 2022.