It has been more than a decade since James Cameron’s Avatar was released, becoming the highest-grossing film of all time. With the sequel thirteen years in the making, the anticipation for Avatar: The Way of Water has been building. Cameron’s new releases have become something of a tentpole, not just on the basis of him being one of the most well-known filmmakers of all time, but because he likes to make every film worth remembering. Way of Water surpasses its predecessor by almost every metric and quickly became one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had in a theater.
[Warning: impressions and mild spoilers from Avatar: The Way of Water below!]
Avatar: The Way of Water – new characters
The Way of Water’s most impressive feat is how well it integrates new characters and reintegrates the old ones. Since we last saw them, Jake (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) are now the leaders of a large family – Neteyam (Jamie Flatters), Lo’ak (Britain Dalton), Tuk (Trinity Jo-Li Bliss), Kiri (Sigourney Weaver), and Spider (Jack Champion). The movie catches the audience up with more than a decade of information with grace, slowly transitioning us from the old story into the new. Because truthfully, while Avatar is the story of Jake and Neytiri, The Way of Water is the story of their children.
The dynamic of the Sullys (Jake and Neytiri’s family) in Way of Water is quite interesting. Neteyam, Lo’ak, and Tuk are Jake and Neytiri’s biological children, but Kiri and Spider were both adopted. They all have an incredibly strong bond, but the deeper differences between them drive their individual stories. In the end, Avatar: The Way of Water is about overcoming those differences and learning to become a family regardless. That’s reinforced by the recurring sentence that Jake and Neytiri repeat to their children: “Sullys stick together.”
Avatar: The Way of Water – the story
The film follows as Jake and Neytiri move to keep their family and village as safe as possible. They arrive at a water village, with a different indigenous tribe that they must adapt to in order to fit in and carry their weight. The story is delightfully simple yet also offloads enough new ideas to uplift the visuals and characters at hand. A new concept being introduced can excite the way it looks and give the new characters the opportunity to charm the audience as they often stumble their way through new tasks.
The beautiful story is met with gorgeous visuals as Cameron simultaneously flexes every creative muscle for more than three hours. The Way of Water’s predecessor spends so much time in the air that you begin to forget what it feels like when these characters walk on the ground. That feeling is multiplied in this film, as every time the camera is plunged below sea level my breath is taken away. Not only because of the exhilarating and immersive use of the camera but because of just how gorgeous every passing moment is.
How James Cameron creates this fantastical world
Cameron masterfully leans on very real ideas to create his magical and alien underwater world. The fish, beasts, and even the plants that live underwater are clearly based on things that exist in our world. But by the time we arrive there, the movie has totally swept me off my feet and I don’t mind how real or familiar the things might seem. When the music kicks in and the glow of the underwater bioluminescence lights up, I stop caring about anything except for just how gorgeous and perfect everything has become.
James Cameron is a master of satisfaction. That not only means intricately crafting a deeply grand and equally intimate third-act showdown but also just making sure that the audience really wants to see the bad guys get what’s coming to them. There is more than a sufficient amount of build-up dedicated to just showing us how evil these evil guys are. By the time the final act comes knocking, audiences are cheering watching them get what they so clearly deserve.
The Way of Water works incredibly well within its 3-hour runtime. Impressively, the film’s most engaging block of storytelling sits within its second act, as our main characters learn to adapt and explore within the new tribe. The runtime might be seen as egotistical or indulgent given Cameron’s name or the reputation that some perceive he has, but the runtime benefits the film on nearly every front. Giving the world time to breathe and exist outside of the urgent narrative provides the audience with the opportunity to fully immerse themselves.
I left the theater feeling as though I had lived in Pandora for three hours. Avatar: The Way of Water is spectacular, and every second of that thirteen year wait was more than worth it.
My rating for the film:
★★★★★ / ♥♥♥♥♥
Avatar: The Way of Water is currently in theaters! Have you seen it yet? What did you think of Avatar: The Way of Water? Let us know on Twitter or in The Cosmic Circus’ Discord! And if you haven’t already, check out our review on The Witcher: Blood Origin, another fantasy project coming in December!