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Avatar: The Way of Water

“I know you’re all asking yourselves the same question. Why so blue?”

Minor Spoilers

The long-awaited sequel to James Cameron’s previous long-awaited sci-fi/fantasy epic has finally arrived, and I’m here to talk about it.

I was hyped for the first Avatar when it was still in development, before there was any real marketing or hype-building for it at the time. This is mostly because I had been a fan of James Cameron movies from a very young age, and I was intrigued by the premise of this movie he’d spent over a decade working on after winning the Best Picture Oscar with Titanic.

It came out, and I saw it about three or four times in theaters. I was basking in the bioluminscent glow of the majestic alien world it presented, like most people. But it wasn't long before the internet started building a consensus about it being the most overrated movie of all time, an opinion I have opposed for years. I personally never held Avatar's simple plot against it. For one thing, because Cameron originally wrote the script in the early '90s, but also because the movie manages to be fun and engaging despite being fairly predictable. It wasn't just the advanced computer-generated visuals alone that captivated audiences, but the way it appears when married so neatly to the precise movements of everyone in front of the camera, putting emphasis not just on the craft of its innovative digital artistry, but also on the strength of the actors' expressive performances. Doesn't matter if the story being told is one we've heard before, so long as it is conveyed with sincerity and passion.

That said, Cameron had a lot to live up to with The Way of Water. Not only do you have to capture audiences' imaginations all over again, you have to seriously up the ante; especially when you're the guy who made Aliens and Terminator 2: Judgement Day. This would be a tall order without setting a good percentage of the movie underwater, requiring the development of new underwater filmmaking techniques. Finally, the movie also had to make a fortune at the box office, worldwide, as a sequel to a predominately CGI movie about blue humanoid tiger aliens that pop culture had largely written off as a joke.

Well, guess what? He freaking did it. All of it.

Maybe it's the long winter that's kept me away from the theater or maybe it's the anticipation of waiting to see it for so long, but I had a blast with this film. It was just the shot in the leg I needed. Cameron does succeed at raising the bar, once again, delivering a movie with a meatier plot and even more stunning visuals to compliment it. This is definitely one you'll want to see on the big screen.

Synopsis: After his victory in the previous film, Jake Sully has spent thirteen years in peace on Pandora. He lives among the Na'vi, having raised a family with his beloved warrior-queen, Neytiri. They have two sons, Neteyem and Lo'ak, and two daughters, Kiri and Tuk. But their idyllic Edgar Rice Burroughs existence comes to an end with the return of the "Sky People," who come blasting their way back to Pandora in full-force. It's explained that Earth is dying, so mankind has chosen Pandora as the "new frontier;" not surprising. When Jake and his family try to resist, the RDA ships in a clone of the previous film's antagonist, Colonel Miles Quaritch, to eliminate this threat to human expansion. The twist being that Quaritch and several of his minions have been resurrected in Avatar bodies to give them more of an edge. To keep the Omaticaya tribe safe, as well as themselves, Jake takes his family away to hide among a distant, oceanic tribe of Na'vi, the Metkayina. The Sullys struggle to learn the ways of these reef people, while Quaritch slowly closes in.

Storytelling and characterization has improved, as Cameron collaborated with Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver (the writing team behind the new Planet of the Apes films and Jurassic World) on the script. The heroes have more depth, and so does the villain in a funny way. Jake and Neytiri are sharing a lot of their main character status with their kids, who we see experience growing pains as the "half-breed" children of a native Na'vi and a partially human Avatar. This does play into a few obvious cliches, as with their parents in the last movie.

The kids end up having some of the more interesting things to do here. Lo'ak, the impetuous younger son, befriends an outcast Tulkun (basically Pandora's version of a killer whale) named Payakan, leading to some beautiful moments. The elder daughter, Kiri, is actually adopted, as she was somehow born of the late Grace Augustine's Avatar from the previous movie. Additionally, she has a powerful connection to Pandora and Eywa, the Na'vi deity. And there's also Spider, a wild human boy whose origin and place among the Sullys becomes very meaningful; I liked his scenes more than I was expecting based on the trailers.

It has its faults, of course. The Way of Water is a bit too repetitive of the last film's plot, more or less following the same basic beats: the fish out of water storyline when Jake's family live among the Metkayina, the arcs of Lo'ak and Avatar-Quaritch mirroring Jake's, a brand new most-valuable-resource-known-to-man macGuffin, there are even scenes or lines of dialogue that are repeated almost verbatim. Related to that, there also are a few scenes where the exposition is pretty heavy-handed. The editing is also choppy in certain areas. And the kid dialogue does leave something to be desired, but honestly, it wouldn't be a James Cameron movie if that weren't the case.

These cons are vastly outweighed by the film's pros. VFX, sound design, cinematography, all top notch. The action scenes are still heavy and intense, but they're way more creative in this one; few auteur directors can pull off action like James Cameron. But there's more action than just the violence, there's the exhilaration of the Sully kids learning how to do deep dives in the ocean or how to ride intimidating sea dragons, just the joys of swimming and seeing amazing new things. As we all might have guessed, much of this movie is embued with Cameron's love for the sea. He's probably made an even greater effort to capture the beauty of the ocean here than he did with forests and jungles before. Much like the last movie, The Way of Water wears its green message on its sleeve. We see examples of poaching, environmental destruction, colonialism and corporate imperialism in contrast to the Na'vi and their harmony with nature.

It's also one of those movies where they're so committed to the vibe – of the Na'vi and their culture, of Pandora's wondrous creatures and lush vistas, and of sweeping battles where mercenaries with futuristic weaponry face off against tall blue tiger people riding dragons and other fantastical beasts – that you just have to let it wash over you. The people behind these productions really put in the work to create a dreamy sense of immersion where you might otherwise be feeling the uncanny valley, making the experience all the more breathtaking.


* You can tell Cameron was somewhat emboldened by the success of the first Avatar. He takes things a lot further with this one, and I'm not just talking about the CGI. Naturally, he indulges his love of the ocean and filming underwater, going to whole new levels. The movie is also more graphic, featuring some nudity (tasteful Na'vi nudity!) and pretty bloody violence.

* Going hand in hand with that, I saw some nods to other well-known films, such as Platoon, Apocalypse Now and even A Clockwork Orange. A few for Cameron's own filmography as well, with visual references to The Abyss, Titanic, True Lies and the Terminator movies. Some people are trying to paint this movie as some kind of Free Willy ripoff, the way the first supposedly ripped off Pocahontas and Dances With Wolves. Overall, I get the sense that this film and its sequels are starting to play out kind of like a sci-fi version of Centennial.

* I was hoping Kate Winslet's character Ronal would have had more of a presence, even if she is slated to appear in future installments. She and Cliff Curtis as Tonowari still did a great job with their screentime, though. All of the performances are pretty damn good, to be honest. Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana, in particular, are even more engaging now that they're playing parents as well as warriors. And the actors playing the kids (including Sigourney Weaver) all do very well.

* I remember being skeptical when I read back in 2010 that Sigourney Weaver and Stephen Lang would be coming back for the sequel, despite their characters dying in the first Avatar. However, I should retroactively slap myself in the face, because the way they pulled it off was remarkable. Turning Quaritch blue was a great idea, and Stephen Lang's motion capture performance might be the most striking next to Zoe Saldana's. Meanwhile, apart from the novelty of playing an angsty teen alien girl with cat ears, Sigourney Weaver has got a lot of unique stuff to do as Kiri. And probably even more in whatever they've got planned for the sequel.

* Most Obvious Symbolism: An important location in the movie ends up being a place called Three Brothers Rock, which could apply to the Sully brothers and Spider or the Sully brothers and Payakan, Lo'ak's "spirit brother."


Quaritch: “Well… ain’t this a bitch.”

Neytiri: "Demon! I will kill you as many times as I have to!"

Jake: “I know one thing. Wherever we go, this family is our fortress.”

Tonowari: “Toruk Makto and his family will stay with us. Treat them as our brothers and sisters. They do not know the sea, so they will be like babies taking their first breath. Teach them our ways so they do not suffer the shame of being useless.”

Tsireya: "The way of water has no beginning and no end. The sea is around you and in you. The sea is your home, before your birth and after your death. Our hearts beat in the womb of the world. Our breath burns in the shadows of the deep. The sea gives and the sea takes. Water connects all things. Life to death. Darkness to light."

Quaritch: “50 villages, 100 villages, I don’t care. We’ll search them all.”
Scoresby: “I hunt Tulkun. That’s what I’m rigged for. That’s all my guys do. I’ve got quotas to meet.”
Quaritch: “I’ll be nice, once, then I won’t.”
Scoresby: “… Well, if you can’t get out of it, get into it.”

Lo'ak: “Demon blood. Alien. That's all they see.”
Tsireya: "I see you."

Jake: "Sullys stick together. That was our greatest weakness, and our greatest strength."

Some might say its plot doesn't excuse its three hour runtime, but I've seen it twice and it didn't feel like three hours to me, either time. If you liked the last one, you'll probably like this one even more. Five out of five new stars in the sky.


  1. Great review! I think I liked it more than the first one and it didn't feel like three hours to me either. When I take the time (and money) to go see a movie in the theater, I want it to be vivid and captivating and worthy of the big screen. James Cameron movies always suceed in that for me. Yes, there were a lot of scenes that reminded me of other movies. But, I often like when writers and directors pull in action or storylines from other movies because it makes me feel like we have shared love for other movie experiences. Being immersed in that glorious colorful world for three hours then coming outside to a dull winter landscape in northern Michigan made me want to run back inside and watch the movie again. :)

  2. Logan, what a great review. I was going to skip it, but now I'm intrigued. Your job is done. :)

  3. Well written LJ !!!!!!!!!!!!


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