Avatar: The Way of Water review – Content Deluge

After more than three hours, hundreds of characters, numerous plotlines and several years of in-universe time, we walked out of Avatar: The Way of Water and mainly thought “boy, that sure was a lot of stuff“.

To truly appreciate just how much is packed into the newer, bluer sequel to Avatar, we need to look at the official synopsis.

“Set more than a decade after the events of the first film, ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ begins to tell the story of the Sully family (Jake, Neytiri, and their kids), the trouble that follows them, the lengths they go to keep each other safe, the battles they fight to stay alive, and the tragedies they endure.”

In a weird but strangely fitting decision, the in-universe time difference between the two movies is almost exactly lined up with the 13 year wait – in the real world – between this movie and the original 2009 Avatar. The characters go through great lengths in the script to divulge, using Earth years, how much time has passed too, further cementing this deliberate decision.

This meta narrative choice by director James Cameron has ripple effects for the entire movie as, while many characters return from the 2009 outing, they are not the main focus of this sequel.

While introducing new characters into the fray is nothing new, what is notable here just how great the pains are to change up as much of this movie as possible. Yes the setting is still the alien planet of Pandora, but most of it is based in water sections so different to the first that it could have been a new planet.

That’s just one example and we can’t explain more without spoiling the story. What we will say is this: it’s a bit shocking just how much of the older movie is discarded and ignored as we head into The Way of Water. On the one hand it’s a bold decision to make, and on the other hand many people berated the first movie for having forgettable characters, so we can’t help but think that these decisions were spurred by discussion of that first movie.

The best way to think about The Way of Water is this: imagine an esoteric sci-fi book series that, in each new instalment, changes its main character, location and overall beats to a massive degree. Yes the best example is likely the Dune series, but at least for its latest movie iteration the filmmakers had the good sense to split the first book into two movies.

All of this meta discussion aside, how is the story as it stands?

It’s good but bloated. You really feel those three hours drag on. While different viewers will naturally gravitate towards certain characters, some are better than others and we found ourselves groaning whenever a scene changed to any of the particularly irksome examples.

We won’t focus on any one actor or their heavily CGI appearance, but we will note that many of the alien ones are still doing that weird, vaguely Earth culture accent. It’s just so unnecessary and stunts the work of the cast trying to put in good performances.

And that brings us to what many people will likely ask about in this movie: the CGI. We saw The Way of Water in 3D IMAX and, to the surprise of no one, it looked great. The spectacle is insane and there’s a lot of truly stunning set pieces on display.

Some of the movements of CGI characters and items – like mechs and creatures – are likely the most lifelike we’ve ever seen in any medium. The action scenes are particularly brutal, but would have come across on the comical side if the effects weren’t good enough to make the situation as real as possible.

We only have one real compliant, and that’s the 3D. The Way of Water presents like a movie stuck in the past when countless characters wave items right in front of the lens, or some explosion happens to send debris conveniently right at the centre of the scene so it pops out at you. It’s like we’re back in the early 2000s and every movie on the roster did this same effect every few minutes to justify the extra charge on the 3D glasses. Come on Cameron, you’re above those cheap tricks.

Combine all of this and, while watching this movie, you may feel yourself to be in a flow state where you just vibe with what’s happening on the screen.

This may sound very nebulous and we’ve talked a lot about how The Way of Water makes you feel, but that’s intentional as this movie has a real X factor that needs to be experienced.

We’re not pulling the old Lovecraft writing cop out to say that things as indescribable, we’re just pointing out the “you have to be there” appeal of this one.

And that was likely the entire intent for Cameron and company as the first Avatar movie remains top grossing film of all time and all parties involved would like a repeat, especially as many more Avatar movies are pencilled in for the next decade or so.

Because of this sentiment you may have already guessed our recommendation to see this movie in theatres, especially now during the holidays where many will have some extra free time (and money) to go on a bit of a virtual trip to Pandora for three hours and change.

The sometimes meandering story, select grating characters, forgettable score and other small problems are definite pain points, but the overall product is still so compelling that Avatar: The Way of Water walks away with high marks from us.


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