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Avatar has a wonderful way with water: Movie Review

20th Century
20th Century

No matter how great it might be, it’s hard to imagine seeing any movie being worth a 13 year wait for its production. Though with its continually groundbreaking visuals and epic story, Avatar: The Way of Water gets pretty close.

What is and will undoubtably be the biggest movie of 2022 - and maybe the decade so far - matches many of the successes and failures of its predecessor Avatar, which (for anyone living under a rock) became the highest grossing movie of all time back in 2009.

The Way of Water continues the story of Na’vi (the blue aliens) versus pesky humans on the fictional jungle planet of Pandora. Like the first film, the greatest achievement are the truly awe-inspiring visual, creatures, world building and cinematography of the beautiful and bold world.

Also growing in epic scale are the branches of the Sully family, led by returning stars Jake (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) as they now have three of their own children and two semi-adopted ones.

In a pleasant surprise, most of the central conflicts revolve around the family’s relationships as they balance power, war and their place on Pandora as its protectors from the “sky people”, or invading humans. These stories are all played with great sincerity that’s fully adequate for the plot of a massive action epic.

On a stage set for plots and subplots of parents, children, and the right way to care and fight for them, the story is longer than it is rich or nuanced. The story of Avatar 2, also like the first film, is satisfactory for the technical showcase surrounding the script.

The film’s 3+ hour run time is best broken into four main chapters, each about 45 minutes long. That first chunk is mainly exploratory and catching up the audience on the inciting incidents necessary for the rest of the movie. But the pacing picks up dramatically after that, all building to the final 45 minute fight that’s an aquatic masterpiece.

20th Century
20th Century

So let’s get to the big question: does The Way of Water live up to its lofty expectations? Eventually, yes. It’s a big, epic movie, and those vehemently against sci-fi and fantasy will certainly be overwhelmed. But for most everyone else ages 13 and up, it’s certainly the biggest and showiest movie of the year.

It’s hard to talk about some of the most interesting details and choices in the film without spoiling them, but I can safely say the use of all actors from the first film are used creatively and thoroughly in the second.

As for the new cast, there are several great new characters both fighting for the Na’vi (including the new Metkayina clan) and the humans, including established actors like Edie Falco, Jemaine Clement and Oscar winner Kate Winslet all transcending their familiarity to play great new characters.

Special mention should be made for two newcomers: Britain Dalton as Lo’ak, Jake and Neytiri’s second son, and Bailey Bass as Tseireya, daughter of the Metkayina leaders. They get a lot of screen time to build relationship among the teenage Na’vi and their performances, especially with motion capture (and while free diving!) are terrific.

Based on how much of the story takes place in oceans and while underwater, it’s easy to see why waiting to develop underwater motion capture was so vital to the story. And it really is beautiful to see, including how human the action appears to be.

There is a lot happening in The Way of Water, which can be an intimidating prospect for casual moviegoers. It might even be intimidating to anyone who’s forgotten most of Avatar since its original release. Thankfully, the upside to extended exposition is that you can walk into the theatre and understand most of the movie without needing to have done any homework on the Na’vi.

As for the visuals on display, 3D and IMAX-size screens will certainly improve the film if you’re willing to spend the extra money on admission. But most audiences will still have a great time in 2D.

I attended a high-frame rate show and would advise against it - it looks great most of the time, but the slightly altered frame rate looks odd as different scenes throughout have different frame rate, and seeing them alternate feels slightly disorienting.

Overall, famed director James Cameron (Terminator, Titanic and the first Avatar) has designed, written and led another team of expert filmmakers to create a visually dynamic blockbuster with a heartfelt story.

Even if the plot doesn’t go deep enough under the surface, the vistas underwater make for a truly spectacular (and well worth seeing) dive back into Pandora.

Let the countdown to Avatar 3 begin.

Avatar: The Way of Water

8 out of 10

PG, 3hrs 12mins. Sci-Fi Action Adventure Epic.

Co-written and Directed by James Cameron.

Starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña, Britain Dalton, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Jack Champion, Cliff Curtis, Bailey Bass, Edie Falco, Jemaine Clement and Kate Winslet.

Now playing at Film.Ca Cinemas, Cineplex Winston Churchill & VIP and Cineplex Oakville & VIP. Also in IMAX.