In 2009, James Cameron introduced audiences and movie lovers everywhere to the mesmerizing world of Pandora and its blue-skinned natives, the Na’vi, in his blockbuster hit Avatar. Since its release, viewers have confused the term “Avatar” to mean either The Last Airbender, or the tall, blue, Na’vi-human hybrids that the film encompasses. It garnered near-universal acclaim for its story and visual effects, and was nominated for a plethora of awards, including Best Picture at the Academy Awards. After being adjusted for inflation, Avatar is the second-highest-grossing movie of all time at the box office, behind Gone with the Wind. After the film’s massive success, Cameron was signed to produce four more sequels. Now, after 13 years of waiting, he has finally released the first sequel, Avatar: The Way of Water.
Already since its December release, The Way of Water has passed the $2 billion mark, and has been named by several film institutions as being one of the best movies of 2022. It has won numerous awards at various award shows this season, and has been nominated for Best Picture alongside three other accolades for the upcoming Academy Awards that are to be held in March, 2023. Due to discussion of major plot points, I caution readers who haven’t seen the movie yet with a spoiler alert.
The film takes place 16 years following the events of the first film, with Jake Sully, our protagonist, following being completely bonded into his Na’vi avatar in the first film, and has created a family with love interest Neytiri, and their five children. Where the story picks up, Sully is the chief of the Omatikaya clan on Pandora, and faces conflict when the Resources Development Administration (RDA)–the corporation Sully worked with to come to Pandora in the first place–returns to exploit the land and its resources for Earth’s gain. One of Sully’s adopted children, Kiri, was born from Grace Augustine’s (played by Sigourney Weaver in the first film) inert avatar, while his other adopted child, Spider, is a human child born on Pandora from Colonel Miles Quaritch, the late antagonist from the previous film. As the war against RDA worsens on his homefront, Sully is pushed to relocate his family to the water-centered Metkayina tribe, which forces every member of the family to adjust in some way to their new community, while evading the persistent threat of the RDA.
Going into the movie, I knew it was going to be a knockout, albeit a three-hour-long endeavor. Cameron did a stellar job of communicating a novel, thrilling story with the original Avatar, paired with the extraordinary visual effects. After 13 years of waiting around for this movie, I figured as much that the waiting was all meant for something, and, boy, was it all worth it! Even with the three-hour runtime, I only found myself checking my watch a handful of times. The various storylines wove together almost seamlessly, and provided enough development with the characters and overarching storyline to keep me engaged the whole time. As someone who always listens for a good movie score, this one did not disappoint, even with a new composer, Simon Franglen, arriving on the scene after Avatar score composer James Horner’s death in 2015. The action scenes shown throughout were all so captivating, and had myself and my friends in the theater gasping out loud at some of the stunts performed. A rising theme of fatherhood becomes prevalent throughout the film, too, against the issue of trying to find belonging within a family unit, both shown through the struggles Sully and his children face as they navigate through new obstacles, both together and individually.
Overall, I would suggest that anyone who loves Avatar should definitely watch The Way of Water. Understanding that three hours is a bit daunting to sit in the theater for, watching it from the comfort of your home with friends is a just-as-good way to give this film a watch. Keeping audiences’ attention throughout the entire storyline, it certainly has anchored down my promise to watch the forthcoming sequels in the future, with the next installment being rumored to have a 2024 release date.