Review: Avatar: The Way of Water

By Christian DiMartino

Allow myself to quote myself, in my initial review of James Cameron’s Avatar from earlier this year:

“Like, yeah, there’s flaws, but… f**k’em, look at what Cameron did here.”

Yeaaaaaaaah, that’s pretty much where I stand with Avatar: The Way of Water.

I revisited Avatar back in September and it was every bit as astonishing of a visual experience as you want, and crave. The flaws were indeed visible: the characters aren’t too remarkable, Zoe Saldana’s Neytiri aside, are thin; the plot isn’t anything profound; the dialogue occasionally feels yanked from an 80’s action movie. But honestly, does that REALLY matter, when you take into consideration just what Cameron was able to achieve with it?

So now comes Avatar: The Way of Water, a movie that, frankly, I assumed was a myth for a long time. Cameron spoke of it, and kept promising it was coming. But the release date just kept getting pushed back, perhaps because he was waiting for technology to advance. Watching Avatar: The Way of Water, I knew and understood completely. This film isn’t just an event, but it’s an astonishing, breathtaking visual achievement, and it has earned 4 stars for being that achievement. This is every bit the work of a creative visionary’s imagination. What you are seeing is definitely the work of a master filmmaker who has brought his distinct, stunning vision to the screen. And do you know what? Visual effects have come along way since the first Avatar, and not only does that movie still look better than most movies, but this one looks even better, which I didn’t know was possible.

Now don’t get me wrong: if the first movie wasn’t your vibe, this one won’t convert. Chances are, if you want to go into it to have a bad time, you will. Cameron is a nutbag, and an ego maniac, and he’s hugely successful and people want to knock him. I get it. I also get that The Way of Water is, well, silly, three hours long, has clunky dialogue every so often, and has a plot that doesn’t cover too much in the way of new ground. It even borrows from, well, Avatar. But here’s the thing: watching this movie, I felt something that I often don’t feel. I wanted to be in this world. I wanted to reach out and touch what was in front of me, and I was already fully immersed in the experience. I also, I’ll confess, really wanted to be high. Getting high is not my vibe, but for this, it could be.

Part of that, I’ll say, is because I saw The Way of Water in IMAX 3D, and frankly I think this experience will be mesmerizing no matter what format you choose to see it, long as it’s in a theatre. But it was worth every cent. You will be mesmerized, chances are, as long as you’re willing to go along with Cameron’s vision. Which is gorgeous, albeit kooky in terms of its lore (more on that in a bit). Essentially, the movie is three hours, and precious little of it, if any, felt dull. The movie moves well, always dazzling the eye. It begins like a Cameron action film, settles into a lovely, absorbing middle section, and it builds to a pretty sensational, riveting final act.

So it’s been 13 years since the original, and in terms of the timeline in the film, it’s about the same. At the end of the first movie, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) became one with the Na’vi, and has since had multiple children with Neytiri in the jungle of Pandora. Almost all of the cast of the original return, despite the fact that some of these characters, well, died. How are they returning? Take Sigourney Weaver, for example. Her character Grace died, but was in the process of becoming a Na’vi. And… somehow her Na’vi body gave birth to a Na’vi named Kirri (Weaver is playing a teenager, basically), and nobody knows who the father is. Also returning is Stephen Lang, having the time of his life as the villainous Quaritch (Quidditch? Something like that) who, despite being killed by Neytiri, had his brain uploaded to a Na’vi body, and so did his dead comrades. All of this sounds like the writings of a mad man, but if you choose to go along with it, then you’ll have a good time.

Reuploaded and healthy again, Quaritch immediately seeks vengeance on Sully and co, and they cause another catastrophic ruckus. So they take it upon themselves to flee the land and find shelter elsewhere. This is where the water aspect comes in: they move to a different colony, headed by Ronal (Kate Winslet) and Tonowari (Cliff Curtis), and located on the ocean. They are, essentially, aquatic based. So Sully and fam must become accustomed to their new way of life, while Quaritch is hellbent on finding them and destroying them.

So, pretty simple stuff, and what precedes the final act did feel a little too similar to the first movie. Just a little. There are also a plethora of characters, new and old, and maybe they’ll get more time with the sequels, but not all of them get too fleshed. Kate Winslet is in this movie. Just throwing that out there. So is Edie Falco, my girl Carmella. Those are just two examples. But… I just have to tip my cap. Well, I don’t wear hats. But like, this movie is extremely impressive. And sure, slapping a 4 star rating on something that isn’t a masterpiece might seem film-broey or something. This isn’t a masterpiece, but it’s an amazing, awesome, awe-inspiring experience. One where the very majesty of it not only left my jaw agape, but it also kept me asking just how he pulled it off.

What you get of the performances is good, even if the writing might not always do them service. But really, this film is such a feast for the eyes that there isn’t really a true way of spoiling the movie, because it’s something that needs to be seen to be believed. Some may find the middle act slow, because the momentum present in the first act is slowed, and Cameron chooses to focus on the aquatic stuff promised in the title. I truly couldn’t get enough of it. My eyes melted from the beauty. Not just from the visual effects but also from the cinematography from Russell Carpenter. As a fan of the movie Aquaman (guilty pleasure), compared to this, it looks like s**t. But then the final act of this movie, despite my slight gripe, is a complete knockout, and say what you will about a lack of character development, but I was not only thrilled, but I cared.

By now it’s known that Cameron has at least five of these movies planned. Which, I’d love to see him do other things as well with that time. But let me put this into perspective: JK Rowling, shortly after the release of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, said that she had five movies planned. The first movie was fine, but I didn’t know if she could really get five movies out of this; the world, and the characters just weren’t quite there. That series ran out of gas by the second movie, and the third movie was a flop (even I didn’t see it). After two Avatar movies, if he’s able to pull off more of this, but continue to take us to new places in this world, I’d take three more of these. I don’t mind spending time with these people, but I love spending time in this world. I don’t know how this movie was achieved, and I don’t really know where Cameron is taking us next (Avatar: Fire Walk with Me?), but I know that he’s someone I’ll follow anywhere. Flaws be damned, he always gives us our money’s worth, and once again, the money truly is on the screen.


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