Director: James Cameron
Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoë Saldaña, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Kate Winslet, Cliff Curtis
Run Time: 192 mins
Avatar: The Way of Water is the long-awaited sequel to Avatar, which set the box office charts alight becoming the highest grossing film of all time. It’s also director James Cameron’s first film since the 2009 original and he plans on releasing three further sequels. Although Avatar opened to a relatively strong critical reception and was technologically impressive for its time, it’s fair to say the film is rather lacking in the story department. Despite finding it overrated, Cameron undeniably directs the film with flair and at least in the first half of the film, his exploration of the human to avatar body experience is interesting.
Avatar: The Way of Water relocates the action from the forest to the water. Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), his wife Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) and family come under threat from humanity after living peacefully with and leading the Na’vi. They have no option but to relocate to Pandora’s coast where the Metkayina community give them refuge. There, they must the learn the way of the water (yes, really).
One of the reasons why the film has taken thirteen years to reach the screen is due to the complex nature of filming the cast underwater in performance capture. With a staggering estimated budget of $350 – 460 million, does Cameron’s sequel right the wrongs of its predecessor when it comes to story while blending impressive visual effects?
Unfortunately, Avatar: The Way of Water is a severe let-down and sadly builds upon the flaws of its predecessor. Although there’s clearly a lot of visual creativity, surprisingly there isn’t a single memorable shot in the film. This sequel essentially repeats the original’s story but transposes it to a new environment. Whilst a lazy route to take, the crucial aspect of a human piloting an avatar body is missing this time around which is the lynchpin the first film had to its enjoyment. There’s murmurs of Cameron perhaps trying to explore interesting themes, such as the decline of the world’s oceans as a result of global warming and mass farming, but they’re all watered down by the film’s other flaws.
The script is particularly poor, with Cameron regularly resorting to characters using 80’s slang like ‘cuz’ or ‘bro’ to communicate with each other or shouting “Woohoo!” in sequences that are designed to excite. Surely cinema is passed this? The action sequences are on the whole underwhelming, with characters constantly getting captured.
Surprisingly, both Sully and Neytiri have next-to-no character development this time around. In fact, this is symptomatic across the board. There’s barely any meat to the bone on any of the couple’s children and none of the new characters are memorable. Both Cliff Curtis and Kate Winslet have little to do, despite high-profile casting. Sigourney Weaver returns in a new role as Sully and Neytiri’s adopted daughter, mothered by Weaver’s scientist in the first film. It’s a staggeringly poor performance and the character is simply incredibly annoying and unreliable.
Arguably, it is Stephen Lang’s returning villain that (but surely unintentionally) gets the most meaningful arc. On that note, there’s always a problem of bringing back characters believed to be dead as it lessens the stakes (not that there were many to start with).
The problems of the film are further exacerbated by the fact it’s 192 minutes long. Cameron could have easily told this story in a more watertight 2 hours. It’s unrelentingly long and it goes nowhere. The third act climactic fight takes forever to finish and the film takes an age to end.
Simon Franglen replaces the late James Horner for the score and it also isn’t particularly memorable, Franglen simply choosing to ape Horner’s work rather than develop it.
For some, Avatar: The Way Of Water may be visually exciting but it’s a thunderously disappointing sequel that doubles down on the problems of its predecessor. It’s a chore to sit through as the simplistic story doesn’t warrant the extended running time and there’s next to no character development. Audiences may have been tempted back for this sequel to experience what they’d believe would be a visual extravaganza and it will be interesting if the turn-out will be quite as impressive for the third film, given this film’s flaws.
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