Can the fans who waited 13 years for a new Avatar still be invested? What about the true believers who purchased $40 million worth of advance tickets? The answer is “yes, absolutely.” Perhaps inevitably, the wait between the two movies might have caused a few people to lose interest, but The Way of Water is a definite improvement on the original and director James Cameron brings the world back to life in fantastic, phantasmagoric fashion.
Cameron and fellow screenwriters have come up with some of the most potent visuals to ever grace the big screen. When birds fly over Pandora, your retina will explode with lights, colors and images that sparkle like a thousand seas. It’s one of those movies that needs to be seen on a big screen–please, please, please, don’t wait for this to stream on Disney plus–and it needs to be experienced with a crowd of strangers who cheer on every fight, gasp at every stunt and lose their mind over every little detail. Otherwise, it’ll be like watching the moon landing on your iphone.
It’s not the first time Cameron has taken us to another planet (see: Aliens), but it’s one of the few times his dialogue hasn’t sunk the ship, (see: Titanic). It’s hard to spend too much time laughing at lines like “we’re not in Kansas anymore” or exposition dumps about “Unobtanium” when there’s a new discovery waiting around every corner of rain forest and every bend of reef. When the movie opens, Jake (Sam Worhtington) is raising a family with his wife Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), who has given birth to three children in the past decade.
In the establishing shot, we see Jake play with his kids Tuk (Trinity Bliss), Lo’ak (Britain Dalton), and Neteyam (Jamie Flatters), but their game is interrupted when a group of humans land on Pandora looking to find a replacement for Earth. This time the humans have created their own Na’vi soldiers, including one with the memories of colonel Quatrich (Stetpen Lang), leader of the army in charge of taking down Jake.
His mission is to bring Jake back to basecamp, which means Jake’s only chance at keeping his family safe is to find a new home. Somewhere off the coast of Na’vi, they find refuge with a school of salmon led by Tonawari (Cliff Curtis) and Ronal (Kate Winslet), who live in what can only be described as an alien version of Sea World. The coast is a tropical oasis, filled with glassy waters, glowing flowers and floating islands, and some of the coolest creatures ever put on screen. At first the place seems like a hidden Atlantis, but in the last act, we come to understand why humans would want to come and take over the land.
The function of the pixels and effects is to communicate the magic of the world and why others would want to live there. But we wouldn’t care about this battle if we didn’t care about our heroes. Worthington, as the strong, open-minded father, is the heart, while Saldana, as the quiet yet resourceful mother, is the soul of this endeavor. Saldana gives one of the most heartbreaking performances of the year, while Worthington’s physicality in the second act is astounding. The Way of Water is staggering in its cinematic scope, but scaled to human size it embodies more than just blockbuster views and groundbreaking vistas, it manifests real emotion.
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