This action-packed return to Pandora is wildly entertaining
“Avatar: The Way of Water” is one of the best cinematic experiences of the year, as director James Cameron delivers a thrilling addition to the franchise. Though not without its flaws, the 192 minute runtime is filled to the brim with brilliant visuals, touching character moments and bombastic action scenes that come together to tell a compelling story.
Taking place more than a decade after the events of “Avatar,” the story follows Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) as they settle down in Pandora to raise their kids amidst a renewed conflict with the “sky people.” The humans are back with a familiar villain: Colonel Miles (Stephen Lang) still hungry for revenge in the body of a Na’vi after being defeated by Neytiri in the previous movie. Jake and Neytiri try desperately to protect their family as they’re ruthlessly hunted by Colonel Miles.
Avatar’s breathtaking visuals return better than ever. For the second installment in the franchise, Cameron spared no effort in using visual VFX to their fullest effects. The ecosystems of Pandora are vibrant and alive, and each scene in the wide world features intricate and full biomes, including new, impossibly lifelike groups of underwater flora and fauna.
As much of the movie takes place underwater, Cameron used new water and light simulations to achieve an ethereal effect. As the characters explore the new vast ocean, audiences are pulled along for the ride, fully immersed in the eye-candy of the new environments.
The cinematography is good overall with interesting camerawork. The camera moves in natural ways, allowing for long scenes without cuts. The camera also does a great job of following characters as they swing through trees and swim through the ocean, making the movement feel in pace with the camera. One minor caveat is the editing, which features some bizarre cuts and jarring bits of digital zoom, which can take away from the experience as a whole.
Action scenes are fun and dynamic, with surprisingly good choreography. The varied fighting styles the tribes use against the humans is a blast to watch, and there is a whole new array of weapons for the main characters to play with. If a loud explosion-fest is what you’re looking for, “Avatar: The Way of Water” will certainly not disappoint.
Another major place of improvement from the first film is in the character department. Through showing heartwarming interactions between Jake and his new family, the movie is able to flesh out his Na’vi family and, even more impressively, make the audience care about them. Jake’s children also undergo significant character growth throughout the film, learning key lessons about family.
The major themes of preserving nature are back from the first movie, along with new ones of belonging and duty. Cameron dedicates extensive time to making sure these ideas are thoroughly fleshed out. For example, the portrayal of the ecological havoc wreaked by the humans compared to how the Na’vi effortlessly live with nature sends a clear message to the viewer: it’s time to get serious about conserving the environment.
Unfortunately despite all the movie gets right, a few flaws still stand out. The plot, while understandable, is a bit too simplistic. Certain events just happen, with no clear explanation as to why. While the plot is by no means horrible, don’t go into this movie expecting a grand, story driven narrative.
What is truly atrocious, however, is the dialogue. The back-and-forths are poorly written, and hissing or growling often substitutes comprehensible dialogue. Even worse, all the kids use words like “bro” and “cuz” in every other sentence. This isn’t how kids talk, and it’s especially distracting since they are supposed to be aliens, living in a small tribe on a planet light years away from Earth.
The villain might just be the worst part of this movie. If you thought Colonel Miles was cliché in the original Avatar, he's even worse now. Miles has turned into your stereotypical, mustache-twirling villain motivated only by revenge. His estranged relationship with his son goes unexplored throughout the movie, missing a key opportunity to add more depth to his character.
He is also hilariously evil, often shooting animals and burning down Na’vi villages for close to no reason. Sometimes, having a bad guy do bad things to show the audience how bad they are can work, but not for Avatar. The film is clearly trying to tell a deeper story of exploitation and greed, and Colonel Miles is just not cutting it.
Despite its flaws, “Avatar: The Way of Water” delivers in the end. Dynamic action scenes, brilliant visual effects and good character work come together to form a cohesive, interesting story. While there are certainly caveats, they aren’t nearly bad enough to ruin the overall experience.
“Avatar: The Way of Water” was released on Dec. 16 and is now playing in theaters, including Regal Majestic Stadium 20 & IMAX, AMC Wheaton Mall 9 and AMC Montgomery 16.
Alexander Liu. Hi, I'm Alex (he/him) and I'll be a staff writer for SCO this year. I'm passionate about public policy and international relations. In my free time, I enjoy drawing and watching terrible rom-coms. More »