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Avatar: The Way of Water

Upon its initial release, AVATAR instantly changed the cinematic landscape forever.  James Cameron’s sci-fi adventure not only became the highest grossing film of all time, but it was a revelation in terms of visuals and special effects. The beautiful world of Pandora that was presented to audiences was virtually flawless, and even those who didn’t buy into the story couldn’t help but marvel at its undeniable beauty and wonder.

AVATAR was a planned series of five films from the jump, but Cameron needed to wait until the technology was developed in order to bring the next chapter of his vision to life. Everyone knew it would take a while, but more than a decade? That seemed like a bit of a stretch. Yet here we are, thirteen years later, and AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER has finally debuted on the big screen. It wasn’t met with the same earth-shattering reception as its predecessor, but within a week-and-a-half of its initial release, it has already become one of the highest grossing films for the year.  

Set more than ten years after the events of AVATAR, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is now the leader of the Omaticaya clan and a father. He and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) have two sons, Neteyam (Jamie Flatters) and Lo’ak (Britain Dalton), a daughter Tuk (Chloe Coleman), and an adopted daughter named Kiri (Sigourney Weaver).  Kiri was born from the inert avatar of Grace Augustine (Weaver) who has been in a lifeless state since the events of the first film. Also tagging along is a human boy named Spider (Jack Champion) who is the son of the evil Colonel Miles Quaritch (the scene-stealing Stephen Lang).  

Life is great for all until the “sky people” return with a vengeance. The Earth is dying, and humans, lead by General Frances Ardmore (Edie Falco) have decided that Pandora will be their new home. Before they can make this a reality, however, they must “tame” the indigenous population. Their methods are swift and violent, much like they were the first time around. After a year of inhabitation and taking heavy losses due to a guerilla insurgence by the Na’vi (lead by Sully, of course) they develop a new tactic to help in their plight. Avatars known as recombatants have the minds and memories of deceased RDA soldiers who originally waged war on the Na’vi tribe and are utilized to quash the rebellion. The leader of this crew, obviously, is Quaritch. Not only does he have knowledge and an affinity for murder, but he also has a personal vendetta against the Na’vi and Jake Sully in particular.

Jake, after seeing first-hand the lengths the “sky people” will go to hunt him and his family down, decides to hit the road and go into hiding. They end up with the Metkayina clan, lead by Chief Tonowari (Cliff Curtis) and his wife Ronal (Kate Winslet). The clan have residence on a reef, and Sully and his family must learn to adapt to a life at sea.  This involves spending a great deal of time underwater, which in turn, is exactly what the performers of this film had to do. Much like Cameron did with the first AVATAR, in which he helped create new technology in order to bring his vision to life, this time around, he and his crew invented new ways to film motion capture events underwater. This meant that not only would the cast be performing under water, but they would be taking a page out of the David Blaine playbook and holding their breath for ridiculously long periods of time. To top it off, they had to do so in character and execute what was written in the script. Regardless of what you think of the story or the movie as a whole, it’s impossible not to be impressed and awe-struck at the sheer innovation and dedication that this task required.

As I watched in jaw-dropping wonderment, I couldn’t help but think back to DOCTOR STANGE AND THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS. The CGI felt is if it were punching me in the face, and the opening sequence felt more like a video game than any other scene I could remember seeing in a Marvel movie. I couldn’t help but think that from a technological perspective, it was a step backwards rather than forwards. Then, I see something like THE WAY OF WATER, and it reminds me what movie magic can truly be. It has a running time that approaches three hours and fifteen minutes which admittedly, will be far too long for some. I understand that. In addition, there is so much happening within this time frame that there are still questions left unanswered and so many moving parts that one could argue are not entirely cohesive. I get that. The thing is, much like the original AVATAR, we came for the spectacle. This is a film that took thirteen years to be delivered, and now that it is here, I’m okay sitting in a theater chair for a little longer than I usually would. It is, by any standard, a completely immersive, beautiful production that was quite obviously a labor of love for all involved. The effects were flawless and unlike recent MCU efforts that never exactly let you forget that you’re watching green-screen graphics, THE WAY OF WATER felt as close to realistic as you could possibly get. The underwater world is so meticulously crafted that it never occurs to you that it isn’t real.  Like Villenueve’s DUNE, it begs to be seen on the biggest screen possible, and to my surprise, may very well have been worth the wait.


(Now showing in theaters)

Brian Miller