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Avatar: The Way of Water

Avatar: The Way of Water

Rated PG-13 - for sequences of strong violence and intense action, partial nudity and some strong language.
Director: James Cameron
Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Cliff Curtis, Kate Winslet, Sigourney Weaver, Britain Dalton, Joel David Moore
Running Time: 3 hours, 12 minutes
Theatrical Release Date: December 16, 2022


Plot Summary

Jake Sully lives with his newfound family formed on the extrasolar moon Pandora. Once a familiar threat returns to finish what was previously started, Jake must work with Neytiri and the army of the Na'vi race to protect their home. (adapted from IMDB)

Film Review

When James Cameron's Avatar debuted in 2009, I don't think anyone expected it to become the world's highest grossing film of all time -- even till this day, bringing in just under 3 billion dollars at the box office, globally. Sequels were quickly discussed, and delays left and right would keep anything from materializing until 13 years later in 2022, with its first sequel (of supposedly many), Avatar: The Way of Water.

Avatar: The Way of Water
The 2009 film boasted the use of motion capture technology to create 10-foot-tall alien, cat-like creatures called the Na'vi who inhabit a planet called Pandora. So when humans discover a valuable substance on the planet called "unobtainium" (*facepalm*), they build a mining colony on the planet to harvest the mineral. They even go so far as creating "avatar" versions of Na'vi bodies to insert the consciousness of humans into the alien vessels so they can infiltrate the Na'vi culture and earn their trust. Crippled former Marine Jake Sully is enlisted to pilot his deceased twin brother's avatar, and learns the ways of the Na'vi in the process. Their beautiful and primitive ways of life celebrate nature and alien life around them, posing a direct contrast to the human's violent and selfish nature. Yeah, the humans are largely the villains of these stories - save for a select few scientists (and Sully, who has now become a Na'vi anyway, but whose weaknesses are born from his reliance on human science and his own humanity) - as the message of preserving and honoring nature, and following New Age-y beliefs, is something the story gives great value to.

To recap how the 2009 Avatar film ended, Sigourney Weaver's Dr. Grace Augustine character is killed in combat and is unable to make a successful permanent transfer to her avatar. Instead, her spirit is absorbed by the Na'vi's spiritual tree. The film's main villain, Col. Miles Quaritch, played by Stephen Lang, meets his end with two poisoned arrows to the chest from Zoe Saldana's Na'vi character, Neytiri. And, during the climax, Jake is narrowly saved by Neytiri from suffocating to death in the Pandora atmosphere, and the film concludes with Jake waking up having successfully merged his spirit permanently into his Na'vi avatar. So where does Avatar: The Way of Water take the story next?

Avatar: The Way of Water
Minor spoilers ahead for the Avatar: The Way of Water plot... In the time since the 2009 film, the humans have almost entirely vacated Pandora, while Jake and Neytiri have started their own family. Somehow, Weaver's Dr. Augustine's avatar had a child and gives birth to Kiri - without the story explaining exactly how this was possible or who the father is. (I guess we're to assume this will be explored in further sequels?) A young boy was found having been left behind on Pandora when the humans left because children cannot be put into cryogenic sleep. The Sully's take Kiri into their family and raise her as their own, while this boy, nicknamed Spider, becomes a close friend to the family. Years pass, and life is good for the people of Pandora... until the humans suddenly return. Because Earth is dying, humans decide to colonize Pandora, and ships arrive to build a homebase city. Leading a small military outfit that comes along for the ride is a special Na'vi avatar that has had the memories and personality of the deceased Col. Miles Quaritch uploaded into its consciousness. It isn't quite Quaritch, but it still kind of is. The team that accompanies him are his old squad, all also now fully transferred into Na'vi avatars. And it seems as if Col. Quaritch's only purpose is to hunt down and kill Jake Sully. When he finds some of the Sully children, and threatens them, Jake must take his family away from their home to protect them and the Na'vi, and sets off hundreds of miles away to seek solace among an entirely different Na'vi tribe that lives on the water. A big part of the story then is about the Sully's adapting to this new way of life in a community where they are outsiders. And will Jake's past somehow find them there?

The 2009 film garnered most of its acclaim for Cameron's use of 3D and motion capture technology to create stellar visuals. It was enough to get people to come back to the theater over and over, too. With Avatar: The Way of Water, Cameron hopes lightening will strike twice, and utilizes 3D once again, along with the latest and greatest in CG and motion capture technology. He also has dragged the runtime out past three hours, a half an hour longer than the lengthy first film. I revisited the first movie, before seeing The Way of Water in IMAX 3D, and I didn't feel as if Avatar has aged all that well. When you strip away the wonder of the visuals - which aren't that special now in 2022 - it's a pretty basic story and movie. Cameron expects everyone who marveled at his creation well over a decade ago to be astonished at the feast for the eyes that Avatar: The Way of Water tries to be. But honestly, when you boil down to it, The Way of Water is much of the same that we saw in the first movie. Avatar flaunted the beauty of a sci-fi forest, while The Way of Water showcases the beauty of a sci-fi water world. The focus is still on Jake and his family, but there's a lot more screen time devoted to his kids, especially the youngest of his two sons, Lo'ak (played by Britain Dalton). The main kids are good, and the actors do a solid job, but now the movie feels much more like How to Train Your Dragon than anything else. Lo'ak is pretty much Hiccup who ends up taming a feared whale (that everyone says is evil or deadly, like Toothless), with Jake now standing in for Hiccup's father, Stoic (Jake even frequently disapproves of what Lo'ak does, just like Stoic does with Hiccup). And with having Quaritch back, but this time as an avatar, it feels kind of repetitive and convoluted bringing him back. I get that it makes for a more personal villain that explains the whole plot element of trying to hunt down the Sully family, but let's face it, Col. Miles Quaritch is no Darth Vader; a villain whose screen presence is so captivating that we not only want to see him return, but as fans, we need to! Without Quaritch having a personal beef with the Sully's, there really is no reason for them to be singled out and need to leave their home, so Cameron resurrects him for convenience sake.

Avatar: The Way of Water
The animation for the motion capture performance of the Na'vi has certainly come a long way. I was surprised to notice so much apparent green screen work when I rewatched 2009's Avatar. Also, compared to a lot of today's films that use this kind of technology, it was noticeably aged. The greatest achievements with the advancement of the special effects in The Way of Water is definitely in the mouth performance of the Na'vi characters and the detail in their skin. Everything is pretty smooth in the animation, but I don't think it ever looks convincingly real. It always feels obvious to me that we're watching animated characters. And when the screen switches from focusing on a Na'vi character to a human one, it's rather jarring. It really is like dropping human actors into an animated film, and it never feels seamless. And sure, the alien aquatic life is pretty to look at, but it doesn't feel so impressive anymore (and 2018's Aquaman kind of already did that with a bioluminescent undersea world, too). Just think: since 2009, we've had over 20 Marvel blockbusters, five new Star Wars films, and a slew of other effects-heavy blockbusters. Pretty visuals alone just do not make a movie good anymore.

Some movies benefit from a lengthy runtime (Avengers: Endgame quickly comes to mind. Even this year's The Batman, which was just under 3 hours, was more enjoyable). The first film seemed to justify it to some degree, but The Way of Water definitely does not. Knowing how James Cameron is in real life (from hearing him talk in interviews and such), and knowing how well the first movie performed, it's hard to watch long, drawn out scenes of CG-animated characters and not think that it's just Cameron trying to show off what he can do. It may look pretty good, sure, but the wonder is long gone. And, sadly, what's left is just a movie. A decent movie, sure, but just a movie nonetheless. When you realize that Avatar isn't as good as we're expected to think it is, its flaws really start to come to the surface.

The content for the The Way of Water is similar to the first film, except this time, there are a couple "F" words added in with the profanity (I think both are from the kid, Spider). I was pleasantly surprised to hear a lot less blasphemy used by characters in this movie, but literally right after the film pulls a Valkyrie and audibly moves from having characters speak the Na'vi language to us hearing them speak English - when we're supposed to know they're actually speaking Na'vi - Sully uses Jesus's name as a profanity. (So does this mean there's a Na'vi word for "Jesus"? Or did he say the Lord's name in English mixed with Na'vi?) Anyway, apart from one muttered "g*dd*mn" from Spider a little later in the movie, that is the extent of the blasphemy, which is unsual for one of Cameron's films (where it's usually quite heavy with it). Otherwise, there is still quite a bit of other cussing, including 11 uses of the "S" word, some "S.O.B's," and a few other words and gestures, including one of the Sully boys flashing two middle fingers at a character. There isn't any sexual content in the movie, however, the native Na'vi women wear beads that barely cover their chests, so we often see lots of views of them with just the nipple covered (and one scene of a nude avatar floating in a tank where we briefly see the nipples). The action is similar to the first film, with not significantly graphic action, but there are plenty cuts and scrapes shown, and some blood when a character is shot. Also, we see LOTS of humans getting completely impaled by arrows, where we see the tip of the arrow stick through the human victim's back from being shot in the front. It's not bloody, but we see this quite a bit. The most graphic moment is pretty shocking, though, where a man's arm gets caught under a rope that is pulling tightly against him. As it breaks through the rest of the boat, it severs his arm as he's tossed into the air. It's not shown up close, but it's gross enough and will surprise those totally not expecting something like that to happen in an Avatar movie.

Avatar: The Way of Water is already getting buzz for being nearly as groundbreaking as the first one, but I suppose that's entirely up to the viewpoint of the viewer. For me, its bloated runtime and Cameron's own hubris bog the movie experience down, and I left the theater indifferent to what I had just seen. It's a decent follow-up to 2009's Avatar, but it's hardly as game-changing as Cameron would want you to believe. If you're a fan of the original, you're bound to enjoy The Way of Water, and I do admit I think it is probably better than the its predecessor, but by the time the credits rolled, and the story had wrapped for now (a third film is promised for 2024), I didn't feel eager to see it again (and still don't days later); to me, that says a lot about what this sequel brings to the table.

- John DiBiase (reviewed: 12/17/22)



Parental Guide: Content Summary

. Sex/Nudity: The Na'vi aliens are dressed with small loin cloths and the females wear beads that cover their breasts, but mostly just their nipples. So, throughout the film we see most of the womens' breasts, and in the case of a Na'vi avatar being seen floating in a tank, we do see the nipples of that one briefly; A human boy named Spider was raised by the Na'vi and wears just a loincloth throughout the movie, so we often see the side of his butt/hip; There's talk of wondering who Kiri's real father is, with characters wondering who Dr. Augustine had slept with.
. Vulgarity/Language: 1 "F" word (maybe a second, too); 11 "S" words, 1 "J-sus," 1 "g*dd*mn," 9 "h*ll," 3 "S.O.B," 3 "d*mn," 3 "a" words, 1 "a**h*le," 1 "b*tch," 2 "suck," 1 "b*stard," 1 "cr*p," and 1 "p*nis breath;" Lo'ak also gives both middle fingers to a bad guy.
. Alcohol/Drugs: None.
. Blood/Gore: A character has a bloody nose; Some characters fight and we see pretty bloody scrapes on their faces and body; A man presses a knife to a girl's neck, drawing a little blood; A woman slices a boy's chest with a knife, drawing a little blood; A character is shot and we see the bloody wound (not close up, though), with blood dripping down their chest with water that splashes on them; A human man's arm gets caught under a rope that is pulling tightly against him. As it breaks through the rest of the boat, it severs his arm as he's tossed into the air and we see the arm flip along with him as he lands in the water; After some fights, we see the Sully kids and some of the water Na'vi with bloody scrapes and bruises on their faces and bodies; The avatar of Quaritch finds the skeleton of the real Quaritch and picks up the skull. He then crushes it in his palm; Near the end of the movie, Jake has many bloody cuts on his face, including a pretty deep one that almost looks stitched.
. Violence: Lots of action violence. During one fight against the humans, Sully arms the fellow Na'vi with guns and they fight off the humans; Many times, we see Neytiri shooting arrows at humans and we see the arrows exit their bodies through the back. At times, she hits some in the head or eye, but it happens super quickly and isn't shown in detail. In one such instance, the arrow is yanked out of the victim's face, but again, it's not shown in detail; The avatar of Quaritch finds the skeleton of the real Quaritch and picks up the skull. He then crushes it in his palm; Quaritch and his team frequently threaten the children in the film, tying them up to things and holding blades or guns to their heads; Lo'ak struggles to remove a harpoon from a whale's flipper; Some of the Na'vi boys get into a rough fist-fight where many of them end up bloodied; Some characters swim out far into the ocean and then abandon one of the others. They're then pursued violently by a large underwater monster who almost gets them before another monster attacks the beast. The character runs out of air and sinks, but is later saved by another creature; A boat is destroyed by a harpoon line that causes a man's arm to get severed and we see his arm and the rest of his body being tossed through the air; A large ship is attacked during a battle and sinks, with several characters being trapped inside. Some fight despite their surroundings with one starting to drown. They're then rescued by another character. A couple of characters almost drown too, but narrowly escape; Several villages are set on fire and some innocent characters are killed as Quaritch hunts the Sully's; Kiri has a seizure when she sees a vision; and lots of other sci-fi action / violence.


Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.

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