I saw “Avatar: The Way of Water” yesterday and I have to say, it was everything I hoped for. I am a huge fan of Avatar, and have been anticipating this one for years and years. Here, I’ll have a review, but I also wanted to be able to talk spoilers, so I clearly noted a spoiler-free and spoiler-filled part of my review.
First off, the movie is a stunning visual achievement. Some people say it looks “no different than” the original. I want to break that down for a second. For one thing, the level of cohesion of visual narrative with the original, despite being a different part of Pandora we’re visiting, is impressive. So in that sense, we don’t really want it to “look different” because then it would be too different to recognize the continuity. But if one means by that that it doesn’t look “better than” the original, that would be false. While the original is still a spectacular technical achievement, the insane level of detail throughout “The Way of Water” is unparalleled.
It’s hard to describe just how gorgeous this movie is. When you’re underwater, it’s teeming with life. One especially impressive thing I noticed was when swimming past anemone-like creatures, those which get touched interact and react, while those that don’t remain impassive. It’s a little thing, but in every single scene things like this happen, making it a visual feast.
Second, the story is much different from the first one. While there is obvious continuity, this one has a story that’s much more about family and what that means in a world torn by conflict while trying to find peace. Yes, there are huge, lengthy action scenes, but the plot in this one is pretty deep. I saw some complaining about the screenplay, and I honestly don’t get it. Is it a little bloated? Maybe. But do I care? No. I want to be on Pandora forever. Give me a 9 hour movie, I don’t care. The plot sustains the film, so that even as you go through lengthy action scenes, you’re excited to see what may happen next. And some of the action scenes have quite a bit of plot packed in as well.
This feels like a fully-realized world. That was one of the strengths of the first film, and it continues here. Whether it’s the sign language underwater that the water clans use or the completely real-feeling underwater environs, the film feels like it’s filmed in a real world. And, with even more of the action being entirely CG, it’s incredible how much I basically forgot I was watching something that was computer generated. It was an experience.
SO MANY FEELINGS.
First off, I genuinely did not expect anyone to die late in the film. I figured if one of the kids or Jake or Neytiri was going to die, it would happen early on. So I was honestly not ready to lose Neteyam at the late stage in the movie. As a dad, let me tell you, that scene of going to Eywa and seeing a younger Netayam in a reprisal of the earlier scene just… broke me inside a bit. Tears streaming down face in theater, full on. It was so beautifully done. How often do you go to a movie that makes you leave wanting to be a better person? And this “silly” movie with blue people did that for me. It made me once again reflect on the need to focus on what matters.
I will say that I would have traded some of the length of the action scenes for more story- and world-building. While the action scenes are all incredibly well done, I wanted to spend even more time in the solitude of Pandora, watching fish trail around Kiri’s feet or swimming with the anemones.
Spider? I loved him as a character. I don’t know why. It shouldn’t have worked. But it did. Was it a nod to Battlefield Earth with his style? James Cameron going a little tongue-in-cheek saying look, I can make a better water world movie? I don’t know. But it felt like it and I kind of loved it. And when Neytiri held her knife to his throat? Wow. She went too far. Or did she? What do you think of that scene? Also, Neytiri’s bow is broken now. It’s no secret that her bow and arrows were a major theme in the film, a kind of extension of her strength.
This movie to me is like “Empire Strikes Back.” It’s the darker middle movie in which the bad guys have more power than the good guys and do some real damage to the heroes. Where will it go from here?
I do hope they get some new villains in the next movie. Initially I was a little disappointed to see Miles Quaritch reincarnated as an Avatar as the main villain. Then, I thought they’re giving him a redemption arc. Then they definitely weren’t. And then, when he spares life because of Spider, he might be getting something of a redemption arc? We’ll see in the future, but I do hope they think up more with villains here. Also, how on earth are the people of Pandora supposed to stop those potentially world-destroying colonial ships from just burning everything and taking what they want? I think that needs to be addressed for the sake of believability in the next film.
Also, along with that potentially referential thing with Spider, there were a bunch of reflective scenes in this film. Whether it’s call backs to Titanic as the ship fills with water at the end of the film, the clearly intentional parallel of Jake’s kids doing many of the same things, or Quaritch recapitulating many of the things Jake-Avatar did to learn, the film is intensely referential. I both liked and disliked that, if that makes sense. It will be interesting to see how much of that continues in the next movie(s).
The third film has a rumored title of “the Seed Bearer.” Here’s my fan theory: the seed bearer is Kiri, and the seeds are Eywa’s seeds, which we saw quite a bit in the first movie, especially with Jake being designated as a kind of way to save the planet by Eywa. I thought Kiri’s sub-plot was one of the more interesting parts of the film, and it doesn’t get resolved. Think about it: we have the contrasting scientist beliefs (her seizures explain her religious perspective) and what we see with a privileged point of view (Kiri clearly has much more going on than the scientists have been able to find). But is there a real conflict here? Is James Cameron setting up conflict between religion and science? If so, viewers are put in the sympathetic side of religion so far. But it’s also possible, tying back to the first film, that he might be going for a kind of unity–in which scientists can see enough to guess that more is going on (eg in the roots of the trees and how they connect as a kind of synaptic network in “Avatar”) while not being able to describe the full picture. It will be interesting to see where this goes.
It was everything I hoped for. Avatar: The Way of Water was another visual delight, while also delivering a plot that tugged the heartstrings and has me wanting to come back again and again.
Please also check out my post in which I analyze the movie from a worldview perspective.