“Avatar: The Way of Water” review

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.



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.


The Star Wars Movies, Ranked

Everyone’s doing it, but has everyone read more than 100 Star Wars books? I have! But that doesn’t make me the biggest Star Wars fan ever or anything, I just like to say it. I mean, I love Star Wars and may have named my son after Luke Skywalker, but still, I think wars over who is a bigger fan are silly. Also at least 40 of those books weren’t very good. Anyhow, here’s the real definitive ranking of the Star Wars movies*

Episode IV: A New Hope – It’s complete on its own, it’s gorgeous, it still stands up today, and I love it
Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back – *inserts obligatory “it’s so dark, oh my gosh blah blah” phrases*- seriously, the reason this ranks so highly isn’t because it’s dark–any slasher movie is *dark*–it’s because it is viscerally foreboding 
Episode VI: Return of the Jedi- For a long time, this was my favorite, until I realized that A New Hope was really much better. I just like finales
Rogue One- Yes, it was truly amazing pretty much all around. The action, the acting, the plot–all were superb.
Episode VIII: The Last Jedi- perhaps the most inward-looking Star Wars movie, but it felt a little bloated, didn’t have enough aliens, and I felt it was a bit silly at times. But Luke… was awesome and they really did quite well making this feel full of enough answers while still raising issues for the next movie(s)
Episode VII: The Force Awakens- I loved it all around, but it did feel maybe a tad too fan servicey and redundant from the Expanded Universe. That said, it was well done.
Episode I: The Phantom Menace- say what you want about it, there were a lot of scenes here I actually really enjoy; Darth Maul–and let’s just throw it out there, “Duel of the Fates” is possibly the greatest movie track ever made; the underwater scene was crazy, big, and fun; I enjoyed the podracing, so deal; etc., but yeah Jar Jar and Midichlorians ruined this
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith – not well acted, and the whole Anakin to Vader is super rushed at the end, but at least it kind of wraps things up
Episode II: Attack of the Clones – It’s trash

*ranking not definitive

Hopes for the next Star Wars Movies


We all have hopes and dreams for the rest of the new Star Wars trilogy. Here, I will be sharing mine. There will be all kinds of MAJOR SPOILERS in this post for the movie, so please avoid reading it until after you’ve seen it.

Side Characters 

The informant and her muscle man at Maz’s Castle were particularly interesting. In the Star Wars: The Force Awakens Visual Dictionary I discovered that they are named Grummgar (the big guy) and Bazine (the woman with the black and white dress). According to that dictionary, Grummgar is a “big game hunter and gun-for-hire” who enjoys trophies of both the animal variety and the gorgeous woman variety. Having them show up as antagonists later would be pretty fun, in my opinion. I could see them working together to try to carry out an attack on Luke or Rey. Basically, I just want to see them again. I’d love to have a book like Tales from Jabba’s Palace that was instead Tales from Maz’s Castle. They need to get the books going again and expand the universe more.

I would like BB-8 to continue to be comic relief while still having a more serious personality. They did well with BB in “The Force Awakens” and I’d like that to continue.


First off, I want to say I think it’d be really dumb if she ends up being specifically related to Han/Leia or Luke. For one thing, it would be another example of a problem in the prequel trilogy: everyone knows each other/is related to each other. There is a whole galaxy of people available! Why must everyone be related to everyone else? For another, it doesn’t make sense in the plot they’ve already set up. Han and Leia had no recognition of her–and she remembered her parents well enough to wait for them–so it doesn’t make sense there. As for Luke, it stretches credulity to think that he would just abandon his daughter or that it really makes any sense for him to have fled across the galaxy over his nephew if he’d already abandoned his daughter.

Another intriguing aspect of Rey is what kind of lightsaber she might end up with. Her use of the quarterstaff opens up the possibility of her use of a double-bladed lightsaber, which would be awesome. The movie poster putting Kylo Ren’s red lightsaber along her quarterstaff also highlights this aspect. What color saber might she have? I don’t know, but I’m hoping for her to be a Jedi with the double-blade.

I’ve enjoyed how dynamic the discovery of Rey’s force powers has been, and I hope that continues. It was interesting to have her figure out how to do a mind control trick as opposed to witnessing it or being taught to do it.

Kylo Ren

Kylo Ren’s journey to the Dark Side must be explored, even if it is only through flashbacks. Moreover, they have set him up to go further down the path towards the Dark Side and so the question is whether he will have a redemptive moment or not. I think it would be better to not have a recapitulation of Vader and instead have a final battle scene in which Rey must kill Ren to end his threat. Think about it: a lightsaber scene akin to the Darth Maul vs. Qui-Gon Jinn/Obi Wan scene from Episode I (yes, I do think that scene, at least, was pretty well done) that features Rey vs. Ren. I’d love to see a huge, big scale lightsaber dual between the two as the capstone on the trilogy. Make it happen!


I’d like to learn more about how Stormtroopers are trained. It seemed like they are apparently taken at birth and trained in the system from birth, but how is this much different from a clone army (apart from not being clones)?

Finn’s development as a serious force on the battlefield is also full of possibility. He has elite Stormtrooper training. Could he end up as a major player in ground battles going forward? I think so. He needs to get a weapon all his own, though.

What about You?

What would you like to see in the movies going forward? What do you think of the scenarios I lined up? Let me know in the comments.


Star Wars: The Force Awakens- A Christian perspective– I offer a worldview-level analysis of the film from a Christian perspective.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review– Here is my more traditional review of the movie.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!


Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review

sw-faAs a huge Star Wars fan, who’s read 100+ Star Wars books and loved the movies since I first saw them, I have to say I loved The Force Awakens. I also know I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. Hence, consider yourself SPOILER WARNED. Yes, I consider just about any new information about a film a spoiler, and I don’t want to be the one to spoil it for you. So you have been warned, there are SPOILERS in this review.


I, like just about everyone else I know, have been waiting breathlessly for the new Star Wars movie. Would it be good? Would Disney ruin it? Actually, I never had the thought of “Will Disney ruin it” because I figured the prequel trilogy was already not so great, so it didn’t matter much if Disney did ruin it. I could just pretend they were apocryphal imitations of the Star Wars I knew and loved.

Let’s just get it out of the way: I do not think this movie was ruined. I absolutely loved it. Is some of that the nostalgia they played upon? Absolutely. But does the film have genuine Star Wars feel? Totally.

The Force Awakens is filled with nods to the original trilogy in particular. Some might not like this, but for me it was needed and welcomed. It is like Disney was giving us one big Wookie hug, reassuring viewers that yes, this is Star Wars, and it is back. Along with these nods came some meta-jokes and references to both the Expanded Universe and concepts that were never included or changed in the original movies. I appreciated this kind of fan service, but what I appreciated more was that they never took over the film.

There was a stunning sense of newness intermingled with the sense of nostalgia here. Rey and Finn were fascinating characters (particularly Rey, who is totally awesome) with enough details of their backstories teased to get me quite interested in them in upcoming films. Other characters were tantalizing (like the First Order informant’s at Mox’s place, and Mox herself of course) enough to make me want to come back again and see some books based on them. Could we have a new Expanded Universe, please?

The use of models and real sets (and real-looking ones) made this feel much more like the original trilogy than the prequels. The whole film was clearly Star Wars.

The plot was also quite enjoyable, with the mystery surrounding Luke and Kylo Ren driving the plot. Kylo Ren was not nearly as scary/powerful as he could have been. To be fair, part of this might be because they are clearly building him up. One scene featured him looking at the helmet of Vader and apologizing for feeling like he was tempted by the Light. His choice to kill his father was not unexpected in the flow of the movie, and could lead to him gaining more of a Vader-like persona in the rest of the trilogy. I loved the ending with Rey approaching Luke. Luke Skywalker has pretty much always been my favorite Star Wars character. My son’s name is Luke (in part because it is also my favorite Gospel).

The music was good, though at times I barely noticed it. I think part of this was because unlike watching and re-watching the previous films, I had to pay attention to the plot the whole time. Every time I noticed the music, I enjoyed it immensely.

I loved The Force Awakens and cannot wait to see where the series goes next. Sign me up for the rest of the movies immediately.

The Good

+Star Wars feel through and through
+Great action
+Good use of characters old and new
+Solid music
+Star Wars is back

The Bad

-Kylo Ren not as intimidating as he should be

The Verdict



Star Wars: The Force Awakens- A Christian perspective– I offer a worldview-level analysis of the film from a Christian perspective.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!