REVIEW: ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ is not just a movie—it’s an experience

Eriq Dixon, Staff Writer

James Cameron’s “Avatar: The Way of Water,” the sequel to 2009’s “Avatar,” finally hit theaters on Dec. 16, well over a decade after the first film’s release. As a sequel to the highest-grossing film of all time, expectations are high for this next installment. But, does it live up to the legacy of the original?

“Avatar: The Way of Water” continues the story of Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) after he joins the Na’vi people at the end of “Avatar.” Picking up years after the events of the first movie, “The Way of Water” follows Jake and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) as they and their newfound family journey to new lands in order to escape a familiar threat. This threat seeks revenge on Jake Sully, endangering the place he calls home and all of those he holds dear.

Sam Worthington as Jake Sully in “Avatar: The Way of Water.” (India Today)

The story of “The Way of Water” is fairly simple but still manages to be engaging and fun to experience. It is a solid continuation of the first movie that does a great job of getting the audience up to speed, while not pandering too much to members who may not have seen or remember much from “Avatar.” Jake Sully’s narration helps a lot with the film’s pacing in the beginning, but it is also used sparingly throughout the entirety of the film, rather than being strictly for exposition early on. This allows for better world building, as the film teaches the audience background details about the world of Pandora, including new locations, Na’vi, and characters without interrupting the flow of the story. 

The film introduces a slew of new characters, with Jake’s kids–Neteyam (Jamie Flatters), Kiri (Sigourney Weaver), Lo’ak (Chloe Coleman) and Tuktirey (Trinity Bliss)–being the main ones. Even though Jake and Neytiri still remain prominent in “The Way of Water,” the duo take a bit more of a backseat with the film, instead focusing more on the Sully family as a whole. The family dynamic is fun to watch and builds emotional weight through believable interactions. The love the Sullys have for each other is apparent and the danger looming over them adds a level of tension that is significantly high. However, focusing on more characters results in the film containing what feels like one too many subplots that are slightly underdeveloped and pad out the film’s runtime.

Kate Winslet and Cliff Curtis as members of the Na’vi in “Avatar: The Way of Water.” (NY Times)

Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang) returns as the main villain in “The Way of the Water,” but doesn’t offer much of anything new. He is more angry and menacing than before but not much more interesting than he was in “Avatar.” He was mustache-twirly with no compelling motivation or change. In “The Way of Water” Quaritch works alongside other returning side characters, as well as a new character who had the potential to give him a possible arc in this film, but ultimately fails to do anything satisfying. His motivations consist of simple greed and the desire for revenge. He’s completely unsympathetic, which is disappointing considering his inclusion could have been an opportunity to add more depth to his character. 

Despite the story falling short in some areas, where the film really shines is in its visuals. “The Way of Water” looks absolutely stunning. The forests of Pandora look great in “Avatar,” and they look even better here. But, the biggest thing that sets this film apart visually is the ocean and the creatures that inhabit it. The leap in technology is certainly on full display here, with computer generated images blending seamlessly with lifelike underwater environments that are eye-poppingly beautiful, making the world of Pandora feel more alive and lived in than ever. 

Trinity Bliss as Tuk in a beautiful underwater segment in “Avatar: The Way of Water.” (The Playlist)

The visuals also make “The Way of Water” less of a simple viewing experience, as the film immerses the audience to the point where they feel as though they are part of it. The cinematography, editing and sound design work together to ensure that the viewer gets lost in the wonders of Pandora. It’s an experience that sticks with them long after the credits roll and is bound to keep them coming back for future installments.

“The Way of Water” certainly delivers in a lot of aspects and does what a sequel should do. It continues the story by expanding on things that came before, raising the stakes and trying new things while staying true to what was already established. But, even with its few shortcomings, it is a must watch for anyone who is a fan of “Avatar.” With three more entries confirmed to be in the works, “The Way of Water” lays the groundwork for what could potentially be an amazing series of sequels.