Review by Sean Boelman
James Cameron’s Avatar is the highest-grossing film of all time by a long shot, and while some have soured on it since its release, it still holds a cultural impact like few other original blockbusters do. The long-awaited sequel Avatar: The Way of Water is finally hitting theaters, and while one would hope that all of the delays would have resulted in a final product nearing perfection, it wasn’t worth the wait.
Set years after the original movie, this sequel follows Jake Sully as he lives with a new family and finds himself forced to protect the Na’vi people again when the humans return to the planet of Pandora. Promising bigger, better world-building and an expansion to more parts of Pandora, the film plays out with beats that are not only eerily familiar to the original, but also several blockbusters of the past ten years.
Much like its predecessor, The Way of Water is an absolute behemoth of a movie. It’s three hours and ten minutes of gigantic, CGI spectacle. Yet, despite Cameron’s best efforts, it feels like it’s going through the motions. Certain aspects — like the underwater scenes — are clearly innovative, but other than that, the film hardly attempts to one-up the original that came out over a decade ago.
Cameron has insisted that nearly every showing in every theater across the country — at least the ones that are equipped to handle it — are shown in high frame rate. And while the 3D is impressive and the visual effects are undeniably ambitious, the HFR makes everything look like a video game cutscene, especially the action sequences. For a movie that is meant to immerse you in another world, this is wholly distracting.
For some reason, Cameron also thought it wise to bring back Sigourney Weaver playing a new, younger character. Although it is explained in the film, it’s about as stupid of a reason as they come. And worse, Weaver is distracting, as she plays a teenager despite clearly sounding like a seventy-year-old woman. They also bring back Stephen Lang, and while his part is not as dumb, it’s also frustratingly generic.
The themes of the movie also don’t have the same emotional impact. Although they thankfully got rid of the terribly-named Unobtanium, this new movie targets the whaling industry. However, the way in which these scenes are shot is like an action sequence, lacking the same emotional resonance as the scene in which the forest was destroyed in the first film.
Additionally, in trying to pass the torch to a new generation of characters, Cameron bites off more than he can chew. There are seven children in the new generation, and despite the runtime, there simply isn’t enough room in the narrative to develop them all while still expanding the original generation’s arcs. The overarching family themes are nice, but individually, their stories leave something to be desired.
Avatar: The Way of Water reeks of no one telling the filmmaker no, but with someone as influential and groundbreaking as Cameron, who can blame them? It’s an ambitious swing and a miss — not quite a childhood-ruiner, but disappointing enough that you wish the Sky People (and Cameron) had left Pandora alone.
Avatar: The Way of Water opens in theaters on December 16.