Avatar: The Way of Water

It has been years since Marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) embraced his Na’vi avatar and coupled with Na’vi warrior Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña), the two now the parents of teenaged sons Neteyam (Jamie Flatters, "The School for Good and Evil") and Lo'ak (Britain Dalton) along with young daughter Tuk (Trinity Bliss).  They’re also the adoptive parents of Kiri (Sigourney Weaver), born of Grace Augustine’s (“Avatar’s” Weaver) avatar, and reluctant guardians of their kids’ human friend Spider (Jack Champion), the son of the villainous Colonel Quaritch (“Avatar’s” Stephen Lang).  But their happiness is once again ravaged by the ‘Sky people,’ now determined to wipe them out and take Pandora for human habitation, so they leave the forest to seek refuge with the ocean-dwelling Metkayina in “Avatar: The Way of Water.”

Laura's Review: B+

It’s rare that a sequel bests the original, but cowriter (with "Jurassic World's" Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver)/director James Cameron ("Titanic) has done just that with his second installment that many, including myself, were not exactly waiting for these past thirteen years.  Cameron may still be weak in narrative originality, but this time around he combines families blended across divisions and forest dwellers with ocean divers in a more emotionally charged ecological adventure.  But the crowning achievement here is, of course, the glorious and immersive visuals, with never-before-seen underwater motion capture technology plunging Na’vis, Metkayina and humans into the most realistic yet alien and jaw-droppingly beautiful ocean world imaginable.  It’s been a while since 3D technology elicited any excitement, but “The Way of Water” is sure to change that.

After catching up with Sully’s growing family, Tuk’s arrival feted “Lion King” style, their happy life is threatened once again by the Sky People, this time with Colonel Quaritch’s memories housed in a Na’vi avatar under the command of General Ardmore (Edie Falco), whose troops land with giant bulldozers and individuals controlling giant robotic suits, all employing a scorched earth policy.  Anguished, Neytiri’s instinct is to fight, but Sully convinces her to take the family and run, but not before Quaritch captures two of their own (they escape) and crushes his own, scarred, human skull, found in the underbrush.   Spider isn’t as lucky, the remains of his dad getting him to agree to ‘ride along’ with him after stating he realizes the kid will never betray Sully, Quaritch’s ultimate target.

Their greenish sea dwelling kin, who boast elaborate, Maori-inspired ‘tattoos,’ thicker arms and tails, are led by Tonowari (Cliff Curtis) and Ronal (Kate Winslet), the latter far more less sympathetic to the Omatikaya’s plight, correctly fearing Sully’s presence will bring tragedy to their shores.  But Na’vi tradition demands they offer shelter and so their daughter Tsireya (Bailey Bass, TV's 'Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire') and son Aonung (Filip Geljo) are tasked with acclimating the Omatikaya kids, something Tsireya takes to graciously but which Aonung uses to bully Lo’ak (who’s also caught Tsireya’s eye).  But when Aonung’s gang take Lo’ak out into deep water well before he’s ready, abandoning him, Lo’ak will find an unexpected ally in Payakan, a misunderstood, outcast tulkun, the whale-like creatures cherished by the Metkayina.

Cameron and his team have not only realistically recreated ocean water, but the creatures living within it, modeled on Earth’s, but imaginatively transformed.  Ilu are the friendly ray-like creatures with necks and a head like Nessie which the Metkayina ride like the Omatikaya fly on banshees (and which Quaritch will target first in a cruel display of power).  Beneath the waves is the most magical aquarium you have ever experienced, with Avatar versions of blue tang, pufferfish, squid and a Spirit Tree cousin to the Tree of Souls.  But if the Sky People covet unobtanium on land, their greed is crueler on the sea.  Sea Dragon Captain Scoresby (Brendan Cowell), Avatar’s version of a modern day whaler, is this film’s sea-going villain and Cameron’s realization of his hunt is devastating.  Look for an homage to the director’s own “Titanic” during the film’s climax.

The cast is more engaging this time around, Kate Winslet, who reportedly held her breath under water for an astounding 7 minutes and 15 seconds, an on set record, is Neytiri’s fierce maternal counterpart, as bound to her tulkun as her own children.  The returning Sigourney Weaver does double duty, appearing as her original character in holographic flashback as well as giving youthful voice to the caring Kiri.  Dalton navigates his own coming-of-age tale with just the right mix of brash courage and sensitivity.  The dreadlocked Jack Champion is an engaging (and diminutive) sidekick to the Na’vi.  Lang adds a seductive quality to his new incarnation while Cowell plays the blood thirsty hunter, with Jemaine Clement as his reluctant biologist Dr. Garvin.  Joel David Moore returns as Science Lab guy Norm, teasingly conjectured as Kiri’s dad.

Cinematographer Russell Carpenter had to contend with free diving camera operators, scuba gear creating too much disturbance, and virtual cameras to capture the computer generated world, all enhanced by a visual effects team (the 3D is incredible, one control room scene featuring transparent screen monitors projecting in 3D within a 3D environment).  Production designers Dylan Cole and Ben Procter have somehow made colors and patterns not found in nature appear natural.  The score by Simon Franglen, taking over from James Horner, is appropriately new-agey, a vocal chorus lending an indigenous quality.

Those who weren’t on the “Avatar” train the first time around should give Cameron a second chance.  “The Way of Water” is a glorious spectacle.

Robin's Review: B+

ames Cameron’s next in his “Avatar” franchise, “The Way of Water” struck a deep chord in me as a guy who loves being in the water. That makes about half of the entire film visually wonderful an inviting place I want to be. That is more than I can say about my time on the surface of Pandora and the totally clichéd story by Cameron, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver.

The CGI look of the new “Avatar” is nothing short of phenomenal for both above and below the surface of the water. Normally, watching a movie in 3D always gives me a headache. Here, though, aside from having to wear the bulky eyewear, I felt like I was actually in the film as a close-up observer. When the story goes underwater, I was thrilled to my core and felt totally in my element. Still, 3+ hours is too long, even for a film with outstanding techs and F/X.

The story is, in a word, conventional, despite the copious CG effects. Mainly, it is a family tale about Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) and their brood of kids. It is also a tale of man, well Na’vi, and their love for the environment. It is about human men, the invaders of Pandora, and the blatant disregard for that environment. In one disturbing scene, the world-destroying humans wipe out everything their path. They hunt giant, whale-like creatures to extract a small vial of fluid that will stop human-aging. It is kind of like the hunters across the early American west where bison were slaughtered for something as trivial as the tongue. The message of man’s destruction of our own planet must be stopped hits you over the head. Maybe that is necessary.

The hard core fans will revel in the new “Avatar” and will embrace the new water world like I do. Hopefully, the next one will have an original story, but I do not expect that from Cameron.

Walt Disney releases "Avatar: The Way of Water" in theaters on 12/16/22.