Action Adventure

Review: ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ is an Unmatched Visual Spectacle but Lacks Genuine Heart and Soul

December 14, 2022Ben MK

From action-packed sci-fi epics like Aliens and Terminator 2: Judgment Day to the jaw-dropping scope of movies like True Lies and Titanic, James Cameron has always been a filmmaker on the cutting edge, pushing the boundaries of visual effects technology while also gifting audiences with some of the most memorable characters and moving stories to ever grace the silver screen. Now, thirteen years after wowing moviegoers with the groundbreaking Avatar, Cameron is back with Avatar: The Way of Water — and despite the lengthy time gap between installments, it's as if he and the cast never left Pandora.

Set some fifteen years after the events of the first film, this years-in-the-making sequel finds protagonist Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) having long left his human self behind in favor of life as one of Na'vi people, whom he formed an unbreakable kinship with after falling in love with his partner, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), and helping the Na'vi fight back against the "sky people" (aka the human invaders who arrived on Pandora hoping to plunder it for its natural resources). But while Jake's actions may have helped him win over the Na'vi, earning him the revered title of Toruk Makto in the process, it's also made him an enemy in the eyes of the Resources Development Administration, who haven't given up on their quest to conquer Pandora. So when the RDA returns to the planet with new troops and a new assortment of heavy artillery, it's no surprise that they make Jake top on their list of threats to eliminate, enlisting the help of a special squad of soldiers to help them accomplish their mission.

As a result, Jake, Neytiri and their four children — brothers Neteyam (Jamie Flatters) and Lo'ak (Britain Dalton), adopted daughter Kiri (Sigourney Weaver) and youngest daughter Tuktirey (Trinity Jo-Li Bliss) — are forced to flee their home amidst the forests of Pandora. Searching for refuge among the planet's many islands, they're taken in by Tonowari (Cliff Curtis) and Ronal (Kate Winslet), the leaders of an ocean-dwelling clan who have forged a unique connection with the underwater beasts that call the sea home. However, when the RDA and their soldiers bring all-out war to the once peaceful waters of Pandora, it sets the stage for another spectacular confrontation. Will Tonowari's clan be able to drive back the human invaders like their land-locked brethren? And will Jake be able to claim victory yet again when he faces the return of a vengeful old enemy once thought dead?

What follows will not only test the resolve of the combatants on both sides, but the bladder strength of everyone in the audience as well, as Cameron doubles down on the action and the drama, shining a light on the family dynamics between Jake and Neytiri and their kids, while also delivering thrilling battle sequences sure to keep viewers on the edge of their seats. Yet, despite the sheer eye-popping nature of The Way of Water, there's something about the movie's super-detailed and ultra-realistic CG imagery that oftentimes makes you feel like you're watching the most expensive video game cutscene ever made, instead of a feature film meant to heavily expand on the world-building started by the original and lay the groundwork for not one but two more equally ambitious sequels.

Let there be no doubt, Avatar: The Way of Water should definitely be seen on the biggest screen possible, as fans of both Cameron and the first Avatar will find no shortage of awe-inspiring sights and sounds to completely immerse themselves in, from the breathtaking land and sea vistas to the authenticity of the alien characters. That said, while the movie is arguably technically perfect, what it lacks is genuine heart and soul — proving that all the computer-generated wizardry in the world still can't replace good old-fashioned flesh and blood.

Avatar: The Way of Water releases December 16th, 2022 from 20th Century Studios. The film has an MPAA rating of PG-13 for sequences of strong violence and intense action, partial nudity and some strong language. Its runtime is 3 hrs. 12 min.

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