It has been 13 years since James Cameron’s Avatar amazed audiences worldwide. It revolutionised visual effects, generated a temporary reinterest in 3D presentation and broke box office records. Despite being announced almost immediately, Cameron strikes when the iron is cold as ice with the first of many planned sequels.
Avatar: The Way of Water follows Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) over a decade later from where we left off. On the distant moon Pandora, he rejected his heritage and species by siding with the peaceful Na’vi in a civil war. Becoming one with the Na’vi he permanently fused with his artificial avatar body, became leader of a woodland tribe and fought off the human invaders. Now, years later, Jake with his partner Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) have two sons, Neteyam (Jamie Flatters) and Lo’ak (Britain Dalton), a daughter Tuk (Trinity Jo-Li Bliss), and an adoptive daughter Kiri (Sigourney Weaver).
The humans vow to return is validated with a new threat, Na’vi bodies with the consciousness and memories of the very soldiers Jake killed. Leading them again is a cloned Coronel Quaritch (Stephen Lang), reborn in Na’vi form. Fearing for his family Jake abandons his tribe taking refuge with the seafaring Na’vi far away. As Jake‘s children learn ‘the way of water’, Quaritch is in hot pursuit and history repeats itself with an explosive showdown.
No matter how you cut it, 13 years is a long time to wait for any sequel. Cameron had to wait for technology to catch up (again) with his vision of underwater motion capture work. That long wait has truly paid off and the world of Pandora is as photo realistic as ever. Visually stunning, the underwater sequences take us to a beautiful world like no other. As with 2009’s Avatar, completely CGI performers and objects look solid and real with the water, naturally dripping off a character’s skin and hair.
Adding to the visuals, the technology of the high frame rate (when it works) can make you forget you are watching a movie, as organic creatures or the Na’vi move and flow naturally in front of you. However, there are moments with mechanicals, such as a train derailment early in the film where the effects appear unnatural, like watching a videogame cutscene.
I can believe Cameron had to wait a decade for technology to advance to this level. When firing on all cylinders, the visuals in this film are second to none. With the same amazing high quality sound design and mixing which blew audiences away in 2009. But as far as story and characters are concerned, it is hard to believe that in over a decade THIS is the best he could come up with.
At over 3 hours, Avatar: The Way of Water has very little in the way of character or plot that we haven’t seen before. Jake Sully remains the films protagonist yet with the focus on his many children has the film feeling like an hour has passed by without any input from him. For their part, Jake’s kids could and probably should be combined into two characters not four to help condense focus.
Quaritch was a fan favourite last time around and the idea of the ‘evil Na’vi Avatars’ is an interesting one but nothing new is done with it. They don’t pose a greater threat and they may as well be the same human enemies being killed en masse.
Instead of the evil corporation wanting ‘Unobtainium’ they now hunt space whales for an even more poorly explained anti-aging remedy. Their return to Pandora for war against the species which evicted them is worse equipped than last time. What personally interested me in an Avatar sequel was seeing what a mighty war machine the Na’vi would be up against, and I must admit that I’m less than impressed.
Avatar: The Way of Water is an undeniably beautiful movie with stunning visuals and sound design, especially in IMAX cinemas. The level of technical expertise on display is jaw dropping. However, the plot retreads old ground and is so lacklustre, its predecessor looks complex by comparison. James Cameron intends to make 4 Avatar sequels but failed to come up with a new story or characters to carry even this one.