The essentialness of seeing a movie in a theater is often overblown, as it’s the quality of the art itself that will ultimately resonate. Yet occasionally, there are films that scream out to be watched on the biggest and best screen possible. Avatar: The Way of Water is certainly one of those, as James Cameron’s second venture into Pandora is filled with thrills, grand sights, and the most effective 3D I’ve ever experienced.
However, beyond all of the spectacle, what’s most impressive about The Way of Water is its themes and appreciation of both life and nature. However, these themes are bolstered by a family element, which is explored just as thoroughly throughout the film’s 192-minute runtime (which breezes by as long as you didn’t drink too much beforehand). While the wondrous world of Pandora can be viewed as idealistic, the film never shies away from the messiness of life and the connections we form with one another while also reminding us of how easy happiness can be achieved.
In the 13 years between the films, Jake Sully has been busy with Neytiri, as they now have a full clan of children. While each of the four children plays a pivotal role, it is the younger son Lo’ak (played by Britain Dalton), who has trouble adjusting to their new island life and feels like a screw-up due to his father’s high expectations, that really serves as the emotional core for the movie. Lo’ak’s loneliness and finding sanctuary in his bond with nature are as beautiful on-screen as it is touching on an emotional level as the underwater sequences in the movie are truly gorgeous.
Also brilliant in the film is Sigourney Weaver, who plays a dual role due to flashbacks as Dr. Grace Augustine and new scenes as Kiri, who was somehow birthed from Augustine’s Na’vi form. While it’s sort of goofy that Weaver is playing a teenager, she gives an energetic and youthful performance and it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role. There are also many similarities between Kiri and her mother, which is clearly by design rather than a lack of range, and the character raises many questions that will likely serve as a core point of Avatar 3.
At the core of The Way of Water‘s conflict is once again Colonel Miles Quaritch, who returns as an even bigger threat than in the original as he now is in an Avatar body with his memories and personality uploaded into the form. Is the science behind the return silly? Sure, but so was the entire conceit of the first film, and Stephen Lang’s performance is so intense and sensational that it’s near-impossible to get hung up on how realistic any of the universe’s pseudo-science is.
Complicating matters is that Quaritch’s son, Miles, was too young to be transported back to Earth and was raised on Pandora with the Na’vi and the few human scientists that were allowed to stay on the planet. This results in one of the most intriguing relationships in the entire movie. The Avatar of Quaritch is not technically the father of Miles, who now goes by “Spider” and is remarkably adept to life on Pandora despite being human, yet there’s still an undeniable connection between father and son. Their relationship is a complicated mess from the start, especially since Quaritch is a murderous monster, but undeniably human and relatable.
Avatar 2 builds wonderfully throughout and peaks in its final 45 minutes with some of the best action of Cameron’s career. The scale is grand, the stakes are immense, and the final battle at sea is filled with incredible moments and even some humor. While there’s still unfinished business by the end and things don’t wrap up quite as cleanly as the original, this chapter still feels complete and fully satisfying.
Avatar: The Way of Water is the one film you truly must see in theaters this year. It’s remarkable getting to see a master of the craft still doing what only he can do, which is blending this level of spectacle with heart and technical marvel. While the world of Pandora might still be the film’s greatest character, the Sully family captivates and charms just as much in this heartfelt sequel.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 10 equates to “Masterpiece.” This is the rare release that transcends genre and must be experienced by all fans of the medium.