Director: James Cameron
Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Kate Winslet, Bailey Bass, Giovanni Ribisi, Jemaine Clement, Jack Champion
Runtime: 3 hrs 10 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Violence)
Released By: Walt Disney
Opening Day: 15 December 2022
Synopsis: Set more than a decade after the events of the first film, “Avatar: The Way of Water” begins to tell the story of the Sully family (Jake, Neytiri, and their kids), the trouble that follows them, the lengths they go to keep each other safe, the battles they fight to stay alive, and the tragedies they endure.
More than a decade after wowing audiences around the world with his vision of a distant moon named Pandora with majestic floating mountains and verdant rainforests, James Cameron is finally ready to open up a fresh new horizon of imaginative possibility. ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ is undoubtedly not just bigger in every regard than its predecessor, it is also probably the most ambitious film that Cameron has ever done, and that is saying a lot given his illustrious track record comprising such timeless classics as ‘Titanic’, ‘Terminator’ and ‘Aliens’.
Like the first movie, this instalment is told from the point of view of Jake Sully, a paralysed former US Marine chosen to operate Na’vi-human hybrids called ‘avatars’, in order to blend in with the native 10-foot-tall, blue-skinned, sapient humanoids that inhabit the planet. After falling in love with the daughter of the previous chief of the Omatica tribe, Jake and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) are now parents to four Na’vi children: two teenage sons, Neteyam (Jamie Flatters) and Lo’ak (Britain Dalton); a rambunctious 8-year-old daughter Tuk (Trinity Bliss); and an adopted teenage daughter Kiri (Sigourney Weaver), born in mysterious fashion to the dormant avatar of Dr. Grace Augustine (or Weaver’s late scientist character from the previous film).
Much of the first act is intended to establish the threat that Jake and his family will face, otherwise known as the ‘sky people’ (or humans that belong to the Resources Development Administration, who are seeking to create a new home on Pandora now that Earth has become uninhabitable). In particular, the ‘sky people’ have resurrected Jake’s old nemesis Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang), whose consciousness has now been reimplanted into a genetically engineered Na’vi body. After almost losing his children to Quaritch and his kill team, Jake decides to take his family to a far-flung corner of Pandora where the Metkayina reef dwellers live.
This narrative turn allows Cameron to unveil a distinctly different experience of Pandora hitherto unseen. From gorgeous underwater vistas of corals, undulating filaments, neon-coloured plant life, shimmering schools of bioluminescent fish, and sentinent whale-like creatures called tulkun, Cameron transports us into a big blue marvel of aquatic wonders. This paradise unfolds against Jake, Neytiri and their family’s adaptation to an entirely new way of life, while dealing with such tensions as outcast anxiety, warring cliques, intertribal romances and domineering parents. It is utterly dazzling to say the very least, and even though the conflict with Quaritch takes a back seat for this second act, you’ll be enraptured by the awe-inducing visuals that bear testament to Cameron’s towering achievement here of having successfully pioneered and mastered underwater performance-capture.
To Cameron’s credit too, the middle section also boasts a significant degree of character work. It is especially gratifying to see Neteyam, Lo’ak, Tuk and Kiri come into their own, whether the gentle friendship between Lo’ak and the daughter of the Metkayina clan chief Tsireya (Bailey Bass), the unexpected bond between Lo’ak and and an exiled tulkun named Payakan, or Kiri’s discovery of her ability to connect to the creatures of the sea. Jake and Neytiri also find their complement in Tonowari (Cliff Curtis) and Ronal (Kate Winslet), who have to overcome their distrust of the Sullys as well as their pacifism to defend their way of life against a common ruthless enemy. No doubt the character emphasis here is also thanks to co-writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, not unlike the sort of colony-building work they did on the two ‘Planet of the Apes’ entries.
The sheer visual cornucopia is never less than intriguing, even though the pace of the storytelling does slow, and the emphasis on character-building ultimately pays off in a jaw-dropping third act that reaffirms Cameron as the master of action spectacle. Beginning with an absolutely stirring scene of tulkun slaughter, Cameron forges a finale with a series of exhilarating set-pieces, including a heart-pounding chase on a whaling vessel and an extended sinking ship sequence that will have your heart in your mouth while awaiting the fate of the characters you would come to realise you’ve grown to love and embrace. Cynics will say that he’s been there and done that, but the truth is the action is no less thrilling, especially when staged and filmed with such clarity and purpose as Cameron does.
To say that ‘Avatar’ is Cameron’s passion project is an utter understatement – you can see in each frame just how much attention, care and devotion Cameron has placed into the endeavour, lavishing it with so much minutia from the environments, to the flora and fauna, and to the characters that form this intimate drama of family conflict and survival. It also embodies Cameron’s celebration of nature, the scenes of wanton destruction of Pandora’s habitats intentionally designed to jolt us into inchoate rage at the devastation of the natural world. And last but not least, it is proof that Cameron remains a visualist, a futurist and an innovator, whether in his use of motion-capture or to reinforce the potential of high-frame rate 3D at a time when Hollywood is at a loss what to do with the technology.
Put simply, ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ is what cinema is meant for – to open our eyes to worlds unknown; to remind us of the humanity we belong to; and to delight, excite and touch us all at once. It is an excellent sequel in every respect, deepening and expanding the first film in both subtle and obvious ways, and also providing the foundation for the franchise to evolve. It is a motion picture event all right, with scope, scale and skill that is almost, if not at all, unparalleled. Catch this on the biggest screen possible, or better still, make an appointment to do so in IMAX 3D, where you can fully appreciate the HFR; mark our words, this is an experience you won’t want to miss.
(An absolute motion picture event you should watch on the biggest screen possible, 'Avatar: The Way of Water' will delight, enrapture, excite and thrill you all at once, and is as grand, wondrous and befitting a return to Pandora as you deserve)
Review by Gabriel Chong