OTwo Reviews: Avatar: The Way of Water

Image Credit: Public Domain

Liam Ferguson reviews 2022’s biggest film

Thirteen years following the release of James Cameron’s Avatar, the highest grossing film ever made, the first of four planned sequels has hit screens with Avatar: The Way of Water. It was well worth the wait. Through gorgeous visual spectacle, a relatively simple yet effective script and a well rounded cast of loveable characters, Cameron has proven himself once again as a master of the sequel. 

There are a lot of details that make The Way of Water something truly special. Namely, it is unabashedly proud to wear every theme it carries on its sleeve. The narrative of the film takes place a decade following the end of the first one, as Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) returns alongside his wife, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) to seek refuge while fighting against the Sky People, (the humans from a dying future Earth hell-bent on mining Pandora’s resources), that once again threaten the safety of their home. Instead of relentlessly fighting and putting his tribe and family in danger, Sully, Neytiri and their four children Neteyam (Jamie Flatters), Lo’ak (Britain Cowell), Kiri (Sigourney Weaver) and Tuk (Trinity Bliss) travel to a new region of Pandora populated by the sea people, the Metkayina clan, and learn their ways - the titular way of water. It’s through this decision early on in the film’s runtime that Worthington’s previously rather one-note “jarhead” character is able to portray how much fatherhood has changed his perception of what’s important to him in between films. Their family mantra “Sullys stick together” is reiterated throughout the film’s 3 hour and 12 minute runtime constantly, and while cheesy, perfectly showcases Cameron’s desire to depict a loving family dynamic at the forefront.

The film’s greatest risk is how it gears a large amount of focus away from Jake himself to let his children shine. Lo’ak and Kiri serve as the film’s primary protagonists, with the former’s story delving into his status as an outsider from both the Metakayina clan and his own family, feeling as if he can never live up to his father’s expectations. Kiri is set up as the lead for the franchise going forward, as a saviour figure due to her complex connection to Eywa, the god-like being that connects every living thing on Pandora. The oldest child, Neteyam, gets the least amount of attention and his story is in service to Lo’ak’s, while Tuk stands out as an adorably childish comedic relief character. There’s also Spider (Jake Champion), a human friend of the Sully children who is given a lot of wonderful play as a standout character, used to motivate the returning villain, Quaritch’s (Stephen Lang) plot.

Much like the first film, a blunt focus is placed on the dangers of prioritising technology over nature. Dating back to his earlier work with films like The Terminator, Cameron is unafraid of blatantly critiquing the United States military in his blockbusters, and uses the cartoonishly evil cast of villains to pull the viewer’s heartstrings at every turn. 

Avatar: The Way of Water is one of 2022’s best. I didn’t even get a chance to talk about the gorgeous and innovative visuals, breathtaking score and nail-biting action at play within it because the base story is so simple, yet compelling. The hefty runtime flies by quickly and it serves no shock that the film has earned enough money to finance the other three sequels. It sets up a lot to come, and I for one cannot wait to see how it all ends in 2028. Cameron has proven that there is indeed a place for massive blockbusters that don’t come out of a conveyor belt three times a year in cinemas, and delivered on the sequel to his passion project in spades. Go see it on the biggest screen possible while you can.