After thirteen years James Cameron has given us the follow-up to his 2009 smash hit Avatar which is currently the highest grossing film of all time. Avatar: The Way of Water is the first in a biannual release of new Avatar films from Disney under their 20th Century Studios label. Avatar 3 is set for a 2024 release with Avatar 4 set for 2026 with a possible 5th film planned for for 2028.
So the film itself is set years after the events of the first film with Jake and Neytiri now having a family. Three of their own, Neteyam, Lo’ak and Tuktirey, while adopting the Na’vi daughter of Dr. Augustine named Kiri and a human boy nicknamed “Spider”. Neytiri has harsh feelings towards Spider since he isn’t Na’vi. But after many years of peace the humans return to Pandora and Jake must do what he can to protect his family.
Is this sequel worth the thirteen year wait? Let’s strap in and take a dive into Avatar: The Way of Water.
ATTENTION: THE FOLLOWING SECTION CONTAINS SPOILERS. PLEASE CONTINUE AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION.
First things first, Col. Quaritch is back. Apparently during the events of the first film his memories were backed up in case he died and were sent back to earth to create an Avatar clone with all his memories. He is now in charge of a group of Marine Avatars tasked with finding and killing Jake, who has been leading a gorilla campaign against the humans.
The humans have returned, but not for Unobtainium, but for two other reasons. 1. Colonization. Earth is apparently dying and they are setting up cities across the planet. If you thought the Pocahontas similarities from the first film were a bit much here they’re way more in your face. 2. Whale hunting. The whale population of Pandora has a special type of liquid that can be used for pharmaceuticals to stop human aging. So instead of deforestation this film comments on whaling.
After Jake’s family nearly gets killed he takes them far away to seek sanctuary among the Metkayina Clan. The Metkayina are another ethnicity of Na’vi, different from the forest ones we’ve come to know. Their skin color is a lighter tone, their hands and feet are more webbed, they can hold their breath longer under water and their tails are more fish-like. Their culture is based on Pacific Islanders as opposed to Native Americans like their forest brothers. It makes you wonder if there are any other Na’vi races in places like the desert or the arctic. Perhaps we may see those in the next film(s).
Their adopted human son Spider was taken by the Avatars and it is revealed that he is Quaritch’s son. Quaritch tries to convince Spider to teach them about the world and he reluctantly goes along. Spider still feels loyalty to his adoptive family and it is implied that he also has romantic feelings towards Kiri.
The family learns to live amongst the tribe and how they live their lives. However it does feel a lot like the first film where Jake learns from Neytiri how the forest Na’vi live. We also spend a lot of time underwater. While these scenes are very pretty to look at they really could have cut them down.
Lo’ak tries to get along with the others in the village be he feels like an outcast due to him being half Na’vi, half Avatar. He befriends princess Tsireya and the two form a romance. Kiri feels “different” from the rest since she somehow has a strong connection to their god Eywa and is able to connect with the wildlife and ocean in very strange ways.
The Avatars try to find Jake by drawing him out, attacking multiple villages. They eventually try whaling the local wildlife as the whales are sacred to the island Na’vi. We get an uncomfortably long and graphic whaling scene that definitely could have been cut down. This sequence may be uncomfortable to some viewers.
Eventually Jake’s children once again become prisoners of Quaritch and a long and lengthy battle ensues on the ocean. During the fight Jake’s oldest son Neteyam gets killed in the crossfire trying to rescue Lo’ak and Spider. After this Quaritch holds Kiri hostage but Neytiri takes Spider and threatens to kill him unless Quaritch lets Kiri go. This makes Neytiri look really bad, I mean REALLY bad. She went into a bloodthirsty rage after Neteram’s death and she mercilessly slaughters any human she sees, making Spider fear his foster mother.
In the end Jake and Quaritch have a fight but the ship begins to sink. Kiri uses her abilities to use glowing fish to help Neytiri and Tuktirey escape the wreckage while Lo’ak helps Jake escape. Spider reluctantly helps Quaritch to safety and then rejoins his family, still haunted by the fact that Neytiri almost killed him.
The film ends with Jake and his family now living amongst the Metkayina, leaving behind his old home (which feels really strange since he’s basically abandoning his previous tribe).
The film’s 3 hour runtime does not feel very justified. Yes we get a lot of great action and visuals, but we get almost everything relating to the fictional cultures, laws and even biology explained to us like a high school lecture. This kind of stuff might be cool in a book that gives us expanded lore, but it doesn’t all need to be in the film. They really needed to trim the fat in this script.
Yes, this film feels a lot like the first one. We meet a different culture that looks and acts different and we follow your heroes as they “learns the ways” of this new culture. It makes me think that in the next one we’ll visit another tribe of horse riders and it could be called “Avatar: Path of the Plains” or in the desert and call is “Avatar: Storms of Sand”. You begin to think there’s a pattern here.
We also have the big bad cooperation doing what it does best, destroying the environment. How come we don’t see any evil Na’vi? We know from history that rival tribes would often fight, so why is it always the humans being the default bad guys? I don’t want to think of myself as a bad guy.
One of my biggest questions coming out of this is “why aren’t there any more alien species in this universe?”. It’s only the Na’vi and Humans, no other species seem to exist in this science fiction franchise. You’d think with how far humans were able to travel in the universe you’d think they’d stumble onto something else. Or perhaps instead of humans returning to Pandora it would be a different alien species with their own technology invading. Give us something reptilian or insectoid or heck, I’d even take something that looks like Planet of the Apes.
Also many of the new characters feel very one note. The only Sully children that stand out are Lo’ak, Kiri and Spider while many of the Metkayina feel underdeveloped. I also can’t emphasize enough how mean Neytiri is in this, she gets very emotional and angry, especially towards Spider. Mother of the year? I think not. Jake feels the same from the first film while Quaritch doesn’t need to be here at all. I remember hearing years ago that Arnold Schwarzenegger was considered for a villain role in this. That would have been great. At least he’d be entertaining.
Overall Rating: 6/10
While the film is very pretty to look at with its impressive effects and great action and amazing environments the film is mostly just that. It is one of those movies you watch to shut your brain off to and take in all the visuals and imagine yourself there. It fits perfectly in that category. While I can’t say I don’t recommend it since it is a visual masterpiece, if you want a movies with a life changing story you won’t find it here.
I am somewhat curious as to what James Cameron has planned for the sequels since Avatar 3 is almost finished filming and parts of Avatar 4 are already being worked on. But out all depends on if this film does well financially.
What did you think of Avatar: The Way of Water?
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