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Avatar: The Way of Water

MOVIE | The eco-warrior plot featuring creatures on a pristine planet feels even more derivative the second time around

20th Century Studios

<em>Avatar: The Way of Water</em>
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➤ Rated PG-13
➤ Theaters
➤ S4 / V6 / L5*

Thirteen years ago, James Cameron’s Avatar became a global phenomenon, becoming the highest-­grossing movie of all time. Now, just when everyone forgot Avatar ever existed, the sequel, Avatar: The Way of Water, has arrived.

Perhaps the most important thing to know about Avatar: The Way of Water is that it has a 3-hour-and-12-minute running time. Since 3D costs extra, seeing the movie in the theater turns out to be pretty costly in terms of both time and money. Could it possibly be worth it? Well, that depends on what you’re looking for.

The Way of Water begins more than a decade after the events of the original film. In that film, evil humans exploiting the natural resources of the alien planet Pandora were defeated by the native Na’vi. Now, human/Na’vi hybrid Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and his Na’vi wife Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) are busy leading their tribe of forest dwellers and raising their growing family. They have four hybrid children, and they serve as unofficial parents to an orphaned human boy nicknamed Spider.

But the bad humans return, and this time, they don’t want to mine Pandora’s resources. They plan to make Pandora humanity’s new home because Earth has become an ecological disaster.

These invaders want to find Jake and kill him, so the Sully family flees their forest home seeking refuge among the Na’vi who live in the sea. These Na’vi are different from the forest dwellers, having green skin instead of blue and thicker arms and tails for swimming. Much of the movie revolves around the Sullys adapting to a new way of life.

The first Avatar earned its accolades from its stunning special effects and use of 3D technology, but the script was predictable and preachy. This sequel surpasses the original in both the highs and the lows.

Cameron has made a career out of pushing the technical boundaries of filmmaking, and Avatar: The Way of Water is a technical triumph. Creating big water set pieces has always been a challenge for Hollywood, but Cameron has solved it, partially by inventing new technology to film CGI motion-capture of free-diving actors. The result is a movie filled with beautiful, dizzying scenes. And the 3D aspect remains subtle enough to enhance the experience without calling attention to the technology.

Though the movie is visually exhilarating, it suffers from the same problems as the original. Its thin storyline and cast of forgettable characters can’t support the bloated running time. And since The Way of Water rehashes most of the original Avatar’s events, the derivative eco-warrior plot about saving the planet feels even more derivative the second time round.

This film promoting eco-worship has plenty of faults, yet its groundbreaking visuals are stunning.

This new story focuses on Jake and Neytiri’s kids, but Cameron ­settles for teen drama rather than offering a nuanced story about family under pressure. We see too many familiar tropes: the stern father and the moody son who don’t understand each other, the predictable sibling rivalry between an older and a younger brother, and the awkward teenage girl who feels “different.” Cameron even includes the two teenagers who naturally fall in love despite their dissimilar backgrounds. Clichés abound.

The plot unfolds exactly as expected, and the movie continues preaching the tired idea that the Earth is our goddess mother. Strong language, violence, and partial nudity earn the movie its PG-13 ­rating. Those little bits of flower petals and seaweed don’t cover much of the Na’vi women’s chests, and the skimpy attire is more cringe-­inducing in this sequel since most of the protagonists are so young.

This film promoting eco-worship has plenty of faults, yet its groundbreaking visuals are stunning. Avatar: The Way of Water won’t translate well to the small screen, so those who want to experience the immersive effects should see it in theaters and spring for the 3D glasses. But be warned—while the spectacle is impressive, the story isn’t worth the time or money. If you don’t see it in the theater, you shouldn’t bother seeing it at all.

*Ratings from kids-in-mind.com, with quantity of sexual (S), violent (V), and foul language (L) content on a 0-10 scale, with 10 high

Collin Garbarino

Collin is WORLD's Arts and Culture Editor. He is a World Journalism Institute, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Louisiana State University graduate, and he teaches at Houston Baptist University. Collin resides with his wife and four children in Sugar Land, Texas.



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