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Review: ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’

After 13 years, the Avatar sequel, ‘The Way of Water,’ hits theatres this week, offering stunning visual effects that take us straight back into the world of Pandora.

Whether or not you’ve spent even a second of the past 13 years wondering what’s been happening on Pandora or how Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana)are getting on. “The Way of Water” will make you an awe-struck believer, at least for three hours and 12 minutes.

The film isn’t just visually compelling but spiritually rich as well, with a simple but gripping story about family and the natural world that is so much better this time out than the first film. Also upgraded is the 3D technology, and the motion capture underwater footage will have you questioning what is real and what is CGI.

At this point, we need to talk about the film’s runtime – three hours and 12 minutes sound excessive, but there is something quite decadent about having to commit that amount of time to a movie theatre. When a filmmaker is purposeful with that time, as Cameron has always been, then it is indeed a rewarding experience.

So the film’s length isn’t a huge deal, and you’ll forget about the time as soon as you see the first shot of Pandora and Jake’s exposition about what has been happening during the past ten years.

He and Neytiri have three kids now, Neteyam (Jamie Flatters), Lo’ak (Britain Dalton), Tuk (Trinity Jo-Li Bliss) and an adopted teenage daughter, Kiri (Sigourney Weaver), and they’re happy living in the forest. “Happiness is simple”, he shares. So, of course, it won’t last.

Humans are hunting for Jake, with a familiar antagonist leading the charge, and soon his family is on the run, and they find themselves taking up home in a different part of Pandora. The water tribe, led by Ronal (Kate Winslet), and Tonowari (Cliff Curtis), have reluctantly granted them refuge as they try to teach them how to live in the water.

It’s worth noting that the film is not stuffed with wall-to-wall action or a needlessly complicated plot. There are large sequences where they are just exploring the environment with the characters, delighting in the intricate reef and beautiful sea creatures. There are moments where you’re sitting in the water with a character, there’s no action, and the plot isn’t moved along, but the visuals are so stunning you won’t need to worry.

There is plenty of action present, too, and it feels more exciting because you’re invested in the family and the danger they are suddenly placed in. Although we know that there are more sequels on the way, with one already trapped, this isn’t the kind of franchise where the dead could come back to life. There is still lots of “Avatar” silliness, including the word ‘bro’ being casually thrown around. Still, the straightforward dialogue and deep-rooted emotion make this a better watch than the first time.

Of course, there will still be doubters about whether Cameron’s biggest project still has a place in cinema after all these years. These once-mythical sequels have become somewhat of a joke in the years since “Avatar” was released, and even when the release date of “The Way of Water” approached, there was a chorus of doubters muttering the words ‘who cares?’ But Cameron knows his way around a sequel and cleverly included references to some of his other films here too.

I’m here to tell you that I didn’t enjoy the first “Avatar” I thought it was too long, and I didn’t get it; the CGI didn’t feel believable; it just wasn’t for me. So when I learned about the planned sequels, I was one of the “who cares” crew. Well, I’m not one to shy away from saying I was wrong; I enjoyed “The Way of Water” very much, for the fact it pushes the boundaries of the big-screen experience, for the fact it tells a heartwarming and in some ways an authentic story about environmentalism, for the fact it is just so different to anything else I’ve seen in the cinema recently and for the reminder that James Cameron is one of cinema’s all-time greats.

Avatar: The Way of Water is playing in cinemas now.

 

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