Avatar: The Way of Water
(Zoe Saldaña, Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, et al. | PG-13 | 3h 12m | 20th Century Studios)
Overview: 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.
Verdict: After beginning shooting in 2017 following a prolonged production period, James Cameron takes audiences back to Pandora for the sequel to the highest-grossing film of all time. Though it isn’t as revolutionary as its predecessor, Avatar: The Way of Water is nevertheless a visual marvel that’s made to be seen on the biggest screen possible.
Outside of its special effects wizardry, however, the sequel suffers from a bloated script that overstays its welcome and weighs the action down with clunky pacing which re-treads familiar territory.
The feature kicks off with a narration from jarhead-turned-Na’vi Jake (Sam Worthington) bringing viewers up to speed with what’s transpired since the end of the last film. He and Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) have raised a family together and made a life for themselves in their new home. But their happiness doesn’t last long.
The “sky people” return once again, causing Jake and his family to flee to an island village for safety where the inhabitants live in harmony with the ocean. As outsiders, they must learn the villagers’ ways.
Like the first Avatar, Cameron’s sequel is visually outstanding. The use of 3D technology to underscore a sense of depth and scale is matched only by our last trip to the alien planet. The new underwater setting not only allows viewers to see more of Pandora, but the new biome is marked with its own aesthetic and colors, which give it a different flavor from the dense forests of before.
There’s no shortage of sequences designed to impress, but this is also to a fault. The scarce plot that’s there is interrupted all too frequently with miscellaneous scenes for audiences to look at things.
Another major stumbling point comes in Cameron’s need to cram as much as he can into the mammoth three-hour runtime. There’s so much going on at once that nothing has the necessary time to be developed. And when the sluggish climax comes to an end, a lot remains unanswered (undoubtedly those threads will be picked up in the coming sequels).
Gorgeous imagery aside, The Way of Water feels less like a sequel than it does a refamiliarization of the world and ideas of the 2009 blockbuster. There are simply too many ideas with not enough focus to justify its gigantic runtime. [AM]