Review: ‘Avatar: The Way of the Water’ impresses with detail and spectacle

This action-packed sequel is well worth the 13 year wait

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Photo Courtesy of 20th Century Studios

Sam Worthington as Jake Sully in “Avatar: The Way of the Water.”

by Noah Lyons, Staff Writer

The theatrical run of 2009’s “Avatar” was a pivotal moment in the history of filmmaking. It was a visual treat, as the filmmakers breathed life into vast landscapes and imagined a completely new world. The film grossed an unprecedented 2.9 million dollars at the box office (the highest total of all time) and legitimized new forms of computer generated imagery. 

Clearly, a sequel was in the works at 20th Century Studios. To much surprise, rumors of a follow-up film were consistently delayed or debunked. Director James Cameron still remained in the public eye, criticizing Marvel movies and discussing a sixth and seventh installment to the franchise

13 years later, Cameron is finally bringing audiences back to the world of Pandora. “Avatar: The Way of the Water” picks up where the original film left off, with a host of new characters and grand settings.

The story follows Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoë Saldaña), who live in Pandora but fear attacks from outsiders. The U.S. army, led by Norm Spellman (Joel David Moore) seeks Sully and the precious resources that Pandora holds. As the Nav’i seek refuge, they are forced to look outside the comfort of their home. 

Sully and Neytiri are joined by their five children: Lo’ak (Chloe Coleman), Tuktirey (Trinity Bliss), Neteyam (Jamie Flatters), Kiri (Sigourney Weaver) and Miles Socorro (Jack Champion). The family has to manage their own relationships as they grapple with their changing lives.

Once again, James Cameron has crafted an immersive and innovative world for his characters to inhabit. The hair on their heads, the subtle movement of the trees above them and the texture of their water beneath them are all designed with great detail. So are the forested landscapes, which are somehow more expansive and dense than 2009’s installment.

The 180 minute runtime allows Cameron to showcase his worldbuilding skills with no restraints. Furthermore, the fairly simple plot gives room for the film to focus on the characters and their deep relationship with their surroundings. The 3D experience in particular gives incredible depth to the visuals. 

One way that Cameron improves upon 2009’s “Avatar” is how he utilizes lighting and staging. The cinematography in sum is more striking and dramatic, adding to the realism the filmmakers sought to achieve.

There’s been an impressive group of blockbusters in 2022, from the thrills of “Top Gun: Maverick,” the raw emotion of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” and the intrigue of “The Batman.” Now, “Avatar: The Way of the Water” joins those ranks.

The story and dialogue is nothing to write home about, but that isn’t Cameron’s focus here. “Avatar: The Way of the Water” is a masterclass in spectacle, a truly epic blockbuster film that should be seen on the biggest screen possible.