Even if you don’t remember any of the characters, you probably remember watching Avatar in the cinema. A ground-breaking, visually stunning film that brought 3D movies to the masses, James Cameron’s sci-fi epic sits proudly atop the all-time global box office (take that, Avengers: Endgame), despite claims it’s a “forgotten blockbuster” with little cultural impact. Naturally, there are a few sequels planned.
The first of these is Avatar: The Way Of Water. At just over three hours, it’s even longer than the original – though it never drags. We open on the lush, beautiful planet of Pandora and are quickly reacquainted with the Na’vi, seven-feet tall, blue aliens who call it home. More than a decade has passed since the first film, which saw paraplegic ex-marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) give up his human form to stay with lover Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) in paradise. Now they’re busy raising a family – and are very happy by all accounts.
Unfortunately, the return of Jake’s ‘sky people’ (us) threatens to mess everything up. Earth is dying, its people need somewhere new to live, and Pandora provides the perfect solution. Cue another immersive, action-packed adventure, but this time with a more nuanced message. Whereas Avatar bashed its audience on the head with repeated references to spirituality and the balance of life, The Way Of Water is primarily about family (though there is one gut-wrenching scene that makes for a most effective anti-hunting advert). It finds a believable way to bring back characters from the first movie, and sets up the overarching plot for future instalments. This is sharp, considered storytelling.
Although there’s a familiarity to The Way Of Water, it has a freshness too. The characters feel lived in, especially Jack Champion’s feral human Spider, Jake and Neytiri’s rebellious son Lo’ak (Britain Dalton) and Sigourney Weaver’s wide-eyed Na’vi teen Kiri. There’s also a renewed sense of curiosity and wonder at play here. The younger Na’vi explore Pandora – and we discover more of their home’s breathtaking locales alongside them. Cameron is bolder with world-building this time around, trading in relatable human characters for different tribes, updated technology and expansive landscapes. The woodland is still gorgeous to look at, but the scenes set on, around and in the ocean blow everything else out of the water. Much of the cast were required to learn freediving skills – and the results are like nothing we’ve seen before.
This does mean that The Way Of Water sometimes comes off like a nature documentary – all soaring strings and sweeping crane shots. And yet the chaotic, angst-fuelled finale is so tense and thrilling that it might have come from a James Bond film. Bigger, bolder and definitely better than the original, Avatar: The Way Of Water pushes the technical boundaries of cinema without feeling like a science experiment. It really does need to be seen on the biggest screen possible through a pair of awkward 3D glasses. Unlike its predecessor though, you won’t forget this experience in a hurry.
- Director: James Cameron
- Starring: Zoe Saldaña, Sam Worthington, Kate Winslet
- Release date: December 16 (in cinemas)