Arts movie review

A grand cinematic experience with a tepid storyline

Stunning visuals and technical brilliance make the movie worth a watch

Avatar: The Way of Water
Directed by James Cameron
Screenplay by James Cameron, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Kate Winslet
Rated PG-13, Now Playing

“Wherever we go, this family is our fortress,” promises Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) to his wife Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) and kids. This tight familial bond is the force that powers the plot of Avatar: The Way of Water, first of the four sequels planned for Avatar (2009).

Avatar (2009) ended with the retreat of most humans from the Resources Development Administration (RDA) to Earth after wreaking havoc in Pandora. However, a few people, including Jake, decide to stay. Jake permanently abandons his human form for an avatar and joins the Na’vi to become the leader of the Omaticaya clan. Avatar: The Way of Water picks up the story from here, with Jake and Neytiri raising their family of two sons and two daughters. While Neytiri is skeptical, the other Sullys consider Spider (Jack Champion), the young son of the deceased Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) to be a part of their family.

Just when everything seems peaceful and happy, the RDA returns to Pandora to prepare for its human colonization. RDA transports an army, led again by a reicarnated Quaritch, of ‘recombinant’ avatars infused with the memories of dead human soldiers to Pandora. Quaritch considers Jake a traitor for joining hands with the Na’vi and is determined to exact vengeance. Jake relinquishes the leadership of the Omaticaya and flees with his family as Quaritch and his army relentlessly hunt them. This forms the central conflict in the movie, as Jake is forced to make difficult decisions with huge repercussions on both his family and those around him. Meanwhile, Quaritch captures Spider and forces him to be a guide in the ways of Pandora. 

As Jake and his family reach the Metkayina reef seeking shelter, we are introduced to a new clan of the Na’vi and a new terrain — the sea. At this point, the film’s gorgeous VFX shines. The effects breathe life into this new world of water, which is a shimmering blue-green compared to the forest’s deep blue. The scene where Jake and his family learn the ways of water is highly detailed, visually stunning, and has emotional depth. Despite their contrasting appearance and livelihoods, the Omaticaya and Metkayina clans both share a deep love of nature and build lasting relationships with the plants and animals around them. In particular, they share a special bond with the Tulkuns, which are huge, gentle, and intelligent underwater creatures. The arrival of Tulkuns to the Metkiyana reefs is an especially poignant scene: they meet their brothers and sisters in the clan and share their stories.

We observe recurring themes between Avatar (2009) and Avatar: The Way of Water. The Na’vi and the Tulkuns adopt an approach of peace and harmony as opposed to the needless violence inflicted by Quaritch and his army in their attempts to fish out Jake. When the gentle Tulkuns are brutally hunted and killed under Quaritch’s orders, we are transported to the same background music from Avatar (2009) when the forests of the Omatikaya stronghold are decimated by the RDA. This smart musical throwback and the non-violence of the Tulkuns add immense emotional weight to these scenes and make us root for the Pandorans.

The actors did a fantastic job, with the motion-capture technology accurately rendering their facial emotions on-screen. Saldaña’s performance as a tiger mom particularly stands out. Unfortunately, though, despite the stunning visuals and a great background score, the movie is not devoid of plot holes. The entire premise is based on Quaritch’s personal vendetta against Jake, which is somehow reason enough for Quaritch’s followers to blindly obey him and the RDA to provide huge resources to support a manhunt.

While Jake and Ronal (Kate Winslet) have well-written character arcs, the same cannot be said for some other pivotal characters. Quaritch’s character is extremely one-dimensional. Spider’s character arc left a lot to be desired, as there was tremendous scope to explore his relationship with his dad’s reincarnated avatar. The movie is also painfully long with a runtime of over three hours! We see redundant scenes where Quaritch and his army learn the ways of the Na’vi just as Jake did in Avatar (2009). The climax fight sequence could have been more concise without compromising the story.

Despite a tepid storyline, however, Avatar: The Way of Water creates a lasting impact on the audience through its breathtaking visuals and terrific performances and is worth a watch.