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Avatar: The Way of Water (A Movie Review)

Updated: Aug 6, 2023


Starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Kate Winslet, Cliff Curtis, Giovanni Ribisi, Edie Falco, Brendan Cowell, Jemaine Clement, CCH Pounder, Jamie Flatters, Britain Dalton, Chloe Coleman, Trinity Jo-Li Bliss, Bailey Bass, Filip Geljo, Duane Evans Jr., CJ Jones, Jack Champion, Joel David Moore, Dileep Rao, Matt Gerald and Alicia Vela-Bailey.

Screenplay by James Cameron, Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver.

Directed by James Cameron.

Distributed by 20th Century Studios. 192 minutes. Rated PG-13.

James Cameron’s film Avatar took off like a rocket when it was released in 2009. With spectacular special effects and eye-popping action, it quickly became a smash hit – eventually becoming the highest grossing box office motion picture ever, a distinction that it still holds with $2.8 billion in ticket sales.

And honestly, it may or may not have really deserved that popularity. As often is the case with Cameron’s movies, it was spectacularly filmed, with some terrific world building, had an intriguing, important ecological message, but it was not all that well written. (Dialogue has always been Cameron’s Achilles heel.) It was a pretty good film, but was it the best ever – or even just worthy of being the most popular film? At the time, Cameron promised that Avatar was going to be a series of at least three films (he’s now talking about five) and potentially the biggest franchise ever.

However, then a strange thing happened. It’s like the world at large just sort of moved on from Avatar, almost forgot about it. Literally, when was the last time you thought about Avatar, or someone mentioned it to you? It had been years that I had spared a thought for the film before the hype machine started ramping up for this sequel.

I saw the first film once in the theater, once when it was released on video, and since then never even thought of rewatching it again. I was not alone on that. Avatar seemed to fade away from pop culture consciousness. Previous films that were at their time the top grossing films of all time – like Jaws, Star Wars and Cameron’s Titanic – are still beloved classics and regularly watched decades after their release.

Of course now with the second Avatar film finally making it to theaters, Cameron is desperately trying to downplay the Avatar backlash talk. (Don’t believe your lying eyes, you’ve all loved this movie for years!)

Also, Cameron’s legendary slowness in releasing films didn’t help to keep the momentum going. Cameron has directed nine feature films in 40 years if you count Avatar II, and his last three have been released over a period of 25 years.

Now, thirteen years after the first chapter, is there really an audience still waiting for a second Avatar movie?

We’ll see.

It certainly is a spectacular piece of filmmaking. The visuals are even more impressive than they had been in the first film. (Thirteen years of innovations definitely are noticeable.) That said, Cameron’s tendency for clunky dialogue still has not totally improved, and the story, while visually stunning, is pretty much a retread of the original film. And I’m sorry, the computer-generated alien creatures are still kind of weird looking.

There is the addition of undersea footage – a long time fascination of Cameron’s. (See also: The Abyss, Titanic and the sea diving documentaries that Cameron has put together over the years.) These are also generally spectacular looking, particularly if you have the opportunity to see it in IMAX 3D.

Honestly, The Way of Water is too long (three hours and twelve minutes!) and some of the battle sequences seem to be straight out of the modern blockbuster playbook. Still, credit where it is due, Cameron has a stunning visual eye and much of Avatar: The Way of Water is picture-book gorgeous.

I’m definitely glad I’ve seen it and I have no doubt it will be a big hit (although probably not on the scale of the first film). However, like the first one, it doesn’t seem like a movie I’d be likely to revisit with any regularity.

Luckily, it doesn’t seem that we’ll have to wait another thirteen years for the next Avatar film. Cameron is planning (and plans don’t always go as one would expect) to release the next film in two years, and then another one every two years until at least 2028.

Will it really happen that way? Like I said earlier, we’ll see.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2022 All rights reserved. Posted: December 15, 2022.


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