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Avatar: The Way of Water

5th January 2023

Words: Shane Ramdhany

James’ Cameron’s long awaited sequel to 2009’s Avatar maintains the impeccable visual standard of the original film but exhibits a diminished narrative process by contrast.  Where the first film succeeded in a focused, intimate story that effectively resists being engulfed in its world-building, the second film most often tends to flounder at times in a sea of aquatic spectacle.  However, it is the visual embellishment of the film that consistently entertains throughout its 3-hour runtime, despite its narrative flaws.

We see Sam Worthington’s Jake Sully lead the forest Na’vi into a new era following the events of the first film.  As a leader, he demonstrates a sense of altruism for his tribe where has been able to grow a family of his own.  Jake pivots from a fierce commander to a vulnerable father with a relative ease that consistently works within the context of its narrative.  The plot also spends some time with each of his children, inevitably weaving their roles into the overarching story, producing a climax that effectively maintains both personal and large-scale stakes. However, the narrative struggles to generate a distinct identity relative to the first film.  There are story elements that struggle to avoid familiar tropes including themes of mankind’s affinity for consumption of natural resources (a core concept of the first film) as well as themes of the significance of family and the role of acceptance in personal growth.  As a result of these reiterated ideas, the film feels inevitably feels less compelling by measure.

Despite such familiarity, the cast of the film consistently embrace their roles with earnest, raw and charismatic bravado.  The performances serve to enhance some of Cameron’s more indulgent sequences of visual flair and panache.  They succeed in elevating these sequences beyond superficiality to elicit genuine thrill from the audience.  This is especially helpful as the film is almost rife with moments that serve as exhibitions of speed and conflict.  

Cameron’s immeasurable bar for cinematography and visual effect is unsurprisingly unparalleled in this film.  Its only drawback, to no fault of its own, is its familiar aesthetic that is still otherwise no less than superb art direction.  It serves as a dynamic canvas that consistently rewards the viewer’s commitment to its extended run time.  

The Way of Water succeeds in delivering a consistent experience that fails to elevate and innovate in crucial areas such as its narrative.  However, it still excels in art direction, performances and thrilling sequences that lead it to inhabit a void between satisfactory and exemplary.

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