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  • Writer's pictureBryce Chismire

Avatar: The Way of Water

Updated: Jan 30, 2023


Avatar. Released in 2009 and breaking record after record, this smash-hit phenomenon swept the world off its feet with its visuals and introduced us to an expansive new world with new kinds of wildlife, plants, and natives for us to see and explore. However, for all its visual achievements, it had been subject to somewhat savvy criticism afterwards, with many critics pointing out its near-recycled story and generic characters. I caught on to these flaws in the movie, too, but these were not what turned me off. What really turned me off was how overplayed the villains felt. I thought the movie tried too hard to have us sympathize with the Na’vis by making the villains go overboard in their ruthlessness to reach the unobtanium.

When James Cameron announced that he considered a sequel to Avatar, many fans who already worshipped his first film were over the moon about it. But, of course, the gap between the first film and the sequels continually grew as Cameron decided to also elaborate on the additional follow-ups that would’ve followed both films, expanding Avatar into a potential film franchise.

Now, the first follow-up, after much anticipation, had finally arrived: Avatar: The Way of Water. Is this sequel worth the 13-year wait?

Well, it did some things better than the first film, but in others, the first film did better.

Let’s start with the story. Set 14 years after the first Avatar, Jake Sully continued settling into Pandora’s culture and lifestyle. Jake became a permanently transfused Na’vi with Neytiri as his wife, and they even had some kids, including two adopted children. One was another avatar, Kiri, and another was an orphaned human named Spider. Together, they all grew up as one big, happy family who grew to understand the basics of living among the Pandoran wildlife, not to mention English, under Jake’s guidance.

However, trouble came a-brewing when RDA returned to Pandora with ultra-flammable rockets that instantly scorched their home once they landed in that spot.

The reason for RDA’s return was twofold. One, they found more unique resources native to Pandora to uncover, but I’ll get to that shortly. Second, they were out to hunt down Jake Sully for putting a standstill on their plans to mine the planet of the unobtanium from the last film.

Meanwhile, despite being shot down by Neytiri, Miles Quaritch was revived in a Na’vi avatar that his fellow RDA scientists secured for him, complete with his memory bank, mannerisms, and experience intact. Now alive again, Quaritch joined up with fellow RDA members who became avatars themselves, including Corporal Lyle Wainfleet. Together, they banded up to scavenge the Pandoran forests and hunt down Jake Sully and anyone in cahoots with him.

Jake Sully, his family, and the fellow Omaticaya tribe caught on to this, too, especially after witnessing the invading RDA rockets. So finally, Sully, Neytiri, and the others agreed that their best game plan was to leave the Omaticaya tribe, which had now settled in a low-key campground, and seek out the Metkayina clan, which specialized in harmonizing with the local sea life. It was a challenging task, though, because the Metkayinas were perplexed over the idea of watching after some forest dwellers, as they called them. But as they settled in more, Jake and his family knew more about the Metkayinas, their customs, and even some hidden truths about them.

Meanwhile, before they left to seek out the Metkayinas, Spider was apprehended by the incoming RDA personnel and was interrogated over Jake Sully and his family’s whereabouts. However, once Spider and Miles Quaritch shared the same room, they discovered that Spider was related to Quaritch, for he was his son. So, once Spider caught on to this connection, it put him in a corner as he had to decide which side he was on: his biological side via Quaritch or his adoptive family via Jake Sully, his mother, and his siblings.

Because the first film was such a massive, albeit undeniably flawed spectacle, a lot was riding in on this film to determine whether Avatar had enough tricks up its sleeve, and not just visually, to merit another new chapter, let alone several.

After seeing it in theaters last month, the bad news is that I remember sensing some problems with this movie that only manifested as time progressed and became more apparent. But the good news is, it also benefitted from plenty of good qualities, enough to lend it its deserved reputation as a worthy sequel to Avatar.

How are the characters in the movie? It’s going to take some digging to assess them more appropriately. They all ranged from being slightly interesting to feeling a tad bland.

Let’s start with Miles Quaritch, who came back to life after being shot down by Neytiri. Seeing him and his fellow troops suddenly find themselves in the bodies of the species they despised so much was bound to invite engaging revelations with each of them. Only in their case, once they got the hang of being in their avatars, their first mission was to assimilate among the Na’vi people and learn to speak their language. But it wasn’t because they wanted to feel more like another one of the Na’vi people, but rather so they could remain inconspicuous in their search for Jake Sully and his family. Once they ventured deeper into Pandora, they were even willing to kill other Na’vi people to extract information from them concerning Jake’s whereabouts. In the last film, they seemed blind and hateful, but here, something about their motives and ways of proceeding with their mission now makes them look more like forces to be reckoned with, even more so because of their vendetta against Jake Sully. So, they returned to Pandora and slaughtered some passerby Na’vi, all because of what Jake Sully had done to them. It makes their involvement in the story suddenly feel more fright-inducing than in the first movie.

Besides the villains who made a comeback in this movie, there were a couple of new enemies, although they didn’t feel as substantial as they could’ve been, either as new members of RDA or even as new characters. One female commander, General Frances Ardmore, took control of the top RDA operative and clued Miles Quaritch to where Jake Sully and his family would’ve relocated. But outside of that and her ruthless impression when she interrogated Spider, she didn’t feel as interesting as her position and involvement in the movie would’ve suggested.

There’s also the whale (ish) hunter named Captain Mick Scoresby, who scavenged the oceans of Pandora for the magnificent whale-like creatures called the Tulkun. However, he felt more memorable among the new bad guys getting involved in the big fight, primarily because of his eccentric attitude and British accent.

He introduced one element in the movie that, in my opinion, should’ve been better introduced earlier. For example, he and Quaritch scored one of the Tulkun for themselves, and as they entered its body, they used a drill to uncover and extract a glowing, yellow liquid called Amrita. Scoresby said that it would’ve helped with human aging and paid for the mission he and his crew partook in. It would’ve gone for $80 million a kilo, compared to $20 million with the unobtanium from the last movie.

If this was one of the critical elements of the movie, then maybe the RDA members could’ve mentioned that substance a little earlier on in the movie. Perhaps the film would’ve had it where it was a mysterious substance located somewhere in Pandora but couldn’t be found before finding it in the Tulkun. Then it would’ve been intriguing and surprising. But it came so far out of left field that it didn’t carry as much importance as the unobtanium. In the first film, you can tell that the unobtanium was the driving force behind RDA’s top mission. As is, it felt more like Scoresby’s concern than it was Quaritch’s.

Although…this was interesting because, with Quaritch, you’d think he would’ve taken this opportunity and tagged along with Scoresby to hunt down more of the Tulkun and extract the Amrita they seek, now that he knew of its monetary value compared to that of the unobtanium. But instead, Quaritch was more devoted to dishing out his revenge on Jake Sully and his family. Usually, when I think of Quaritch being hungrier for that instead of money, that’d tell me that Jake Sully took away something precious to him, something that he valued even more than the unobtanium or anything else of more excellent value. So, that makes me wonder: what did Jake Sully take away from him to make him develop such a bloodlust against him? My only guess is that the cost of all the men and women he knew as they fought against Jake Sully and all the other Na’vi was too great for him. Was that it? Then, that’d make sense. Or could it be because of the backtracking of their mission? Anything’s possible, but something must have happened to make him so desperate to get even with Jake Sully.

When I first heard of Quaritch and Selfridge returning, I was dismayed. After watching it, however? The only thing that disappointed me was that Selfridge wasn’t in the movie for very long. I only remember seeing him guiding Quaritch in recording his RDA video diaries, which Quaritch watched after being reborn as a Na’vi. And then, by the time Quaritch flew off at the end of the movie, I wasn’t upset that he didn’t die like in the last film. Knowing that James Cameron had three movies lined up after this, I was instead intrigued. I became curious enough to want to know what’ll happen to Quaritch down the line. I think that’s a testament to how much the movie got me invested in the characters, notwithstanding any narrative mediocrity the film may have.

How about the Metkayina tribe? Well, I found plenty of intriguing things about them, such as their customs compared to those of the Omaticaya tribe. For example, when you look at them, you can see that whereas the Omaticaya tribe had yellow eyes, they had pure blue eyes. However, they didn’t have enough substance to make them as compelling as the Omaticaya tribe.

Tonowari, the head of the tribe, stood tall with a no-nonsense demeanor as he upheld the longevity of his clan and carried them upon his shoulders. Even when asked to watch over Jake Sully and his family, he showed slight resentment against it, claiming that they came from the forests, on top of catching on to the Na’vi avatars’ bodies not matching their own. For example, pure Na’vi had four fingers, but the Na’vi avatars had five to match those of their human inhibitors. It told them that the Na’vi avatars would’ve been fake and potentially untrustworthy.

This resentment introduced an interesting dynamic. For one thing, this kind of prejudice does recall, if vaguely, the differences and clashes most native tribes faced against each other, for they were usually self-reliant and distrustful of outsiders. And this was before and after the white settlers emerged to invade their lands. Moreover, each Indian tribe followed different customs from the others, and their differences in seeing the world around them always led to perpetual war between each other.

For another, it recalls vague resemblances to mixed-race individuals who faced similar prejudice from opposing racial groups who raised them. White-black, black-Native American, white-native American, white-Mexican, you name it; they all share more than one ethnicity in their bloodlines, and the prejudices they dealt with depended on the ethnic groups these people came from. Same thing with the Na’vi avatars in this movie. Of course, it’s one thing for Na’vi avatars to fit in this category. How about human-Na’vi hybrids? I’m not sure if James Cameron would ever explore that angle of Avatar, but you never know.

So, watching the Metkayinas react to Jake Sully and his family’s arrival with slight disdain for their history and even their anatomy evoked similar intriguing parallels to catch between them.

It leads us to Tonowari’s wife, Ronal, played by Kate Winslet. Her firm disposition is such that she convinced me of how she knew about Jake Sully’s history with the so-called ‘sky people’ and the differences between him fighting against them and originating from them. Her expressions told me she would never have forgotten what happened all those years ago when they attacked the Na’vis, and Jake Sully rallied as many tribes within reach to help in their fight against them. I don’t remember what significant role she played throughout the movie, but what she did show in the film was still not without some subtle substance.

While their daughter, Tsireya, or Reya, didn’t play a prominent role in the movie, surprisingly, what she did get involved with felt more effective than I expected. Throughout the film, she was the most empathetic to Jake Sully’s family’s plight, expressing her intuition and suggesting that they settle in as long as they teach them their ways of living on and around the water. However, the chief reason for this might’ve been her feelings for Lo’ak, who started to have feelings for her as well.

Some of the other characters returned, too, like Norm. However, I don’t believe he’s had as much involvement in this movie as in the first film. In the first film, he studied the biological components connecting the human body with the Na’vi body upon transfusion. Here, he still served as a de-facto spokesperson for the Na’vi, but he also showed some doctor skills to him. The most notable moment was when he tended to Kiri after she ended up getting unconscious after connecting with the Spirit Tree underwater. I know 14 years have come and gone, but considering the amount of time that passed, I think it would’ve made sense for Norm to redirect his human-Na’vi transfusion studies and apply them to medical skills, too. Although I wish he was more involved, the bits he played in the movie still showed growth in this character.

Now, how about Jake and Neytiri’s children?

Starting with Jake’s two sons, they didn’t display much to them. But what they did express made me aware of their personalities. The eldest, Neteyam, was always trying to abide by his father, Jake’s, rules. He always wanted to be the quote ‘perfect’ son who would always have made his father proud in anything he partook in. Plus, he always had to watch out for his younger brother, Lo’ak, as Jake had ordered him to do.

It was in stark contrast to Lo’ak himself, who was much more open and restless. At the beginning of the movie, he was willing to fight alongside his father and ward off enemies. This aspect of him would’ve come into full play later when he got more involved with the Metkayinas and the local wildlife. For starters, despite getting off to a rocky start with Tonowari’s son and his friends, he did attempt to get on their good side, even if they even ended up ditching him afterwards. However, once he was more settled in, he ran into the terrors of the deep, just as Jake had with the Pandoran wildlife during his first venture into Pandora. However, he started to make friends with a Tulkun named Payakan, which started growing close to him. Lo’ak grew close enough with him, too, and some of their scenes together reminded me a bit of Jessie and Willy from Free Willy. In yet another element of clever and inventive biological connections, the Tulkun allowed him into its mouth and let Lo’ak use his ponytail antennas to connect with that of the Tulkun to dive more into its history. There, he discovered that the RDA primarily hunted down the Tulkun and his kind upon their visits to Pandora.

Now, this angle was most interesting, if also a tad confusing, because the Metkayinas dismissed the Tulkun as an outsider. After all, the species killed one another for a living, other times out of competition. But as Lo’ak discovered, it was not always the case, and their numbers dwindled due to RDA and perhaps its search for the Amrita.

There were also times when Lo’ak and Reya got more romantic with one another. And most of the time, they barely said anything, yet they exchanged glances as their relationship intensified. I can’t explain it; there’s just something about their dynamics that felt like they never needed to be explained but rather felt. I think that kind of chemistry is rare these days, especially in film.

Also, I just remembered: Tuk, the daughter of Jake and Neytiri, felt generally forgettable but no less admirable. The way she frolicked and reacted whenever she was held captive or in the company of her siblings just helped make her more like an observant child in the family.

Finally, you have the main leads, Jake Sully and Neytiri.

Neytiri felt a skosh more standard than in the first film. She showed some commitment in her role both among her tribe and as Jake’s wife. As we’ve seen in the first movie, the death of her father, Eytukan, plus his handing off his bow to her, stuck out to her. So, she was willing to do everything it took to keep her people safe from harm, even if it meant having to attack the first chance she got. However, there were times when she was prone to being too battle-ready, always thinking of the positions from which she would’ve suggested attacking the enemy but without thinking the more strategic aspects of the attack through. And that was when Jake, being a former Marine, would’ve been there to tell Neytiri to consider the hows in defending her people as her father would’ve wanted her to do. Nevertheless, she took her position in the tribe seriously and expressed tremendous valor throughout, just like Tsu’tey before her.

With Jake Sully, he felt like he was still a committed warrior who looked out for the best interests of his tribe and especially his family. His methods of responding to Quaritch and his RDA troops’ encroachments also prompted him to consider how best to respond to these crises. It included seeking sanctuary to prevent themselves from harm or endangering the lives of other innocent Na’vi. But this was also Quaritch, his former boss and confidante. So, this would’ve put him in a corner as he had to see that he would’ve gotten himself and his family to safety while also preparing himself for Quaritch’s arrival.

His role from and against the RDA 14 years ago also earned him a varied reputation among the other Na’vi tribes. Some looked up to him and his family as beacons of hope who’d navigate them to safety since they warded off the ‘sky people‘ the first time. Others, however, looked at them with contempt, rightly suspicious about their intentions and reasons for requesting sanctuary. Regardless, he tried to uphold his honor as he acquired it as a Marine back on Earth to motivate his family and his fellow Na’vi to stay strong in times of crisis or war.

It was engaging since, considering everything that went on in the movie, it’s very likely Jake Sully might have taken the brunt and carried the weight on his shoulders, knowing that the mayhem and damage caused by Quaritch and RDA were now because of him. It threw another unspoken angle to his character and showed how much he’s grown over the past 14 years.

There is another element of this film I’m starting to appreciate where it contemplated using your brain to do the work and not just brawn. Jake Sully tried to remind Neytiri of that when the bad news spread out to them. And Quaritch, in all the years that passed, still had his military expertise as he did as a human being, but this time, he decided to exercise them with more stealth. It got to a point where I wondered if each side, the hero and the villain, would’ve anticipated each other’s moves and responded as such before one was outsmarted by the other. This kind of back-and-forth dynamic is more exciting to me. Instead of being easily outmatched, like the good guys by Quaritch and his troops with the Hometree in the last film, they anticipated whatever attacks may come and strategized as such. Not only is this more exciting, but when you get down to it, this is how opposing forces work in real life. It’s not just one side preparing for the fights but the other side, too. I know part of that was highlighted in the first film, too, but this film showed just how clever the bad guys have become. Kudos to James Cameron for adding another level of cunning to them.

Most of all, I like how Jake Sully and Quaritch displayed their motivations in the movie because of their newfound role in fatherhood.

Jake Sully always said that their family was their fortress. Hence, as a father to five children – three biological and two adopted – he had to make sure they stuck together no matter what happened or where they roamed, especially if it involved the RDA. So, knowing that Sully was a former Marine, it was interesting to watch him grow as a person when he had someone to take under his wing and show the ropes in self-resilience as he was when he was younger. This avenue explored plenty of interesting angles to his character, too.

And with Quaritch, this angle opened new avenues for this character. And considering how generally overwhelming in his one-note meanness he was in the last film, this was precisely what I was hoping could’ve been done with this character. As you can tell, he had plenty on his mind once he resurrected as a Na’vi. But when he met Spider and caught on to their resemblances, it tested him and made him consider whether Quaritch was willing to take Spider under his wing. But, of course, what Quaritch was mainly interested in regarding Spider was that Quaritch would’ve entrusted him to lead him and his troops deeper within Pandora and closer to Jake Sully.

It made him feel more like the Quaritch in the first half of the last movie, and I welcome that significantly.

Given how both Jake Sully and Quartich served in war before, their role in fatherhood displayed their true character with how they handled it. Jake Sully upheld the more honorable, alert elements of a soldier, whereas Quaritch established more of the brutal, animalistic aspects of one. Their reactions to their assimilation were easy to differentiate as well. With Jake Sully, he got the hang of the land, mastered the Na’vi language, secured himself a Mountain Banshee for aerial transportation, became a father, and saw them all as life-changing experiences. To Quaritch and his troops, they saw them all, plus Spider’s firsthand knowledge of the land, as no more than a means to an end.

Among the new characters and Jake’s family, I think the two standouts were Kiri, the adoptive daughter, and the adopted human son, Spider.

Though Kiri didn’t do much in the film, she pondered her identity as a Na’vi and as Jake Sully’s adoptive daughter. Why? Because she happened to have been born from the womb of Grace’s old avatar. She shared her DNA, felt her presence, and not just Eywa, and even shared the same voice actress, Sigourney Weaver. The connections were evident, but it made her ponderations over her identity slightly intriguing. Some signs hint that she may be meant for something far more colossal than she knows. Some signs point to this, like when she was surrounded by the seeds of Eywa, like Jake before her. However, this movie didn’t show what she was meant for enough. At the same time, however, knowing the amount of Avatar’s story to be uncovered eventually, I’m guessing her role will be more noticeable at the right moment.

And Spider was fascinating for his background: he was a human orphan child adopted by Jake and his family. However, he was met with hesitation by Neytiri, who still dismissed him as an alien from another world. Things got more out of hand when it turned out that he was Quaritch’s son. But, of course, that begs the question: who was Spider’s mother? And Quaritch’s wife? That’s one question I was shocked was never delved into here.

I have to say, while Spider’s relationship with his father, Quaritch, was interesting, he tended to flip back and forth between the good guys and the bad guys too much. At first, he was seen as close buddies with Jake Sully’s children. But then, after being kidnapped by Quaritch and the others, Spider seemed to have been their sometimes-willing-and-other-times-not-and-sarcastically-so guide into Pandora as he showed them the ins and outs of speaking the Na’vi language and blending in with the natives. Yet, there were times when Spider was hesitant to engage in Quaritch’s plans to execute anyone who didn’t give them the information about Jake Sully’s whereabouts...which reminded me of Frollo’s search for Esmeralda from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, I might add.

When Spider met with his adoptive family, they all felt happy to see him again. I might’ve taken it that they thought he was kidnapped, but they seemed a tad too forgiving of the idea that he went and deliberately consulted with their enemy to track down Jake Sully.

I get that he had a close bond with his adoptive family and that his world may have turned upside down upon discovering Quaritch, his biological father. But I don’t know. The way he flipped back and forth between both sides just felt too incoherent and made him look a little wishy-washy.

If anything, besides his relationship with Quaritch, the other one I wish could’ve been elaborated on more was Spider’s relationship with Neytiri, his adoptive mother. At the beginning of the movie, Jake mentioned Neytiri’s distrust of Spider for the reasons I mentioned, and she harbored such a grudge against him because of what the RDA troops did to her family and home. I can see this opening Neytiri’s eyes more as to which humans were worth trusting and which ones she would’ve been right to distrust, and this could’ve introduced some exciting avenues to explore with this character. In addition, it would’ve opened up new avenues to explore where Spider belonged in the world and life.

Well, who knows? Perhaps that part of them is also saved for later down the road.

I also like the friendship between Kiri and Spider. I felt it from them both since they felt like outsiders, especially since both had different relatives than the ones they had. Of course, this dynamic felt compelling given that Spider was Quaritch’s biological son, whereas Kiri was the daughter of Grace’s avatar before Grace died. So, this puts another new spin on their dynamic and even that of their parents before them.

Well, now that I got the elements of the film concerning its characters out of the way, let’s now steer our attention to the good parts of the movie.

Just like in the last film, the world-building concerning Pandora felt awe-inspiring and exemplary. There’s a more fruitful exploration of Pandora in this film, which is most needed in a film series devoted to a luscious planet that provided some of the most stunning, immersive experiences you’d ever see either in film or preferably in a movie theater.

It did a phenomenal job of taking the viewers through the additional regions of Pandora with Jake Sully, Neytiri, and the other Na’vi to tag them along for the ride. This time, it was the seaside portion of Pandora we witnessed. The foundations and biological elements concerning Pandora, the Na’vi, and their connections within still stood tall in their creativity and believability. The aquatic Pandoran creatures felt distinct and very alien, yet also something so alike that you could recognize them in our world. Like ours, yet unlike ours, if you will.

The underwater scenes were absolute wonders to gaze at, as the colors and exotic sea life swimming about would take you toward the hidden beauties that lurked deep within Pandora. Of course, some of them were dangerous, but most of the time, they were mystical, colorful, and even peaceful.

Instead of the Mountain Banshees to carry around the Na’vi, this time, we’re introduced to the Skimwings. They functioned differently from the banshees, but their ways of lurking within and even on the water were trippy, making them look like the ideal mode of transportation for seaside travelers. This time, of course, I don’t remember any of the Na’vi stating that they had to undergo some competition to see which one of them would’ve chosen their fighter as their designated rider. It exemplified yet another aspect of the Metkayina tribe that separated them from the Omaticaya tribe.

And the visual effects? Wow.


It’s been 13 years since Avatar dazzled the world with its immersive visual effects, and now, it has come back bigger, more believable, and better than ever. When my girlfriend and I saw this, she said it was a magical experience to see the movie this way. To her, it felt equivalent to watching through virtual reality lenses. The visual effects were that polished, realistic, and advanced, even compared to the first movie. The Na’vi aliens now looked as natural and grounded as they could be, the regions of Pandora looked bright and luscious, the environments of RDA looked fittingly dreary and industrial, and around 85% of the movie was soaked in its visual wonders. The VFX artists put their money where their mouths were and displayed it for everyone to see and experience.

I even noticed some touches throughout the film that referred to James Cameron’s earlier films. For example, the climactic battle against Quaritch and his soldiers as Jake and Neytiri tried to rescue their daughters, complete with the water continually rising in the sinking ship, reminded me of similar experiences from The Abyss and Titanic.

And as a continuation of Avatar, Cameron is off to a splendid start. It continued what he started in the first film and did so in a way that felt as natural and consistent to the characters as it was to the actors and filmmakers putting it all together.

I want to give the film some credit in this aspect. Although the story feels standard and a tad light, it felt nowhere as repetitive or unoriginal as in the first film. Whenever people mentioned its narrative values, they constantly whipped up arguments about the film being Dances with Wolves set in space, seasoned with Pocahontas, FernGully, and other environmental films into the mix. Here, it simply told the story of Jake Sully settling in Pandora with his family before being notified about the return of an old enemy, prompting him and his family to take refuge among the Metkayina tribe. But then, as Quaritch got closer, Sully and his family assimilated more into the Metkayinas’ way of life, tried to clear up some differences between them, and, most of all, attempted to prepare for their fight against the enemy. It sounds more like something out of a war movie than any other environmental film. However, I still admire that the story took a more natural and intentionally original take on the story of Avatar.

Most of all, the performances were phenomenal. Sam Worthington sounded more like he was more settled in his abode in Pandora and remained natural whenever he fought the enemy or had to be around for his wife and children. And once he got wind of Quartich’s arrival, Sully expressed greater desperation when he attempted to have the Metkayinas ally with him in their fight against Quaritch, knowing that he and the others had to fight against them sooner or later.

Zoe Saldana remained fierce as Neytiri. She can emote different emotions that I didn’t think she’d have felt, not to mention as the queen-to-be of the Omaticaya clan. If the character’s participation in the movie was slightly minimal by comparison to the last movie, her expressions and body movements still signaled to us what Neytiri was thinking whenever she was relaxed or on her guard.

Stephen Lang gave off a more in-control and gravelly prowess in his voice as Quaritch readjusted himself to his permanent Na’vi avatar. Lang even maintained it as Quaritch wrapped his head around the many things he wouldn’t have seen coming, like his son Spider or even the dialects of the Na’vi language he had to master.

Brendan Cowell gave it his all in portraying Captain Mick Scoresby. His character may have felt standard outside of his pursuit of the Amrita. Regardless, his British accent, inflections, and sense of liveliness helped make this character one of the more memorable of the new baddies in this film.

Fellow Cameron veteran Kate Winslet felt effective in her portrayal of Ronal. She didn’t do much throughout the movie, but her emotional facades and resoluteness as she comprehended the circumstances with Jake Sully and his family helped lend her an intricate level of compassion and commitment most valued in characters like her. For most of the movie, I couldn’t have even told that that was Kate Winslet underneath all that CGI makeup. But she pulled it off very smoothly.

Most of all, Sigourney Weaver was terrific in her portrayal of Kiri. She felt like she owned being an excitable, energetic, but still pensive teenage girl who felt like she had accessed something or someone but just couldn’t have put her finger on it. However, she had her playful side, too, especially around her adoptive siblings or the Metkayina children. So, watching Weaver express it all into this character felt like an excellent task for her to accomplish after already perfecting it with Grace in the last film. Also, Grace quickly appeared in the movie as she spoke with Kiri about her issues. She still honed the motherly aspect I remembered in the first film, but now, it has become 100% motherly. I admire the sense of versatility and talent exhibited by her for this reason.

Even Edie Falco, playing Frances Ardmore, displayed a sense of arrogance and cold confidence as she and her troops settled in Pandora again and prepared for their ventures deep within Pandora. Her postures and expressions helped make her seem like a potential threat, and she is on the right track to conveying her more fluidly if she appears again in the sequels.

I also admire the actor playing Spider, Jack Champion. He’s 15-16 years old, but he still displayed effectively swaying levels of emotional currents with this character. I like how he expressed himself as a wild teenager who adjusted to the Na’vi ways, while in others, he honed this wild, ruthless, and committed aspect to him that probably like being in it for the hunt.

One thing about this movie that already feels more carefully handled than in the first film is its sense of emotional resonance.

Frankly, when the first film had us empathize with Grace, I felt discouraged when Grace was shot, but not so much that I felt heartbroken over it. And I’ll tell you why: the aftershock of the destruction of the Tree of Voices and the Hometree still lingered over me and kept me from feeling emotive over Grace’s death when that happened earlier. That told me the film went too far with the battles in the second act and overshadowed other scenes whose emotional resonance may have been capable of something more robust.

In this movie, I barely knew Neteyam outside of trying to be seen as the perfect son. Yet, when he encountered his family and found out he was shot, he lived long enough to say something to Jake and Neytiri before he died. And when he did, the family was immediately in mourning, especially Neytiri as she bawled over the loss of her son. So again, I barely knew him, yet I felt shocked and appropriately saddened by this tragic turn of events.

I don’t know what it is. I don’t know if it’s the buildup, the characterizations apparent from Neteyam, the fact that this is the eldest child dying before his parents’ eyes, or whatever. But I felt more emotional over his death than I did over the deaths of either Neytiri’s father or Grace in the last film.

One of the main things added to this movie that felt most welcome was the communicative aspects of the Na’vi with the local wildlife. For instance, when Ronal bonded with one of the Tulkun she knew, she communicated to the whale in her language, as did the Tulkun in return. We can see it all being discussed and even transcribed for us to read and understand what they conveyed to each other. That’s why, when you see that same Tulkun die later in the movie, you’d feel the heartbreak noticeable in Ronal when she recognized it, evoking a stronger emotional reaction to the death of wildlife even than in the last film. I barely got emotional when Neytiri noticed her banshee get close to death after being shot down in the first film’s climax.

Another central element of this movie that I appreciate more than the last film was its pacing and sense of gradualism. The first film just showed the ways of the Na’vi tribe, and then it lunged forth too forcefully into the action courtesy of the RDA by having sacred sites plowed down in the movie. It immediately made me want to root against the bad guys because I was too overwhelmed by the destruction to grasp what was happening in the movie. Here, the film was brilliant in exercising slight restraint regarding the threat encroaching upon Pandora and the islands linked to the Metkayina clan. As Quaritch and his troops trekked closer to Jake Sully’s sanctuary, he made me sometimes fear his mastery and trickery. It’s almost like I hoped to see Jake catch on to his imminent arrival and act accordingly before he and the tribe got gunned down by Quaritch again. This time, the movie felt more suspenseful because you never know just how ready Jake and his fellow natives would’ve been when retaliating against Quaritch and his troops.

However, I noticed some problems with this film, and they got more noticeable as I let it sit.

One element I was perplexed by was the general lack of involvement from the original Omaticaya tribe. I understand that everything Jake and Neytiri did for their family was also for the benefit of their tribe. But generally, they felt more concerned for their family instead of the entire tribe. When they set out to seek sanctuary, the Omaticaya tribe was never seen again throughout the movie. And this included Mo’at, Neytiri’s mother. It was surprising since the beginning painfully showed us that the original lands and trees where she and her family lived became reduced to ashes once the RDA rockets landed there. And then, the Omaticaya tribe just nestled in a site full of camping tents. I might assume they were funded by the humans who sympathized with the Na’vis’ plight, but even that wasn’t delved into deeply enough. Also, think about it. How cool would it have been if, during Jake Sully’s, the Metkayinas’, and Quaritch’s army’s battles against each other, the Omaticaya tribe intervened to help in the fight, too? In every good or bad prospect of the movie, I also cannot help but sense a what-if scenario that could have benefitted them in the long run.

Another thing that felt amiss was how generic the music felt. And that’s a shame because the late James Horner’s music in the first movie was glorious and nearly spellbinding. It blazed forth in all its emotional fluctuations, and portions of it felt like it seeped into the essential elements of Na’vi culture. And it owned it every step of the way. Here, the music by Simon Franglen highlighted the emotional aspects just fine, but they just felt a bit second-rate compared to what James Horner pulled off in the first film. So, it just doesn’t feel the same.

Also, must James Cameron be so insistent that the humans from Earth are the bad guys? How about exploring the parts of Earth that are not dead? How about the Earthlings who sympathized with the Na’vis, just as Max and Norm have? If the implication was to show how much humanity became hardened because of the circumstances back on Earth, then that would make sense. But when you have a good portion of humanity portrayed as being this greedy and hungry for anything that promises monetary gain, it might send the wrong message.

A couple of elements scattered throughout the movie also told me that it was building up to some significant revelation, only to cut it off before the truth became clear. For starters, Kiri was swimming underwater and discovered the Spirit Tree when she used her ponytail to entangle with the tree and be soulfully transported into the realm of Eywa. There, she ran into the spirit of Grace, who reconciled with her long-lost daughter. However, they could have gone further in their conversation. Kiri was about to ask her who her father was, but then she returned to reality with her responses and borderline seizure symptoms. And it was never elaborated on again in the movie. So, I guess that’s being saved for later in the Avatar franchise.

Also, at the end of the movie, after Jake’s big fight with Quaritch, Spider, still conflicted over his dedication to either Jake or Quaritch, decided to snag Quaritch’s body and take him up to shore. Then, when Quaritch invited him to join him, Spider hissed at him and swam off to join his family, especially after Quaritch, during his earlier fight with Neytiri, said he had no son and thought Spider was expendable. It might’ve been the first time I thought he was serious about what I thought he felt in the first movie. So, it’s interesting to think about how James Cameron decided to introduce these elements into the story, knowing he would make a full-fledged film series out of them. I’ve seen other film series that introduced some essential elements but did so with more subtlety. Here, it felt like it was introduced with some buildup, only to be cut off before the big payoff.

The last time I heard of this, James Cameron said that should Avatar: The Way of Water be successful, he’d have given the go-ahead to work on all three follow-ups after this one. Well, with The Way of Water having raked in $2 billion of box office revenue, it’s obviously a go. And the even better news? James Cameron said that the next film, Avatar: The Seed Bearer, would’ve explored another part of Pandora that’s crucial to think of. He said that after two movies in the Avatar universe full of good Na’vi and bad humans, this movie would introduce the exact opposite: the bad Na’vi and the good humans. The bad Na’vi in question will comprise a separate tribe called the Ash People. Ever since the sequels to Avatar were announced, I was hoping that the series could’ve explored different avenues with these characters to make them feel as natural, expansive, and multifaceted as they deserve to be. So, I can’t wait to see where Cameron decides to take his story and characters next, given what he already laid out before us with the first two films and the third one to follow.

To my surprise, however, among the characters returning in The Seed Bearer from this film will be Payakan, the Tulkun that Mo’ak befriended, and of course, Mick Scoresby, despite being flung into the sea with only one arm still on him. Knowing how intriguingly specific this list of returning characters started out to be, I wonder, will Scoresby come back for revenge on Payakan the same way Quaritch returned for revenge on Jake Sully? Is Scoresby going to engage in some physical and psychological battles like that which Captain Ahab went through in Moby Dick? It’s anyone’s guess, but knowing the sequential nature of the Avatar sequels, what we witnessed in The Way of Water is guaranteed to play a larger part in the next movie or two.

I do wish The Way of Water could’ve explored some plot elements that needed attention. But, as I pointed out plenty of times by now, I can’t help but suspect they’re being saved for something far more extensive and significant. Last time I heard, James Cameron spent the past decade or so planning out The Way of Water and The Seed Bearer, plus bits and pieces of the fourth and fifth Avatars, and he shot them back-to-back. That reminded me of other classic franchises that did the same thing; look at Back to the Future, Pirates of the Caribbean, and The Matrix. These movie franchises continued the story of the first film while leaving behind the impression that the first film could be its own story. I’m sensing that with Avatar, too. The first Avatar can be judged as its own film. But here? I can’t help but feel like some things are explored while others of less importance are being saved for later down the road, like in Avatar: The Seed Bearer or something. With the visuals, I know they are phenomenal and resulted in some mind-boggling eye candy, like in the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels. Also, sometimes, it took narrative detours to keep the narrative of the movie focused and not answer some questions right away in the hopes of leading to the next film, like the end of Back of the Future Part II. And there may be some intentions on James Cameron’s end to develop Jake Sully and Quaritch’s relationship to make them more complex and meaningful, like Quaritch is becoming the Agent Smith to Jake Sully’s Neo. The only difference is that Avatar will be a pentalogy, whereas these three franchises are trilogies, with a couple of additional films each in Pirates and Matrix’s case. And no matter how those films plan to keep the momentum of Avatar’s story going as it advances, I’m sure it’ll eventually amount to an adventure that’s large, complex, engaging, and above all, immersive. Hopefully, the high number of films will be enough to accommodate the amount of story James Cameron intends to tell of Avatar.

For what we got, however, and for all its inadequacies, Avatar: The Way of Water still feels well worth the wait. It reignited the flame Avatar started with its attention to world-building, visual effects, and acting. Yet, the more natural vital components of the movie, the story and characters, still feel like they could’ve been ironed out more. Yet, even then, there’s still this feeling that the Avatar films just got started and are paving the way for something more monumental in the future, as the MCU films have done this past decade. As long as the movies remain successful, and James Cameron knows what he’s doing, I have confidence in Cameron’s craftsmanship to carve out a place in cinematic history with all the visual spectacles and epic storytelling still awaiting Avatar and movie viewers alike.

Long time no see, Avatar, and I see you for what you’re becoming.

My Rating

A strong B

Additional Thoughts

  • I was so filled with hatred against Quaritch in the last film that I thought I would’ve relished watching his corpse rot because of what he did to the poor Na’vi. Well, I saw Quaritch’s avatar pick up his former human skull, and frankly, I wasn’t ready to see that or to see it crushed by him.

  • There was one scene involving Jake’s children and their anatomy that I thought was hilarious. At one point, they were apprehended by Quaritch and his troops as he looked for Jake and demanded that they show him their fingers so he’d know if they were pure Na’vi or avatars. Lo’ak, of course, responded with his middle fingers. That was just priceless.

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