The Way of Water is the sequel we’ve been waiting for

Who knew a 10 foot tall blue alien would be such a sore-eyed sight?

But the moment we reunite with Jake Sully and his Na’vi companions, the 13 years that have passed since James Cameron’s brilliant “Avatar” first hit theaters in 2009 seem like the best kind of friendly reunions.

That’s because the new sequel, titled Avatar: The Way of Water, is just as visually intoxicating and engagingly told as its predecessor. The storyline is more emotionally powerful, and you’ll once again walk out starry-eyed and in disbelief at what you’ve just witnessed.

Movie review

Running time: 192 minutes. Rated PG-13 (sequences of heavy violence and intense action, partial nudity and some strong language). In theaters December 16th.

Spending more than a decade craving Pandora was worth it. Cameron has delivered the greatest film since Avatar, with a running time of over three hours that never lets up. What better way for struggling cinemas to get back on their feet than with a gargantuan film that so celebrates the glory of the big screen?

Way of Water shares much in common with the director’s other phenomenal sequels, 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day and 1986’s Aliens. It embraces the passage of time (like Ripley waking up after 57 years), puts us in a new environment (a la exomoon LV-426) and introduces a family dynamic (remember little John Connor?).

It’s a formula, but a damn near perfect one.

Jake (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) are back at James Cameron's "Avatar: The Way of Water."
Jake (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) return in James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water.

For Way of Water, we skip ahead more than a decade after the events of the original film and are whisked away to the ocean where we meet Pandora’s sea clans, specifically the people of Awa’Atulu. Meanwhile, Jake (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) are parents to four children, three of whom are about to grow up.

Jake must protect his kin when the militaristic humans who drove them off the planet – the “Skymen” – return to seek vengeance and ravage once again the Eden that is Pandora.

Eldest child Neteyam (Jamie Flatters) is a warrior in training, younger Lo’ak (Britain Dalton) is a petulant Jan Brady-esque disappointment, and Tuk (Trinity Jo-Li Bliss) is the little girl. The couple adopted teenager Kiri (Sigourney Weaver), who has a mysterious past. And complicating their struggle with Earth is Spider (Jack Champion), a human boy who stayed behind years before and now considers himself one of the Na’vi.

Jake and Neytiri now have four children, including Tuk (Trinity Bliss).
Jake and Neytiri now have four children, including Tuk (Trinity Jo-Li Bliss).

There’s more character development and drama here than in the first film, which grumblers liked to refer to as an indigo dances-with-wolves, and the motion-capture acting, especially from the funny kids, is better. Some viewers may find the reintroduction of Quaritch (Stephen Lang) as the villain a stretch, but it’s sci-fi – the whole thing is a stretch.

Cameron never pumps too much plot into his epics — no Tesseract or multiverse here, thank goodness — and instead embraces universality and powerful imagery to move his audience. Lo’ak’s coming-of-age story with a giant sea creature is not only touching, but also beautifully reminiscent of Elliott and ET, Harry Potter and Buckbeak the Hippogriff, and Pete’s Dragon.

Jake meets Tonowari (Cliff Curtis) from the Sea Clans.
Jake meets Tonowari (Cliff Curtis) and Ronal (Kate Winslet) from the Sea Clans.
In their new home, the Sullys learn to fly various creatures.
In their new home, the Sullys learn to fly various creatures.

Where the director rises again – or rather swims – is his meticulous world construction. The Coastal Pandora Na’vi (Kate Winslet is one of them) are lighter aqua rather than blue, and have a broader tail and arms for swimming. And when you dive underwater, the bioluminescent flora and fauna is just as majestic as the rainforest on land. Cameron always makes it clear where the viewer is meant to be looking, but every inch is covered in the stunning detail that one would expect after 13 years and $350 million.

Pandora continues to come to life through music which, although this time composed by Simon Franglen, still pays homage to the wondrous work of the late James Horner.

The peak action of The Way of Water seems to be closing in for Cameron, though he’s barely retired and three potential Avatar movies are still on the way. There are undeniable glimpses of “Titanic,” “Aliens,” and “T2” throughout the harrowing, water-and-fire-filled sequence. But with his incredible effects, the director is still breaking new ground for the film decades later.

When it comes to blockbusters, Cameron remains unsinkable. The Way of Water is the sequel we’ve been waiting for

Emma Bowman

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