‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ Review

Second verse, same as the first

Director James Cameron has been plenty clear about his newest Avatar film being incredibly expensive, but he kind of failed to mention it’s basically a narrative clone of his 2009 original. Oh, sure, it’s jaw-droppingly gorgeous and a technical marvel and all that, but he recycles plot, characters and story beats in a way that feels more exhausting than satisfying—and viewers can easily predict what’s up next because it’s painfully obvious. This is tech over story all the way. And you know what? That’s fine.

In The Way of Water, we catch up with Jake (Sam Worthington, who we forgot was a person until just now) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña), a pair of Na’vi—people native to the planet Pandora. Last time out, the pair Fern Gully’d their way to victory over an evil mining corporation that was sucking the planet dry, and our heroes now live peacefully amongst the trees with kids the’ve sired and some sort of teenage Na’vi replica of Sigourney Weaver’s character from the first movie, whom they adopt. Life’s good in the forest until the bad guy military jerks from the first movie all get cloned as Na’vi (complete with their memories, the movie explains in a two-second science dump) and set out at the behest of Earth general Ardmore (Edie Falco) to do...whatever. Thing is, though, the squad’s leader, Colonel Quatrich, (the big bad from the first movie; Stephen Lang) turns it more into a personal vendetta. Violence ensues.

So Jake and the fam flee to the coast, where a neighboring tribe who have evolved flipper-like extremities and the ability to hold their breath for a super-long time take them in and teach them the way of water. At best, The Way of Water is a reductive take on Indigenous ideologies; at worst, it’s pretty racist. Either way, Jake and Neytiri’s kids are all about it, especially the younger brother, Lo’ak (Britain Dalton), who befriends a space whale and really embraces the sea and stuff. Wouldn’t you know it, though, Quatrich and his goons take up with some space poachers, and they do evil poacher stuff to flush Jake and the family out. People yell; Jemaine Clement plays a scientist with a crisis of conscience; Kate Winslet does a regrettable accent—and all the clunky “why we hurt planet?” messaging comes at us like a ton of convoluted bricks.

Worthington, weirdly, does pretty OK as a father struggling with his family’s safety and his own desire for doing what’s right. Saldaña, though, is underused. The kids are the focus here, even if Weaver’s take on teenager is mostly about talking like a goofball and magically controlling sea beasts with no real explanation. The rest goes down just like you think. Still, the water effects are stunning and even those who don’t like 3D might wanna check it out. Just don’t expect a good movie so much as a pretty one. Know there’s no ultimate resolution, though, and given the 13 years it took to get a second film, who knows when the third will arrive? The blockbuster film is dying, friends, and that’s OK.


+Gorgeous visuals; 3D actually cool

-Repetitive and painfully long; recycled everything

Avatar: The Way of Water

With Worthington, Saldaña, Weaver, Lang, Falco and Dalton

Regal, Violet Crown, PG-13, 192 min.

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