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Avatar: The Way of Water Review

Some time after the events of Avatar, Jake Sully and Neytiri have started a family. Their children are not only their biological offspring but adopted orphans as well. Kiri is the child of Dr. Grace Augustine’s avatar, who was unexpectedly pregnant while in suspended animation.

They have also adopted a young human nicknamed Spider, who was an orphan left behind when the humans were banished from Pandora. The tight knit family learns the ways of the Na’vi and the wonders of the living planet.

Avatar: The Way of Water Review

Everything changes one night when a new star appears in the sky. The humans have returned in force. They have a new mission – make Pandora habitable for human refugees no matter the cost to the indigenous people.

They have another mission as well – find and kill Jake Sully. To do so, a new group of highly-trained avatars are sent in to track the Na’vi down, and they are led by a ghost from Jake’s past.

Avatar: The Way of Water Review

Realizing his presence is a threat to the Na’vi, Jake takes his family and flees to another part of Pandora. They seek refuge with a race of sea-dwelling Na’vi. There the entire family must learn the ways of the unfamiliar people and their relationships with the marine creatures living at the reef.

However, it’s only a matter of time before the Sky People track them down and bring their reign of terror to the Sully’s new home.

One of the major appeals of Avatar was the amazing world building of Pandora. The flora and fauna were imaginative and exciting. James Cameron continues that here with the reef environment. He puts his experience filming deep sea creatures to good use with all sorts of amazing marine animals.

We’re treated to the Pandora versions of whales, dolphins, jellyfish, sharks, and more. It’s quite a dazzling display of colors, motion, and sounds that works well with the 3D presentation. It definitely sparks the imaginations of the audience while viewing.

It’s hard to believe it has been 13 years since the last Avatar movie, but the returning cast do not skip a beat. Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, and the others return to their characters as if they had never left. It’s like visiting old friends when they’re on the screen.

They are joined by numerous new cast members, most notably the Sully children. Trinity Jo-Li Bliss stands out as Tuk, the youngest member of the family. Her youthful energy and emotion is beautifully captured in her CG character.

I initially wasn’t too sure about Jack Champion as Spider, but he soon won me over. It’s easy to see why his character would be so enthusiastic about joining the Sully clan. His character goes to unexpectedly dark places that we will surely see pay off in subsequent sequels. Bailey Bass is also notable as Tsireya, the Sully kids’ guide in the new underwater world.

Also noteworthy is Kate Winslet as Ronal. While she worked with James Cameron on Titanic, she’s a newcomer to the Avatar world. Her character is unrecognizable as Winslet when you combine her accent with the CG alien. She also proves more than a match for Neytiri and brings new meaning to the term “cat fight” when it comes to the two matriarchs.

James Cameron is well known for his stunning action scenes and he delivers here as well. An opening jungle battle between the Sullys and the humans is notably intense as tracer rounds fly out of the screen at the audience. A shark attack on one of the children at the reef is worthy of Jaws. And the final sea battle between the humans and the Na’vi delivers some intense kills for those that think that Cameron has gone soft.

The animation also continues to be next level in terms of detail. You see every hair on the Na’vi, every freckle, and every glowing dot. The motion of the water is so natural that you frequently forget you’re watching 100% animation. There was one closeup where Kiri is folding some food in leaves and I was astounded by how realistic every detail was. It’s just mind blowing what the animators are capable of. It also shines a light on bad animation we’ve been subject to for so many years.

While the first Avatar was a huge, epic story, Avatar: The Way of Water just feels smaller in every way. There’s less of Pandora that’s explored this time. We meet fewer Na’vi. And the big finale lacks the massive feel of the first film. There’s a “been there, done that” feel to a lot of it.

The story is also surprisingly predictable. Nothing happens that you can’t see coming a mile away. You kind of walk out of the theater thinking, “It took 13 years to make and that was it?” I was expecting bigger twists and turns that never came.

James Cameron pushes an environmental narrative in the Avatar films which is good and noble. Conservation of the oceans is a great lesson to teach kids, but it’s a little heavy handed here. The humans are literally hunting whales with harpoons. There’s nothing subtle about it. At first I thought, “Why would humans fly across the galaxy to hunt whales?”

Cameron does end up coming up with a pretty good reason, but it does seem a bit contrived. And when the Na’vi start having literal conversations with the whales, it starts feeling a little bit silly when it’s supposed to be quite emotional.

I was able to see Avatar: The Way of Water in 3D and the high frame rate. While I love the 3D effect, the high frame rate was annoying and distracting. I didn’t like it in The Hobbit and I’m not a fan of it here. In some scenes, it made it feel like I was watching a scene from a video game and it ripped me out of the moment. In other scenes it felt like I was watching a TV where someone’s parents turned the motion smoothing on. It’s simply not my preference and I would avoid watching a movie with the high frame rate again.

While I liked Avatar better, I still enjoyed Avatar: The Way of Water and recommend checking it out on the big screen. It’s the spectacle that deserves the theatrical experience and I’m interested to see where the series goes from here.

Avatar: The Way of Water Review


Disney’s 20th Century Studios will release the film in theaters on December 16, 2023. The movie is rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence and intense action, partial nudity and some strong language.

Avatar: The Way of Water Review