By Nicholas Kobe, Contributor
[20th Century Fox; 2022]
The sequel to the most financially successful movie of all time is no easy hurdle to clear, but that was the challenge staring down director ,James Cameron, as he began work on Avatar: The Way of Water, the sequel to Avatar, released in 2009. Heralded as one of the most technologically advanced films of all time, Avatar still is stunning over a decade later. The film, however, is remembered more for the visuals than for the story or characters. Sequels are nothing new to James Cameron as he has directed some of most well regarded sequels of all time such as Terminator 2 and Aliens.
Read more: Movie Review: Halloween Ends
I talk about Avatar so much because most of the same takeaways from that movie bleed over into The Way of Water. The film follows Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and his family as Na’vi clones of Colonel Mike Quartich (Stephen Lang) return to Pandora to finish eradicating the Na’vi and personally get revenge on Sully. The film mostly takes place in a new area of Pandora – The Way of Water repeats a lot of the same plot beats as Avatar, except focusing on the Metkayina people, also Na’vi, but live in harmony with water. Just like the first film, the sequences with the aquatic life of Pandora are some of the most jaw dropping just because of pure visual splendor. This film is over three hours, however, and The Way of Water only has a marginally better plot than the first film. It’s still a relatively shallow “save the environment” and anti-colonialism plot dressed up in state-of-the-art visuals, creative environments, and creature design.
The reason I say that this plot is marginally better than the first film is that Jake’s dynamic with his wife, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) and children provides some heart to the film. Unfortunately, though, these children fall into the laziest stereotypes for children in a movie about family dynamics. Lo’ak (Britain Dalton) is the “rebellious younger brother” who gets into conflict with Jake and his more “goodie two-shoes” older brother Neytam (Jamie Flatters). Tuk (Trinity Jo-Li Bliss) is boiled down to the “cute innocent child” and adopted daughter Kiri (Sigourney Weaver) is a pretty standard depiction of a shy, introverted teenage girl who finds a special connection with nature. Spider (Jack Champion), a human boy who lives with the Sully’s, is torn between his biological connection with humanity and his found family with the Na’vi. He’s easily the most annoying character in the film. For the majority of it, he’s a glorified plot device and in the climax, he makes the most stupid decision in the film that clearly only exists because The Way of Water needs to set up sequels. In the first half hour or so, you can pretty much call every single plot beat that is going to happen in these character arcs. While predictability does not rob The Way of Water of all of its impact, it is frustrating to see a sequel of this caliber rely on pretty tired tropes, with both characters and themes to fill its three plus hour runtime.
The Way of Water is one of the most visually pleasing films I’ve seen. From a filmmaking standpoint, it is worth marveling at. When it comes to being a story, The Way of Water feels as underwhelming as its predecessor in terms of basic themes and characters. While the reliability of these characters stands, you can find pretty much all of these dynamics done better in films that will not take up this much time. Avatar relies on visuals and a pretty thrilling climax to make up for the lack of depth in its core story and concepts. It does make it a relatively entertaining watch the first time around, but it’s a movie that will likely lose impact with time, just as its predecessor did. Plans for the future of Avatar seem to imply that the formula of “new place and new aesthetic with rinse and repeat plots” will continue into the third installment. While The Way of Water is fine on its own, I worry about the return on investment of this series, from both a story and financial standpoint. This movie needed to make 2 billion dollars to turn profit. The Way of Water is exactly what you’d expect a sequel to Avatar to be, in all the best and worst ways.
Watch the trailer here