The 2009 release of AVATAR did come with a lot of trepidation, as is the case with a lot of James Cameron’s movies since the 1990s and onward. You would always hear about the production problems He did make one of the best decisions in industry history by delaying TITANIC from a Summer to a Winter 1997 release and spending a bit more time perfecting it, and at that time it became the highest grossing movie of all time. Cut to many years later, and AVATAR itself was something special as it was a movie that was released primarily in 3D in an era where that seemed like an outlandish idea on such a large budget, but even after a slow start it quickly became a cultural phenomenon, selling out theatres country wide and becoming the “movie of the moment” and even eclipsing TITANIC to take the box office reign for Cameron once again.
Now I don’t know in 2022 if this will translate to a mostly new generation but the long-awaited sequel THE WAY OF WATER is quite wonderful in what it does and also what it doesn’t do. Taking many years, a massive crew and an overwhelming cost to create, this new picture is not a carbon copy of the original’s beats but a movie on its own terms, while still giving us a visually outstanding presentation of the Pandora world in ways that I couldn’t even imagine.
Because of the long time between this movie and the first, Cameron wisely sets the events about 15-20 years ahead of time after our initial hero Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) helped save the day with the Navi tribe . He and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) have started a family with several children and also some of the team from the first movie have stuck around. There is also a character named Spider (Jack Champion, very good here) who was a baby around the time the first story ended and has since evolved in this world only, so he has a different outlook. But the past is not done with them as even after all of these years, the “sky people” (remember those awful military people with the “Unobtanium” desire?) return including a Na’vi version of Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang) who still has some grudges against Sully.
There’s a lot going on here and so much that I didn’t write about as of course, I want the viewer to experience all the joys of the both the storytelling on family terms (the “fight or flight” tradition that has been in several of Cameron’s pictures in the past) and visually, most of which all captured digitally with motion capture and an emphasis on performance. The way that Cameron utilizes his actors here is nothing short of remarkable and you see all of the reported $450 million (!) on screen. Clearly the pleasure centres in my brain were activated when our young new hero is communicating with a massive, whale-like creature, or when there’s a big battle scene in the final hour that had my adrenaline flowing. Some of the action vibes here gave me the same sort of adrenaline rush when watching his ALIENS and TERMINATOR 2, so the man still has it.
And yes, the 3D. I typically despise the 3D format and it is very hard to get me to watch a movie in this format. Out of all of the 3D releases since AVATAR, I have only been impressed with the likes of LIFE OF PI, HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 and, yes, STEP UP 3D which for a long time was my favourite 3D movie ever because it not only embraced the format but also improved on it with wild dance sequences and little subtle water effects. It’s no surprise to report THE WAY OF WATER is the best 3D I have ever seen and while I do intend to check it out again in standard 2D, DO seek out the 3D experience for this one. There are so many thrilling visual moments that I don’t even know where to begin, but mostly I was blown away by the underwater sequences and the final action hour that excels everything I have ever seen in this format. You will need optimal projection standards to get the best 3D, so of course KNOW your theatres (see my Boring Tech Notes below for more).
I have some quibbles with the movie, of course. I also wasn’t going in expecting this either, and the positives more than outweigh the reservations I had. When I was writing my notes after seeing it, of course I had a few things of criticism written down. I am not one to really push for particular running times, but it does get a bit sluggish in the middle of the picture for its 192 minute runtime, and of course some of the motion-capture feels very obvious at times. Sigourney Weaver also voicing a younger character also didn’t mesh well with me either along with some of the other characters having some rough dialogue delivery VERY are noticeable, but this and a few other areas don’t really detract from the overall experience. I also refuse to judge a movie by its runtime, either, and this is no exception.
Ultimately, like with any movie one sees, it’s better to evaluate the overall experience and how you feel after watching it, and for me THE WAY OF WATER absolutely works more as a family story and and has a much different energy than the first AVATAR. That Cameron went this way makes it less of just a sequel experience and more of an expansion of his original ideas, complete with a much more fluent visual and aural design, is wonderful to behold. For this moviegoer, I was thrilled to see Cameron at the top of his game here in a really solid entertainment.
AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER is now playing in theatres.
Boring tech notes: While on the one hand THE WAY OF WATER is being offered in SO many formats, in most cities at least you will have the option to watch the movie in 3D or 2D, and while I recommend a 3D screening in a properly maintained auditorium, I would still just go with what you are comfortable with. It will also entirely depend on particular theatres and what they have available. And while I am not a fan of 3D, the IMAX 3D presentation that I saw, in a very good equipped theatre, was outstanding. Long story short, seek your best theatre out!
Available in 2D, regular 3D, High Frame Rate 3D, IMAX 3D, 4DX and possibly even more formats that I don’t know about.