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December 16, 2022 / Walt Disney Studios Canada

Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña, Stephen Lang, Sigourney Weaver, Kate Winslet, Cliff Curtis

Directed By: James Cameron

Set more than a decade after the events of the first film, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) struggle to protect their family as they are forced to leave their home and explore the regions of Pandora as a familiar threat resurfaces.

Written By Darren

Rating 5 out of 5

Avatar: The Way of Water proves that James Cameron should never be underestimated as a filmmaker, as he once again delivers a stellar film with wonderful world building, outstanding visuals and effects, and a blockbuster experience that must be experienced on the big screen.

It has been thirteen years since audiences have been to Pandora, but Cameron has been hard at work creating not just one sequel to the highest grossing film of all time, but multiple beginning with this year’s Avatar: The Way of Water. I have always been a huge fan of Cameron’s films, especially Avatar which is easily one of the most exciting theatrical experiences I have ever had thanks to his brilliant use of 3D technology, which had me eagerly anticipating the return to this world. And even though it has been over a decade in waiting, the wait was well worth it as Cameron delivers a magnificent film that is not only every bit as exciting as the original, but a film that surpasses it thanks to advancements in technology and an emotionally charged story.

Set years after the first film, Jake and Neytiri are peacefully living on Pandora, raising a family, until that peace is threatened as the humans return to Pandora, once again seeking to use it and its resources. With the human’s return, an old threat reemerges and begins to target Jake and his family, forcing them to go into hiding as they work with an army of the Na’vi to fight off the human forces trying to destroy their planet. This sequel largely follows the structure of the original film, much like Star Wars: The Force Awakens did, but at the same time Cameron expands the universe of the film and begins setting up the larger story set to play out over the next four films in the series.

During the film we are introduced to the sea clan, the Metkayina, and their world, meeting various new creatures and beautiful locations. Much like Jake learning the Na’vi way in the first film, we experience all of the Sully family learning and adapting to the Metkayina way in the second act of the film. And once again, Cameron captures your imagination with the diverse sea life on Pandora, aided with wonderful building of the mythology of the world that creates for a spellbinding experience. The first act is focused on the events that set this story into motion, while introducing us to Jake and Neytiri’s children, before the third and final act where Cameron flexes his talents as a blockbuster director.

There are simply no words to describe the action spectacle that he has conjured in the final act, as Cameron has once again truly outdone himself. There is action, then there is the nail biting, emotional rollercoaster that Cameron unleashes in the final act for this film for what was probably an hour’s worth of the film’s runtime, but never for a second did it feel long. It is truly one of the most amazing and wild concluding acts in a film that I have ever experienced, and one that I cannot wait to experience over and over again. In fact, despite a run of three hours and thirteen minutes, my mind never for a second felt the length as I ate up every second of the film. Sure, Cameron’s script at times had a few bad one liners and the story is simple like the original, but the themes of family and love ring loud and clear throughout the film, providing an emotional strength to carry the film from start to finish. At the same time, Cameron begins laying the foundation for larger character arcs and conflicts to emerge in the coming sequels, teasing a truly epic showdown still to come, where I am certain he will once again astound audiences with what his imagination will dream up next.

Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana once again lead the film as Jake and Neytiri, and it is great seeing them back in these roles. Worthington’s conflicted Jake, trying to protect his family with his marine-like tendencies clashing with the love of his children is a wonderful arc in which he soars, while Saldana is once again fierce and dazzling as Neytiri, even if she is slightly underused at times. As much as they are the leads, the film spends a lot of time focused on their children, and the young actors cast in the roles are all wonderful, bursting with life and personality, promising not only a bright future for this franchise, but for their careers in general.

Then there is Sigourney Weaver, returning as Jake and Neytiri’s adoptive daughter Kiri, proving that there is nothing she cannot do. Of all the children characters in the film, Weaver’s Kiri is the most captivating, largely due to Weaver’s tremendous performance which captures the inner turmoil of being a teenager, mixed with Kiri’s search for answers about who she is. Based on the slight clues that are dropped in this film, it is clear that Cameron has big plans in store for Kiri, and plans that require a talented actress like Weaver portraying a teenager. There are lots of stars who join the series in this film with a larger role to play over the coming sequels, but out of all the stars it is Kate Winslet and Cliff Curtis as the leaders of the Metkayina who have the most screen time. Both of them do a wonderful job crafting their characters, especially Winslet who is every bit as fierce as Saldana’s Neytiri, while creating an air of wisdom that makes you hang on her character’s every word.

Though, like the first film, it is the visuals that steal the show! Cameron has once again created a visual feast for the eyes as he takes audiences underwater on Pandora. The 3D is outstanding, creating a true depth perception that makes you feel like you are diving with the Na’vi and swimming underwater throughout the film. The motion capture technology used to create the Na’vi is nothing short of jaw dropping, making you forget that the film is almost entirely CGI from start to finish. Compared to the first film, which I caught the IMAX 3D re-release of early this year, the advancements in technology is staggering, as Cameron and his team capture an even more realistic, detailed science fiction world that has to be seen on the biggest screen possible and in 3D to experience Cameron’s epic vision for the film. All combined with amazing cinematography that captures that movie magic that Cameron strives to create with some of the most gorgeous shots of the year, mainly the underwater shot of Jake’s son swimming with the sea creature featured in the trailer and a sunset shot of a Na’vi looking out across the ocean, the film is guaranteed nominations for both Best Visual Effects and Cinematography as the Oscars.

If there is one complaint I have about the film, and it is not even one to reduce the perfect score I am giving Avatar: The Way of Water, it is the film’s musical score. The two original songs are good, but in every scene you can feel the absence of James Horner. Horner’s musical scores have brought to life Cameron’s Aliens and Titanic in addition to the original Avatar, and in each film Horner captured a grandness in his orchestrations and an emotional undercurrent which guided these films. Sadly, Horner passed away in 2015 and could not return for the film, with Simon Franglen taking on the role of composer. Franglen has previously worked with both Horner and Cameron, and while it is clear that he is honouring Horner at every turn in the film’s music, he does not come close to the genius that Horner wrote in his music. The score is at its best while re-using Horner’s themes from the original film, but they lack the full sound that Horner brough to his compositions, while the new themes are instantly forgettable. It’s a minor nitpick and luckily it does not distract from the epic experience that Cameron has created with this sequel, but as someone who loved Horner’s score in the first film, it was a pretty big letdown personally.

As only Cameron can do, and why any of us would question him at this point in his career, Avatar: The Way of Water is a true blockbuster that is ready to take the world by storm. There is no doubt the only way to experience this film is on the big screen, preferably in IMAX 3D which is a true showcase for the visual wonder that Cameron and his filmmaking team have conjured up, and hopefully we will see many more Avatar films to come over the coming years. As I for one cannot wait to visit Pandora over and over again! From the most stunning visuals to behold in any film this year thanks to outstanding visual effects, motion capture technology and cinematography, combined with a strong story centered around family that will take you on an emotional rollercoaster over the course of the film, James Cameron delivers a truly breathtaking theatrical experience with Avatar: The Way of Water, which is easily one of the best films of the year!

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