By Matthew Moorcroft
- Directed by James Cameron
- Starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Sigourney Weaver
Was there any doubt?
I’m pretty sure at this point you’d be a fool to underestimate James Cameron as a filmmaker. The man has defied expectations time and time again to the point where it’s almost superhuman in how he accomplishes his feats. You can’t make a sequel to Alien and make it good, they said. You can’t make a belated sequel to The Terminator and make it good, they said. Titanic will bomb, they said. Avatar will be a failure, they said. And now Avatar: The Way of Water has the designation of “you can’t make people care Jim”.
Of course, anybody with half a brain cell would know that this is all bullshit (though people like seem to be in short supply these days) and that Cameron is going to do what he does best – sequels. While the original Avatar is a mighty, supremely well put together epic in it’s own right, now that the table is set and the basics are out of the way we can REALLY get going. So it’s no surprise that The Way of Water, beyond just being a damn great blockbuster across the board, is a sequel that actually manages to surpass the original both narratively and technically, the latter of which is no easy feat.
It’s hard to remember for it being so long ago, but the original Avatar was a genuine game-changer in a lot of ways. It’s technology was unprecedented, using motion-capture and blue screening in ways never done before and arguably haven’t been as good since, and it’s 3D was just the tip of the iceberg with how it was implemented and used in the actual story itself. There was nothing like and many things have tried since, but all have never really reached that original’s level.
So The Way of Water already has that to prove, and it basically takes the rug from the original and throws it out completely. This is, without exaggeration, maybe the best looking blockbuster ever made, so astoshiningly detailed and beautiful to look in every frame that you wonder how Cameron will top himself again. It’s a pretty baller move to have three of the best shots you’ve ever seen back-to-back in the middle of this (you’ll know them when you see it) but the film is just filled to the brim with wallpaper worthy imagery that just melts your eyeballs. Combine that with Cameron’s just generally strong filmmaking craft and you have a technically accomplished wonder of a film that just breezes by despite it’s lengthy 192 minute runtime.
But it’s honestly narratively that impresses more here, as The Way of Water seems designed from the ground up to respond to criticisms about the original’s simple narrative. Characters were lacking in depth? This film is almost entirely character now, building up a bunch of new, interesting dynamics and building on the original in increasingly unique ways. The themes were too hamfisted, you say? Now it deals with more esoteric ideas about life, death, and the immaterial, fully embracing the more spiritual aspects of the original as it’s main topic this time around. The depth and scope of the story this time around is more personal then before without ever losing it’s grand, operatic tone, and by the end you feel a genuine connection to everything happening on screen which is mostly a testament to Cameron’s vision here. Hell, the only thing that the first film might do better isn’t even entirely this film’s fault, as it’s score, while great, is mostly a remix of the first film’s work but this was done on purpose after the tragic loss of James Horner in 2016.
Much of the praise is being put on Cameron here, but honestly much love to co-writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver for helping craft this narrative. The decision to turn this into a generational story, one about family and bonds, was a smart decision and allows for what worked in the original – mainly the relationship between Jake and Neytiri and the general Na’vi world – and put that to the forefront. And on the opposite end, we have Stephen Lang returning as everybody’s favourite evil marine Quaritch, who steals the show once again for just how deliciously evil he ends up being.
Hard to say if Cameron can keep up this momentum for 3 additional films – though honestly, he probably will. He’s already defied expectations enough, and Avatar: The Way of Water manages to be one of his best overall experiences. It’s a classic in the making and a superior sequel in every way, and a revolutionary film technically for it’s dazzling usage of 3D, HFR, and just general VFX work. Just astounding stuff.