‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ Movie Review

Avatar: The Way of Water

Avatar: The Way of Water has not only more hype around it than any other film this year, it quite possibly has the most hype of any movie ever. It’s no secret that the Avatar sequels have been in the works for the last decade. And with the planned four sequels to the original film also came a promise of technology that would forever change cinema. So, did it live up to the hype? Before I answer that, let’s give an overview of the film.

Avatar: The Way of Water picks up on the heels of the 2009 film. However, its timeline is a little more than a decade later. It begins with the story of the Sully family (Jake, Neytiri, and their kids) and the trouble that follows them. Jake will go to any length to keep his family safe. And needless to say, there are battles they must fight to stay alive and tragedies they must endure. Take a look at the trailer below.

Avatar: The Way of Water Movie Trailer

Avatar: The Way of Water Movie Review: What I Liked and Didn’t Like

Avatar: The Way of Water clocks in at 3 hours and 12 minutes run time. And for roughly two-thirds of the film, you probably won’t even be aware of time. At least I wasn’t. It’s an intensely beautiful film. And that beauty does a remarkable job at fully engulfing your imagination and immersing you in the experience. 

Is the storyline super original? No, it’s not. But with such a strong emphasis put on the special effects, you almost forget any complaints you have about other aspects of the film. Because it really is just that stunning. 

And that is where my problem comes in. 

The Effects

I’m not going to say that Avatar: The Way of Water isn’t one of the most mesmerizing movies I’ve ever seen. Because it is. Each scene captivates you with its vibrant colors and intricate detail, from the mountains floating in the air to the incredible trees and oceans that make up Pandora’s landscape. It’s all perfect. 

And the character design, their movements, and expressions are some of the most lifelike you’ll find in any computer-generated animation. You can almost feel their emotions as they interact with each other and the world around them. It’s seamless and flawless.

The use of light was what stuck out most to me. From the use of lights on the characters to the way fire displayed… And even the rays of light underwater, every visual aspect is perfection.

So, where does the problem come in? (I know you’re sensing my “But”.)

Avatar: The Way of Water
Photo Credit: 20th Century Studios/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The Story

The story feels messy, especially towards the end of the 3-hour and change run time. Granted, this is just the first film in a series of four additional Avatar sequels. However, that wasn’t even my biggest issue with the film. 

My biggest gripe is that the film knows it’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen. In the same way that a beautiful girl or hot guy comes on screen in a rom-com and the camera turns to slow-motion so that audience understands this character’s effect on the surrounding characters, this film does the same thing. 

And I’m not saying that a few of those scenes aren’t justified. James Cameron made something truly stunning. And he wants to allow audiences a chance to revel in that with him and appreciate the absolute beauty of it all. I fully get that. My issue is that it feels like that becomes a crutch for the film. In moments where the story is, in fact, messy, it’s like you have a carrot dangling to the side distracting you and reminding you that this is a sheer stunning use of technology and art. 

The story ends up fading into the background, fading into other film tropes that we’ve seen before. And while it’s meant to be emotional and nail-biting (and it is at points), overall, something is missing. And Cameron expects to get away with this, because everything else here is so completely perfect.

Avatar: The Way of Water Needs to Be Seen in IMAX 3D

Furthermore, if you’re not seeing this movie in the absolute perfect setting, it’s going to be hard to appreciate those moments that you can feel Cameron actively appreciating. I saw the film in IMAX 3D. And that experience is very different from a traditional theater and massively different from what watching the movie at home will be like.

To me, a good film is one that that is timeless. It doesn’t matter the flashy tech, the need for special glasses, or the requirement of a big screen. At the end of the day, a story has to be what defines a film. Sure, technology helps. My favorite movie is 1997’s Jurassic Park, and when that movie was released, it was a remarkable use of technology. However, I would argue that 25 years later, it still holds up.

Will Avatar franchise still hold up come 2043? Perhaps. It is the first film to push a number of these technological boundaries. Though, I still remember in 2009, how everyone claimed that we’d all have 3D televisions by now… purely because of Avatar. Do we? No. Do I want one? No. Do I ever think I’ll want one? Still no. 

Call me old school. But I need you to first impress me with story. Technology and effects come second. 

Avatar 2 Movie

Overall Thoughts

Overall, Avatar: The Way of Water still makes my Top 10 movies list for 2022. It is an extraordinary film, hence my grade below (which depends on seeing in IMAX 3D). It raises the bar of cinema. And for that reason, I am also holding it to a higher level of criticism.

I may sound harsh here for that reason. Avatar: The Way of Water is absolutely a movie you should see. And you should see it the way that James Cameron wants you to see it, in IMAX 3D. Because I don’t think it will hold up for the same experience in other environments. 

Avatar: The Way of Water Movie Review: 

Grade: A-

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