[Review] ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ fails to deliver on the expectations set for the ‘Avatar’ Franchise


Tribune News Service

Sam Worthington stars as Jake Sully in “Avatar: The Way of the Water.” Photo permission from 20th Century Studios/TNS.

Javier Otero, Podcast Editor

Released in 2009, the original ‘Avatar’ movie is a science fiction film that was both written and directed by James Cameron and boasted big names such as Sigourney Weaver, Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana.

The film is set in the mid-22nd century, when humans are colonizing Pandora, a lush habitable moon in the Alpha Centauri star system, in order to mine the valuable mineral unobtainium. The expansion of the mining colony threatens the continued existence of a local tribe of Na’vi, a humanoid species indigenous to Pandora. The title of the film refers to a genetically engineered Na’vi body operated from the brain of a remotely located human that is used to interact with the natives of Pandora.

The film gained critical acclaim for its revolutionary use of computer generated imagery (CGI) and quickly became one of the highest grossing movies of all time, effortlessly securing its spot in cinematic history.

It told a fulfilling story and tied up all the loose ends of the film before the end. Which is why, when it was announced that the sequel ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ would be coming out in 2022 after years of troubled development, it came as a surprise to most.

The production for ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ originally commenced in 2019, but was delayed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the pandemic, the film required numerous scenes with underwater CGI which added time to the production process.

The first trailer came out in May of 2022 and got 148.6 million views worldwide within 24 hours. A lot of people all over the world were looking forward to the film’s release.

The movie was released into theaters later that year on Dec. 16 and has since gone on to gross 2.1 billion dollars. While many people are going to see the film, multitudes of people, including myself, have been leaving the theaters less than satisfied.

‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ clocks in at three hours and twelve minutes of runtime and follows the protagonist of the first film Jake Sully, played by Worthington, and his family as they once again have to go to war with the humans and seek refuge with the water tribe of Na’vi.

The movie follows in the first film’s footsteps by expanding on the visuals by showing viewers some of the best underwater CGI scenes that have ever been put on the screen. While these visuals are extremely impressive, the other parts of the film, such as the plot and characters, did not receive the same attention.

After a quick montage of Sully and his family, we are thrown straight back into the action of the film. As a result of this, we are not invested in the danger the characters are put through in this movie.

The story of this film treads the same ground the first one did with the Na’vi having to fight humans as they try to take the planet of Pandora for themselves. This results in the movie feeling stale and as if the conclusion of the first movie did not have any lasting effects.

The main difference with this film is that we see a new tribe of the Na’vi; they are the water tribe of Na’vi and the first new group of Na’vi we have seen. When Sully and his family run away about 30 minutes into the film, this is where they end up and spend the remainder of the film.

Sully and his family then spend the remaining time of the film having to learn how to adapt to their new environment and facing new obstacles. All of this while the humans are trying to track him down and take over the planet. Because all of these things are happening at the same time, the movie feels like it is competing with itself for the spotlight.

‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ feels as though it was made with the intent to see how far James Cameron and the studio could push the CGI, but when it came to telling a cohesive story they put that part to the side.

The performances by the actors were one of the saving graces of the movie, they were able to sell the family dynamic really well and it did not come off as forced. But when there was a bad performance, it stood out even more than it usually would.

One of the worst performances shown in this movie was by the main antagonist. He was entirely a bad person and there was no gray area for him. While this is not a bad thing it made it feel weird when the movie was trying to make us feel sympathy for him.

This movie is able to expand upon the first film but while also taking two steps forward, it is taking five steps back. ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ had the chance to become one of the best sequels of all time, but with its bad pacing, terrible story and lackluster performances it is held back.

This movie fails in what made the original ‘Avatar’ so special. It lacks the creativity and ambition the first film had and fails to show why we should care for this world and characters. With Avatar 3 in the works with a tentative release in the year 2024 and all of the original cast reprising their roles, it may be the experience Avatar fans have been waiting for.