Avatar: The Way of Water is the follow-up to the original Avatar, which launched in cinemas just under 13 years ago. The new film acknowledges this long length of time, with it set over a decade following the first installment.
But is the Avatar sequel set to make the same impact as the original? And how does it pave the way for the upcoming films in the franchise?
Here’s a spoiler-free review of the film.
What is Avatar: The Way of Water about?
The new Avatar film follows the Sully family: Jake and Neytiri are now parents to four children. But while their existence is happy and idyllic, a new threat arises that sees the family relocate to another Na’vi clan.
They must learn the culture and traditions of this clan, described as the “way of water”.
A visual treat
Like the first film, the new Avatar is a visual treat with plenty of new settings to entice viewers. Motion capture technology and CGI has improved since the first film, meaning that you get to see the planet Pandora and its inhabitants in unprecedented detail with extra nuance.
This ranges from the more detailed physical features of the characters, such as the cartilage indentations of Na’vi ears, to an increased focus on bioluminescence throughout Pandora.
The introduction of a new clan brings with it a new sense of adventure, as you are introduced to new animals and underwater life. Much of the film takes place in or under water, and the detail of the motion graphics makes you feel immersed in the same environment.
A familiar plot and characters
While the film offers plenty of new material in terms of visuals and its setting, the balance of characters and plot may feel too familiar for viewers.
There are a lot of new characters to keep track of, but many of them feel undeveloped. Similarly, the familiar two-dimensionality of the antagonists in the first film is repeated in the sequel. Often, antagonists feel more like parodies of concepts rather than actual people. Some of this is to hit home the message of overconsumption versus community with nature, but in an age of climate change and well-known corporate greed, viewers don’t need villains to hit this message home the same way they did over a decade ago.
That said, the introduction of new characters does give new material and room for the plot to expand past Jake Sully’s viewpoint. But these new characters do not get the character development or room to breathe that they need.
A lot of action – possibly too much
The new film also includes much of the invigorating action of the first film, but sometimes the spectacle becomes fatiguing as action sequences stretch out or have multiple story points throughout. Just as you think it may be ending, you realize you’re only halfway through the current scenario.
This emphasizes the underdevelopment of some characters, as not much dialogue takes place during these scenes. Emotional beats don’t have time to fully sink in as characters need to return to the action. This is especially notable in the final act of the film.
If you enjoy action movies, you may not find these scenes so fatiguing. But it does increase the feeling of style over substance that has become so familiar in theatre releases dominated by the MCU formula.
Is Avatar: The Way of Water worth watching?
If you are a fan of the first movie, you’ll probably enjoy the familiar beats offered by The Way of Water. There’s plenty of new material to keep you engaged so that you don’t feel like you’re saturated with scenes from a familiar setting.
However, if you’re looking for a revolutionary new formula or take on the Avatar franchise, you’ll be disappointed. Many of the weaknesses of the first film are present in this one.
That said, the visual aspect does mean this film performs more strongly in theatres, where you can marvel at the scenery and imagery. But in terms of plot, you can definitely feel the “middle film” format where much of the time is dedicated to setting up story points that will only be resolved later in the franchise.
If you liked the original, it’s worth watching the new Avatar in cinemas to recreate the awe and splendor of your original experience.