I’m still on the fence about Avatar as a franchise, but I can honestly say that after seeing this one, I’m a bit more excited for the future of this series moving forward.
Set sixteen years after the events of the original Avatar film, Avatar: The Way of Water sees the human-turned-Na’vi, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), the fierce Na’vi warrior and wife to Sully, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), and their three young children and adopted miracle daughter of the late Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), as they flee their jungle homes for wetter lands after a familiar foe in Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) rears his now blue Na’vi head. Seeking asylum from the sea-based Metkayina tribe, Sully and his family must try to fit into a society they are ill-equipped to thrive in, all the while avoiding Colonel Miles’ violent advances, the growing discord caused in the community due to their arrival, and the very real possibility that they may forever be changed by events beyond their control. What follows is an action-packed and heartfelt return to a world that captured the imaginations of audiences everywhere, only now wrapped up in a much better movie-going experience.
Now this is the movie the original Avatar needed to be. From a better handle on a story that isn’t a direct ripoff of Pocahontas and Fern Gully, to a whole lot more world-building that feels more immersive and more interesting overall, to a great message about family bonds and why keeping those connections strong and healthy is so important, Avatar: The Way of Water isn’t the wholly successful movie it tries to make itself out to be, but it sure does make an effort.
And while some issues do carryover from the first film — there are still some truly eye-roll-worthy lines sprinkled throughout, unnecessary story beats that simply don’t work, and a sense of pacing that’s severely hampered thanks to the fact that James Cameron has clearly never heard of the concept of a deleted scene — I think what bothers me the most about this film is how much it makes the original seem irrelevant. Sure, it first introduced us to the world of Pandora and gave us Sully’s journey in becoming a Na’vi proper as well as showing his budding relationship with Neytiri, but by bringing back the first film’s villain (a decision that admittedly makes him a better foe than before), balancing the forest-dwelling Omaticaya with the aquatic Metkayina in meaningful ways, and giving audiences some great action scenes with more even detailed computer animation than a Pixar flick, and this film, in my book, ensures I’ll never need to watch the original again.
Though this sequel is by far better than the first, there are still some growing pains happening here that will hopefully get ironed out as these next few sequels roll out, despite my wondering if we really need three more of them at all. Regardless, Avatar: The Way of Water more or less succeeds in accomplishing what it sets out to do by making the world of Pandora more immersive, more interesting, and even more beautiful than before while finally giving fans a story that isn’t a cliche-riddled mess bolstered by a beating heart that was sorely lacking in the original. If the quality keeps improving with each new iteration of this series, by the time everything is over, we might eventually have a great movie on our hands.