Avatar: The Way of Water (2022)

After the startling success of “Avatar” James Cameron spent almost two decades crafting a sequel. It’s a sequel that is—well, it’s basically “Avatar” all over again with his blue Thundercats. Except it has water. That might seem like I’m undermining the movie but I’m really not. Everything is essentially the same, save for more characters. Cameron injects the same clumsy themes about war, capitalism, racism, the fragility of the environment, and the oh-so-noble savage; except now he’s able to introduce his love for the ocean too.

The paper thin premise sees heroes Jake Sully and Ney’tiri forming a family on Pandora, and doing everything to stay together and find bliss. However, they must leave their home when it’s invaded, and explore the underwater regions of Pandora alongside water born Navi’s. When an ancient threat resurfaces, Jake must fight a difficult war against the humans. “Avatar” if anything, at least progresses its characters now with hero Jake Sully and his wife Ney’tiri building a family and learning to appreciate life. But the characters’ bliss is short lived as they’re once again invaded by the humans, including an old nemesis in the form of Colonel Miles Quaritch. He’s been revived, and is back for this follow up.

He’s seeking revenge on Jake, but now he’s an Avatar. An Evil Avatar. Get it? Irony! Cameron re-introduces the themes of colonization making it even less subtle than ever. He introduces a pair of humans that are dead set on hunting animals on Pandora for sport and financial gain. Hell, even the “Sky people’s” ships even look like boats with massive sails. The narrative of the overlong, overwrought “Avatar” is still a chore to endure, but at least it has a beautiful, stunning, breathtaking wrapper. It’s shiny, and glimmery, and Cameron invests a lot in to expanding this universe, giving us everything from original monsters, and sea beasts, right down to flora and fauna.

I do love how vivid the ecosystem and world of Pandora is, and I admire how everything right up to the native language is meant to be solely for this universe. You can definitely see the cultural and mystic influences in every crevice.  Once you get down to the meat and potatoes, though, the characters are all fairly dull, and I was never very invested in the welfare of the Sully tribe, at all. One consolation is that there’s less of the bore Jake Sully this time around, as Cameron centers on his offspring. The focus on assimilated human Spider, who is forced to turn against the Navi, is often engaging and sad.

It’s surprising how Cameron could create something with such broad appeal but is also so niche. Everything beyond the special effects is so cold and listless in “The Way of Water.” It’s a movie that won’t lend well to re-watches outside of the movie theater as it’s a great spectacle that fails to give audiences a reason to re-visit it for actually substantial reasons like interesting characters or relatable conflicts.

I hope James Cameron does something better or more engaging with these creations in the third film.