Avatar: The Way of Water (2022) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): Cameron back in Pandora

James Cameron’s new film “Avatar: The Way of Water” is another big stuff of entertainment you can expect from him. Although it may not be as envelope-pushing as many of his previous films such as its predecessor, it is certainly nice to be back in its alien world full of wonderful visual goodies to be cherished via big screen, and you may willingly overlook its several notable shortcomings in terms of story and characters.

The opening part shows and tells us how things have been happy and peaceful for Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and his new family in an alien planet called Pandora for more than 10 years since the ending of “Avatar” (2009). After completely living behind his human life and body, he came to lead an indigenous alien tribe he saved from those greedy (and evil) human beings, and he and his wife Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) subsequently came to have three kids besides adapting a little girl who is the offspring of the alien body of Sigourney Weaver’s scientist character in the 2009 movie (Please don’t ask me how the hell she got pregnant, because the movie never clarifies that matter).

However, their good time is suddenly disrupted by another invasion of the human race, and Sully has no choice but to fight against them for his family and tribe, but those humans will not go away that easily this time. Despite several considerable limits including the atmosphere of the planet which is not so suitable for human body, they are quite determined to turn Pandora into a new planet for the residents of the Earth, and they even bring several deceased villain characters of the 2009 film back into life for handling their ongoing problems with Sully and his tribe.

Sully and his tribe try as much as possible for stopping those human beings, but there comes an eventual point where Sully comes to see that he and his family must leave their forest area for protecting the tribe, and that is where the movie changes its main scenery. Sully and his family go to the sea outside their forest area, and he attempts to get the help and protection from a local tribe led by Tonowari (Cliff Curtis) and his wife Ronal (Kate Winslet), who reluctantly accept Sully’s request despite being aware of the potential risk from that.

Around that narrative point, the movie becomes more relaxed than before as Sully and his family gradually adapt themselves to their new environment, and Cameron and his production designer Dylan Cole, Ben Procter, and Vanessa Cole have a field day as filling the screen with numerous fantastic details to be appreciated and admired. The new background of the film is basically the outlandish extension of the tropical sea areas of the Earth, but it is presented with a considerable amount of interest and imagination, and I constantly observed the overall result with growing fascination even though my eyesight was often limited by my rather small 3D glasses during my viewing.

I watched the 4K HDR version in high frame rate in a local Dolby Cinema screening room, and I must tell you that I still have some mixed feelings about high frame rate. Sure, everything looks clear and fine despite the dimness of the 3D glasses, but my eyes still often had problems with adjusting to its high frame rate during my viewing, and I am considering watching the movie again at an IMAX theater just for comparison, just for checking out whether my initial impression was wrong or not.

Nevertheless, despite being distracted by this rather annoying visual quality at times, I kept being entertained and involved thanks to Cameron’s commanding handling of technical aspects including the top-notch special effects of the film which will surely be Oscar-nominated in the next year. Although its running time is more than 3 hours, the movie seldom feels like lagging, and we come to sense Cameron’s affection and enthusiasm toward his fantasy world. Sure, it is not exactly original, but he is really interested in presenting more awe and wonder for us, and that certainly makes the film have more life and personality than many other bland Hollywood blockbuster products out there.

Cameron certainly does not disappoint us in case of the expected climatic part where lots of actions happen across the screen, but that is where my attention was decreased to some degree, and I became more aware of the weak aspects of the story and characters. Many of its main characters are more or less than plot elements, and Cameron and his several co-writers often struggle to develop them further. In case of a subplot involved with Sully’s two older kids, you can instantly see where it will head, and the same thing can be said about the one involved with a certain magical ability of the daughter of Weaver’s character.

Although I have some reservation due to its weak aspects, “Avatar: The Way of Water” has lots of enjoyable things to justify its 192 minute-running time, and Cameron demonstrates here that he is still a master filmmaker who has diligently impressed and dazzled us during last four decades. I do not think the movie will be regarded as a technical milestone just like its predecessor, but it is a fairly commendable sequel, and I will not complain if Cameron continues to entertain us in the next three sequels to come. To be frank with you, I am seriously wondering whether he will take us to desert in next time just for another big scenery change, and I will not be surprised if he attempts to top what Denis Villeneuve did in “Dune” (2021).

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