Avatar: The Way of Water

You have probably already heard some of the comments, “Never doubt James Cameron”, ” Cameron delivered “, and  “the most amazing cinematic journey” by James Cameron to date. When it comes to visual splendor and technical excellence, Cameron is “The King of the World”.  Now when it comes to the narrative, that may be another thing entirely. The director is sometimes criticized for simplistic story telling and cringe worthy dialogue.   I don’t think those are always true faults but they will certainly not be swept away by this film, which continues to wear it’s heart on it’s sleeve, and go for the most direct approach to your emotions possible. 

“The Way of Water” is set a decade after the events of the first film, still on Pandora, so maybe the delay in arriving is appropriate. The lead characters played by Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana are in the story, but the main protagonists, especially in the second act of the film, are their children,  Neteyam and Lo’ak; their biological daughter, Tuk; and adopted daughter; Kiri. They are forced to flee into hiding in a new environment with the distant tribe of  Metkayina reef people. This creates a new cross cultural story, with adolescents acting more human than you might expect from the Na’vi. This is the section that will probably give critics of Cameron’s storytelling, the ammunition they need to launch their attacks. Teens get jealous and act capriciously to prove themselves. Kids get alienated from peers that they don’t see as like themselves, I guess growing up is the same all over.

Relocating from the forest to a seaside location gives Cameron the chance to invent more creatures and environmental twists and he runs with that opportunity. Tulkun, an intelligent and pacifistic cetacean species, is the most interesting of the new inventions. I do think this is a place where Cameron can use alien species in a non-human form, to make the future stories more creative. Like the connection with the planet itself in both films, the relationship between the tulkun and the Na’vi gives a moral center to the actions of our heroes. The “skypeople” are the hunters, the tulkun are the buffalo, being hunted only for one thing, and physically cast away once that has been acquired and the Metkayina are the Indians, shaking their heads at the horrible waste. Unlike the buffalo however, our game here is sentient and understands the threat and conveys the fears that go along with it. Cameron’s allegory is not very subtle. 

Once again, the visuals are the thing that can most sell a James Cameron story. The tech weapons used by the invaders are inventive upgrades from the earlier film. The adaption of the mech suits to a water environment is clever and you will see the creatures it is based on immediately. The characters move in an underwater environment because the motion capture was done underwater. The actors and director should get all the praise they deserve for the innovation and hard work that this took. I saw the movie in 3-D and I think it was screened at the 48 fps for some sequences. I did not have any of the reservations that I experienced when looking at the Hobbit movies of a decade ago, but this is a hyper-stylized world with very few human characters, so the images my slip by a bit more easily. The 3-D effect is well worth the effort, and I don’t always think that is true. 

This movie looks amazing and you should see it on the biggest screen you can find, in 3-D. In the long run, this is the kind of film that may save cinemas, but only for the epic quality of their visuals. Traditional dramas may get relegated to streaming if these are the only kinds of movies that people will go out to see in a theater. The basic war adventure parts of the movie create some terrific action beats, and Cameron tops himself as well as cribbing from himself in a couple of spots. James Cameron should always be respected when it comes to the visualization of his stories, but the stories 
continue to be the least innovative part of his film-making.