Film Review: Avatar – The Way of Water

This review is spoiler free, there will be references to the version of the film I saw, which was HFR IMAX 3D.

It’s hard to believe it has been 13 years since Avatar first graced our screens, I try not to think about it, because it just makes me feel really old.

Of course, there was undoubtedly going to be a lot of hype and expectations for the sequel to the highest grossing film of all time. You would be forgiven if you questioned whether or not Avatar – The Way of Water would be able to live up to them, especially after such a long wait.

Fear not, because this film is brilliant.

In an ever changing society where people are able to consume new films in a variety of different ways, there aren’t as many incentives perhaps to get down to your local cinema. After all, it will just be on a streaming service in a few weeks, right? Trust me when I say this, you will be doing yourself a big disservice if you don’t see this film on the big screen. Avatar – The Way of Water is truly a magical experience that will remind you why cinema simply can’t be beaten.

The original Avatar was revolutionary in terms of technical achievement, and The Way of Water continues to push the boundaries on what is possible. This is a visual effects masterclass, and genuinely probably the best-looking film I have ever seen. The world of Pandora is so rich, vibrant and beautiful that you’ll likely come away slightly sad that it’s not real, if you thought the first one looked good, just wait until you see this, when the film finally gets to it’s main focus and location, that being the villages of the water clans of Pandora, it goes to another level. Certain moments left me in awe and questioning how on Earth the production team managed to achieve what I was looking at, which only adds to the magic. No amount of hyperbole will do justice to some of the moments I witnessed, it just has to be seen to be believed. Avatar – The Way of the Water is the best film to utilise 3D since… well, Avatar. It really adds to the immersion and only further justifies why this needs to be seen on the big screen.

However, I will say, that the version I saw was high frame-rate IMAX 3D, and I do feel that the high frame-rate was a detriment to the film. At times, it made certain characters, objects, and creatures too clean and crisp, which actually made them look more fake. Sometimes it also felt like the frame-rate couldn’t keep up and the motion on screen appeared to lag, almost like a video-game cutscene. It didn’t happen a lot, but when it did it did take me out of the moment a bit, especially because for me moments like these stuck out like a sore thumb. In some ways, this film is a victim of it’s own success, as you notice some of the weaker CGI because the rest of it is so close to perfection. I will concede that this is perhaps only a HFR problem, and I do intend to view this film again without it, to see if it looks better.

I can’t get too deep in to plot in order to keep this spoiler-free, but I can say that a similar amount of time has passed in Pandora as it has here in the real world, which means that when we find our characters, they have grown and now have a family of their own. Interestingly, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) are not as prominent as you may think in this film, the main focus is actually on their children. One of whom is played by a returning Sigourney Weaver, who does a stellar job at portraying mysterious teenager Kiri. The bond of family plays a huge part in this sequel, and it’s all the better for it. Although I do not have a family of my own just yet, I can imagine that certain themes of this film will really resonate and move those who have their own children.

Much like it’s predecessor, the main plot for The Way of Water is actually very basic and it wastes no time at all in getting going, within the first 15/20 minutes all the protagonists and antagonists are re-established, their motivations clear, and it just ploughs ahead. It is a thin plot that is very much padded-out by world-building and spectacle. Thankfully, the world building and lore around Pandora isn’t dull at all and will have no problem keeping you hooked and invested, but if you’re going expecting a deep, layered story with twists and turns galore, then you may be disappointed. James Cameron isn’t afraid to hit the audience with some not so subtle messages about what humans are doing to our oceans and marine life, but these do not feel forced and are very important.

This moves nicely in to the run-time, at 3 hours and 12 minutes, this is a monster. If a film is going to be this long, it needs to justify it. Personally, I think it’s just about passable, but it definitely could have been trimmed down a bit. There is a certain sub-plot with a certain character that I didn’t really care for and could have done without, I don’t think it particularly added much to the story and it was one of the few times that I felt something had just been forced in and came across a bit lazy, as there were zero references to this in the original film. It’s certainly not a three-hour story and it is most definitely being stretched out as much as it can be, but thankfully, it looks incredible which means it never gets boring and you probably won’t really care.

Is Avatar – The Way of Water perfect? Of course not. However, I can say without a shadow of a doubt, that it’s one of the best cinematic experiences I have had in the last decade. I’ve deliberately left this review vague because there is nothing that the written word can do to convey the magical, thrilling experience that I had in the cinema. I want you to go and see it on the biggest possible screen you can, immerse and lose yourself in the wonder that is Pandora. I think it will be pretty difficult for you to not walk out satisfied and blown away.

This is what cinema is all about. Thank you, James Cameron!

I give Avatar – The Way of Water a 8.5/10.

What did you think of the film? Let me know!

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