Review: ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ triumphantly returns to Pandora

By Eliana Rodriguez, Jan. 24, 2023

James Cameron’s longawaited sequel to Avatar returns to the big screen 13 years after its original debut in 2009. “Avatar: The Way of Water” introduces a whole new side of Pandora that distinguishes itself from the first film. The sequel continues the story of Jake Sully and Neytiri years after the events in Avatar as they explore the oceans in Pandora.  

Notable faces in the film include Sam Worthington back as Jake Sully and Zoe Saldana as Neytiri, who displayed powerful performances within the first film that made the audience connect with them instantly and excited to see them once again.  

Powerful storytelling transports the audience into a new world apart from our own and invests us into new characters and creatures. Cameron excels in this and thrives throughout its entirety by using visual effects to share a story about family and the bonds that will make or break relationships.  

The audience revisits Pandora with new stories, characters and battles to face but is so wildly different from the first film built on new stimulating visuals. The setting moves out of the forests of the first film and into an oceanic part of Pandora in which the Sully family adapts to a new way of life.   

A noteworthy change being Sully and Neytiri having children, one of them being birthed by Dr. Grace Augustine. 

Not to mention a new character, Spider,” who becomes an adoptive human son of  Sully and Neytiri. He is an important figure within the film that evidently feels closer to the Na’vi than anyone else but has a major connection to another prominent character within the film.  

Sully and Neytiri together form a family but must leave their home due to a resurfaced encounter that threatens them. The first hour has many moments reminiscent of the first film where Sully encounters familiar enemies.  

Familiar enemies like the sky people return to Pandora. Although the film made it seem like the sky people were once again attempting to conquer land for the need of civilization, the narrative focuses on finding Sully’s traitor and achieving redemption.  

Pandora is yet again used as an example of the effects of colonialism. The film brings even more destruction to the Metkayina clan who act as a haven for the Sully clan. It is evident that the film calls attention to exposing the evils of colonial superiority and leadership through the actions of the sky people.  

While the film shifts its focus to the children’s point of view, the family trope remains prominent throughout its entirety. It gives the audience a fresh perspective of accustoming to a different way of life in Pandora. Sully presents himself as an active and vigilant father figure who takes his family to live among the Metkayina clan.  

I decided to watch the film in 2D to see the true visual effects without the distraction of bouncing images. Although it was an interesting choice, I did find myself marveling over such transitions that made me feel as if I was included in the film.  

Right off the bat, Cameron delivers beautiful cinematography with jaw dropping images that allow the audience to see the Na’vi in a much more lifelike perception. 

The bioluminescence presented within the film was remarkable and something I had never seen before. What stood out most were the stunning images, allowing the audience to understand why the film took the time it did to be released. 

Along with the notable cinematic artwork, the exclusion of comic relief or irony within the film was an interesting choice. It showed that Cameron has more to show us which is a world that the audience can attach themselves to.  

I enjoyed that the children’s problems were rooted in adolescence in which there is the search for belonging, adapting and needing to prove strength over others.  

The film includes another story in which the audience catches a glimpse of capitalism and exploitation of people, animals and places.  

What is fascinating is it wasn’t a matter of just adding space whales for aesthetic purposes but more of calling attention to inhumane whaling practices for a profit. Cameron does this by demonstrating whales are just like the audience in which they possess intelligence, emotion and tradition.  

Given the length of the film, it did not drag or feel like it was too long as it kept the audience engaged and flowed well.  

A melancholic moment within the film is when Sully tells his eldest son Neteyam to protect and look over his brother Lo’ak. While he does lose his battle with the sky people, he abides by his father’s wishes.  

The power in the story is rooted in having to fight again against those who strive to take and conquer whatever is deemed “necessary.” The strength in continuously having to fight comes from having to protect family and the new place they call home.  

The theme of “home” plays an immense role as the characters attempt to navigate who and where home is. By the end the audience realizes that while Sully’s family moves from their homeland to the reef, their home is defined by the family that surrounds them.  

The end leaves the audience with a promise of more adventures to come through the eyes of Sully. In the first Avatar, the film ends with Sully opening his eyes as his consciousness is transferred to his Avatar body with a look of promise, hope and adventure. 

In the sequel, the film ends in a similar way in which the camera focuses on Sully’s eyes throughout his monologue with a look of wanting to protect and perhaps revenge. I was genuinely moved by the narrative of the film and found myself championing for the Sully clan in hopes to see what happens next.  

“Avatar: The Way of Water” was well worth the wait and leaves the audience with the hope of returning to Pandora for the next adventure.  

Feature image courtesy of Lauren Wong

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