AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER Review; "This Three-Hour Snoozefest Is All Style, No Substance"

Avatar: The Way of Water is an undeniably impressive visual spectacle, but beyond that, there's not much to love about a movie that, while epic, is surprisingly boring to watch. Find our full verdict here!

Reviews Opinion

2009’s Avatar remains incredibly divisive among film fans (and often comes under fire unfairly), but it seems fair to say we can all agree that, from a technological standpoint, it was a groundbreaking piece of work from director James Cameron. Given how it pushed the boundaries of 3D and motion capture, even the first movie’s biggest detractors have been at least a little excited for Avatar: The Way of Water. Unfortunately, this is a movie that might be best enjoyed if you turn the sound off, sit back, and pretend you’re watching a very, very long VFX reel. 

While this long-awaited sequel looks utterly flawless, there’s really not much more to it. Clocking in at three hours (and boy, it definitely feels that long), the movie sees the RDA return to Pandora, leading to war between humans and the Na’vi resuming before Jake and his family set off to hide out with the watery Metkayina clan. And that’s about it. While they’re pursued by a resurrected "recombinant" Miles Quaritch, much of Avatar: The Way of Water is devoted to Jake and Neytiri’s children as Cameron drops breadcrumbs for Avatar 3, 4, 5, 6, and however many other follow-ups he plans to inflict on the world.

That may seem harsh, but it feels a lot like this sequel is made for an audience of one as the filmmaker indulges in playing around with VFX and telling a story that means a lot to him, but gives the viewer very little to be invested in. Characters we fell in love with last time are now oddly unlikeable, and new additions are so poorly fleshed out, they’re basically just pretty-looking extras. Why, for example, should we care about Kiri beyond the fact that she's retconned to life as Dr. Grace Augustine's mysterious daughter? Say what you will about the first movie's inspirations, but the story of paraplegic Jake Sully inhabiting a powerful alien body before falling in love with one of the inhabitants of the planet he's been sent to subjugate was a moving tale. There's nothing here that resonates in the same way, resulting in an oddly hollow adventure that's boring, not bold.

The movie meanders along, devoting an awful lot of time to exploring Pandora’s depths. Not quite as interesting as the Na’vi culture we were introduced to back in 2009, we hit a lot of familiar plot beats, many of which are recycled from our last visit to the planet. There isn’t really much of a story, and by the time all is said and done - and we really wouldn’t consider this a spoiler, but look away now if you’re concerned - the stage is set for a threequel that promises a battle between Jake’s new people and the RDA…which we’ve literally just seen. The opening of the movie is epic, as is the final act, but by the time you reach the latter, you’ll be desperate for the movie to end. 

Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldaña don’t get a huge amount to do this time, leaving Stephen Lang to steal the show. Brought back to life without any memories of his death but on a mission for revenge, he’s a fascinating character, and delivers many of Avatar: The Way of Water’s standout moments. The young cast is excellent, even if their respective story arcs are clichéd (a subplot about Lo'ak and one of Pandora’s Tulkuns is beyond tedious). Jack Champion, meanwhile, delivers what could be a star-making performance as the Quaritch’s human son, Spider, and is perhaps the most compelling character to spend time with. Kate Winslet sadly proves to be a non-factor, while Sigourney Weaver being cast as a teenager stands out as one of the most laughable casting decisions in recent memory. 

There’s a fair bit to like about Avatar: The Way of Water, with the visuals at the top of that list. Cameron is hard to top when it comes to action, and you can’t help but sit back and be impressed when the action heads underwater. Both Aquaman and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever beat the sequel to the punch when it came to deep-sea settings, but only this movie will truly leave you in awe of what’s playing out on screen. The 3D, while very good, doesn't wow as much as expected, and though we’d be remiss to say it often feels like a 3D conversion, we’re unsure whether the novelty has worn off or if Cameron has pushed the format as far as it can possibly go. Simon Franglen’s rousing score nicely compliments what we watch on screen, and there’s not a single scene that can be faulted in terms of VFX. This might be the best-looking film ever made; it’s just a shame that’s all there really is to it. 

So, as we look to the future, and at least one more Avatar movie on the horizon, it’s beginning to feel like this sci-fi franchise is already running on fumes. Cameron no doubt has a master plan, but this is a three-hour movie that delivers about thirty minutes of story, so what is there really left to do on Pandora? There are teases for exciting developments, including Jon Landau’s recent mention of exploring Earth, but we’re not sure it’s even worth coming back for any of that. 

Avatar: The Way of Water’s epic visuals are impossible to find fault with, but with a paper-thin, painfully boring story and little in the way of character development, this three-hour snoozefest is all style, no substance. 


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