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Welcome, World Travelers! Avatar: Way of Water is Brilliant But Way Too Long!

Welcome, World Travelers! Avatar: Way of Water is Brilliant But Way Too Long!

by James Coulter

Nearly 13 years ago, James Cameron released Avatar, one of his most ambitious film projects. The movie took nearly a decade to make, as new technology had to be invented to film it. Upon its release, the average moviegoer was awe-struck by the stunning visuals, while most critics derided it as overemphasizing style over substance, with some even ridiculing it as “Dances in Wolves” in space.

None of that mattered, of course. Avatar earned $2.97 billion worldwide, making it the highest-grossing release in history—a world record that remains to be surpassed. The movie became quite a cultural phenomenon. Even Disney invested $400 million in transforming 12 acres of its Animal Kingdom park in Disney World into Pandora.

However, while Cameron planned several sequels to his box office world record setter, as of now, nearly 13 years later, only one sequel has been released (with the rest planned to be released in the near future). Despite the fear that the hype for the original movie had since died out, the sequel has since exceeded $1 billion at the box office. But the question remains: Was Avatar: Way of Water really worth the 13-year wait?

Following the events of the original movie, Jake Sulley has assumed the role of the leader of the Na’vi tribe. He and Neytiri have settled down to start a family and have several children together. Unfortunately, their new life is interrupted when a new space fleet arrives with the intent of colonizing the planet.

Arriving with them is a Na’vi clone of Colonel Miles Quaritch, who intends to take his revenge by hunting down Jake Sulley and killing him. Now Jake and his family are forced to retreat and hide away with a tribe of sea-dwelling Na’vi. Will his family fit into their new environment and community? And will they evade the capture of the Colonel’s clone?

Undoubtedly, Way of Water’s biggest draw, as was the case with the original Avatar, is its visuals. James Cameron clearly wants to immerse his viewers into the lush vibrant world of Pandora, and he wants to show us every little detail of it. The first few scenes reacquaint the viewers with Pandora’s natural splendor, reminding them why they loved the original movie and why they will love this movie, from its diverse flora and fauna to the breathtaking flights of the majestic banshees.

Way of Water, true to its name, further expands the worldbuilding by shifting focus away from the familiar floating mountains and deep rainforest to the new location of the reef tribe with their sandy beaches, turquoise waters, and enchanting reefs. The scenes involving the ocean, both above and under the water, prove simply enchanting. Cliche though it may sound, the underwater scenes amidst the colorful reef and vibrant ocean life truly make one feel like you’re under the water.

Way of Water focuses less on the main protagonists from the previous film, Jake and Neytiri, and more on their children, both biological and adopted. Each of them has an arc that is thoroughly explored through the film’s narrative, especially during their time getting acquainted to their new seaside home and tribe.

The oldest son, Neteyam, struggles to protect his new siblings and desperately aspires to become the next leader of their tribe. The younger son, Lo’ak, feels like an outcast among his family and finds solidarity by befriending a lone whale-like creature. Kiri, the adopted daughter born inexplicably from Grace’s avatar, struggles to learn more about her late mother and discover her inexplicable spiritual connection to the goddess, Eywa. And then there’s Spider, an adopted human boy who grows up alongside the Navi and yearns to be just like them.

Each of these young characters experiences their own arc that develops and unfolds throughout the movie, leading to very charming scenes from Neteyam defending his younger siblings from bullies, to Lo’ak befriending and bonding with a whale-like creature, and Kiri learning more about her identity and special connection to the world of Avatar and its goddess by bonding with an underwater tree.

Unfortunately, where Way of Water falters is with its runtime. The movie is ten minutes over three hours long. And while the first act provides an excellent setup and the third act ends with an enthralling action-filled climax, the remaining 90 minutes in between feel like a real slog.

While there are plenty of captivating scenes showcasing the film’s visual majesty and highlighting its various characters in charming vignettes, as a whole—well, watching a three-hour movie makes you feel those three hours drudge along. As with The Eternals, this is a movie that would have worked better as a mini-series spliced into separate episodes—but then Cameron wouldn’t be able to break another box office record by making more than a billion dollars.

Overall, if you were captivated by Avatar’s visual splendor 13 years ago, you’ll certainly be equally captivated again by its sequel. If you have more than three hours to spare, you’ll certainly love the opportunity to sit back, relax, and turn your brain off while the film immerses you in a fantastical world. Otherwise, as with the original Avatar, Way of Water has much in the way of style but very little in substance.

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