‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ is strikingly shallow

February 23, 2023


Graphic by Julianne Cruz

“Avatar: The Way of Water” is the second movie in the five-part series by James Cameron. It expands on the fantastical world of Pandora.

“Avatar: The Way of Water” is an enchanting flurry of glowing seas, soaring skies, and amber eyes. Thirteen years after the original “Avatar” made waves across the world, director James Cameron invites viewers to explore the depths of Pandora, the fictional planet around which the films are centered. The spellbinding visuals, dreamlike score, and intense portrayal of emotion during the three-hour-long epic transcends the expectations set by its predecessor. However, its plot is sluggish at times and drags seemingly important characters into the shadows, leaving me questioning its direction.

As new creatures spring to life in every scene, old grievances resurface between the Na’vi, the blue-skinned indigenous people of Pandora, and the humans determined to exploit the planet for its invaluable natural resources, no matter what it costs the Na’vi—a premise identical to that of the first film, but with a few tweakings here and there. They fight over the seas of Pandora, not the forests, and Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña), the leads of the previous “Avatar,” are sixteen years older than when they were last seen on screen. They have four children to show for it, and a new seaside home where they settle after fleeing the RDA, the human militants. 

Jake has clearly shedded his characteristic daringness from the first film, the one that allowed him to lead one of the most climactic battles in Pandora’s history. He now takes on the badge of a family man, which showcases a sterner, more mature side of his character, but diminishes his ability to strike back at the militants. This was no doubt emphasized by the fact that they always have his kids hostage. Neytiri is still the same fierce and loving character from the original, since unlike Jake, family has always been a great force for her.

Despite disappointments and surprises with its plot, “The Way of Water” goes all-out in terms of visual detail. The seas of Pandora surge just like those of our world. The characters’ faces, down to their skin’s texture and the curl of their eyelashes, are crafted meticulously.  They convey emotion across the barrier of animation, as they smile and cry and soften their eyes in the same way that we do. Lilting voices and crashing percussion contrast each other in the film’s soundtrack, which only heightened its emotional impact. 

It’s clear that “The Way of Water” is setting up for new protagonists to take over in the next film, with Jake and Neytiri’s kids displaying immense bravery and connections to Eywa, the life force and goddess of Pandora, when their parents could not. The next installment in the “Avatar” series will undoubtedly be just as enthralling as “The Way of Water,” which was a truly magical experience, even if only for its visual aesthetic and captivating world.


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