Does ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ Live Up to the Original?


A screengrab from the Avatar: The Way of Water trailer.

For the last 13-years, Avatar was a joke—a movie that had cultural impact for the year it came out then faded away. Mere days after the film passed $1 billion at the box offices, James Cameron announced there would be a sequel. In 2010. I doubted it would ever be released, but I knew it had the potential to be as good as the original, or even better. James Cameron proved he had the abilities to up the stakes with successful sequels he’s written and directed like Terminator 2: Judgement Day and Aliens. Avatar: The Way of Water is another roaring accomplishment that surpasses the original with stunning visuals backed up by a solid narrative.

Avatar: The Way of Water is the highly-anticipated sequel to James Cameron’s 2009 sci-fi epic. The film follows protagonist Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), his wife Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), and his family of four Na’vi kids. Continuing from the first film, Jake Sully eludes his nemesis Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang), who has transferred his human consciousness permanently into a Na’vi avatar. Sully and his Na’vi tribe continue to battle against the RDA Corporation to protect their native home of Pandora; however, human forces have finally caught up with him. 

To escape the RDA’s pursuit, Sully and his family travel to the Metkayina water tribe. The new setting introduces a cast of intriguing characters, new gorgeous landscapes, and an entire underwater ecosystem with spiritual power, just like the Omaticaya tribe’s jungle. Adapting to the new culture, language, and environment comes with a bevy of dangers and obstacles the Sullys must prevail over.

Visually, The Way of Water is stunning. James Cameron’s longtime fascination with the sea since Titanic, The Abyss, and his ocean documentaries culminate in the underwater world of Pandora—which is even more breathtaking than its lush jungles. The audience is treated to many vibrant creatures and ethereal flora; occasionally, the theater is comparable to an aquarium! Many times when Jake Sully’s kids were swimming underwater, I found myself holding my breath.

The CGI is so believable, and the 3D effects are truly immersive. It’s an extremely different experience from other great blockbusters of the last year like Top Gun: Maverick and Nope. Every bit of the 350 million dollar budget shows. Simon Franglen’s orchestral score enhances the film’s emotional resonance even more, with effervescent chimes as schools of neon fish flutter by the camera. The action sequences are thrilling and well-executed, and the film’s pacing is spot-on. Numerous intense moments will have you on the edge of your seat.

The story is engaging, not a rehash of the plot of the first film. The main conflict between the Sullys and the RDA Corporation is compelling, and the stakes feel real. Whereas the original was predictable, there were more twists and turns here. Cameron’s keen attention to detail given to the commentary on indigenous tribes’ conflict with colonizers make his Good versus Evil story surprisingly poignant. I highly recommend you watch the first movie, although the sequel effectively recaps the first film’s events without dumping exposition. Environmental storytelling and subtle dialogue communicate plenty of world-building and background information. 

The characters are adequately fleshed out, and their relationships are genuine. Stellar acting and technologically-advanced motion capture also breathe life into the characters. Performances, especially from Stephen Lang as Quaritch and Kate Winslet’s fierce Ronal, the Tsahìk of the Metkayina clan, make the animated characters all-the-more believable. With transformative voice work, Sigourney Weaver surprisingly plays Sully’s adopted daughter. Her character, Kiri, was adopted when Dr. Grace Augustine’s (also played by Weaver) Avatar from the first film became pregnant. Kiri’s spiritual search for the connection to her birth mother and unknown father provide a compelling mystery that will surely come back in the next films. 

By the end, I knew how Cameron intended us to view the characters. Themes of family, friendship, and courage are woven throughout the story, and the movie does a great job of conveying the importance of these values. A few plot points were repeatedly utilized, such as putting the kids in danger to draw stakes and the kids annoyingly disobeying their father. Jake Sully’s strict militaristic parenting shows through in his sons the most during the intense third act. The epic conclusion reminds us that James Cameron’s enthralling depictions of sinking ships are timeless. 

Avatar: The Way of Water is a must-see for fans of the original and a great way to introduce new viewers to the world of Pandora. See this in 3D with a large crowd as soon as possible. Even though I know watching it at home won’t have the same effect on me—everytime I watch it I’ll be reminded of unforgettable times I saw it the way it was intended.