“Avatar: The Way of Water” is the long-awaited sequel to the box office smash “Avatar.” Though a 13-year gap separates the two films, much of the story of colonization, environmental destruction, and warmongering remains the same. James Cameron’s latest retreads a lot of familiar narrative territory that we have all seen before, but because it explores uncharted territory, its world-building is far more expansive. At the same time, it lacks a certain depth because it fails to examine the different cultures, ecosystems, and history fully. However, those looking forward to adding this sequel to their home entertainment collection will be happy to find out that all of the bonus features dive deep into the technical aspects of making “Avatar: The Way of Water.”
For what it’s worth, “Avatar: The Way of Water” is a cinematic rarity that uses visual storytelling to guide audiences through this wonderous world of air, land, and sea while trying to connect us emotionally to the displaced Na’vi. The sequel follows a blue-skinned humanoid Na’vi named Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) as he, his wife Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), and his two sons, Neteyam (Jamie Flatters) and Lo’ak (Britain Dalton), and a daughter, Tuktirey (Trinity Jo-Li Bliss) are forced to seek refuge with the aquatic Metkayina clan of Pandora, a habitable exomoon on which they live after the RDA return to colonize it. With a resurrected Colonel Miles Quaritch resurrected as a Na’vi recombinant, he uses his combined military skills as the speed and power of the Na’vi to exact his revenge on Jake, while assisting the RDA to whale Tulkuns to extract an anti-aging serum.
Pandora itself is beautiful to look at, with a lot of the CGI having a tangibility to them. “The Way of Water” is at its best when the Na’vi interacts with a new surrounding world that’s full of life and wonder. It invests a lot of its time in acquainting the Sully family with the oceans of Pandora. Watching the kids try to hold onto some of these massive creatures as they swiftly swim is an immersive experience unlike any other that took over a decade of his life to bring to the big screen.
While going into the uncharted territories of Pandora attempts to provide a deeper and richer story, the poorly written story and dull characters overshadow the visually stunning effects. Many of the characters don’t have any standout personalities or emotional complexity. And because the sequel lacks a sufficient lead character to guide us through the story, it can feel frustrating knowing that it goes all over the place. Although, one could make the argument that Sully’s kids are the main characters since most of the sequel is from their perspective. Like any parent, they are the ones who have to be on their best behavior, which can’t be easy for them when they are the only ones who can’t swim in a part of Pandora that’s mostly water.
For what it’s worth, “Avatar: The Way of Water” isn’t all that bad, but it’s not all that good either. It’s visually stunning style over a thinly narrative substance. And the sequel’s long takes of the beautiful world are majestic, but at the same time, because it is artificially rendered, we don’t have much of a connection to that world. As much as “The Way of Water” is an immersive experience, it lacks an emotional anchor to keep us interested in what we are watching. Setting aside fact that the long takes of an artificial world can get boring at times, the fact that Cameron can make something so beautiful now is an achievement.
And yet, despite these poorly written characters, thin plot, and cliched dialogue, there is something that keeps us watching. The ratio inconsistencies, going from a high-frame rate to 24 FPS is a distraction and can take you out of enjoying what Cameron is trying to give. Characters that feel like they are walking at an average speed are suddenly sped up without any notice or organic transition. And it’s not clear what this does for “The Way of Water” other than being a showcase in how clean and crisp these effects can be in the new age of cinema.
But because the story feels overly similar to the evil colonizers and corporate overlord overpowering the little guy stories we’ve seen before, Cameron’s story doesn’t bring anything new to the table. It adheres to a formula that we all know and doesn’t do anything remotely new to keep things interesting or entertaining. Instead, it relies on its visuals to keep things afloat.
Cameron has a way of using the current technology to push visual storytelling beyond its limits to create an immersive experience like any other. While that does make for an excellent escapist spectacle, there needs to be more substance to the style. And because it more or less is an extension of its predecessor, the story doesn’t do anything new or challenge the characters in different ways. If anything, “Avatar: The Way of Water” is an excellent showcase in Cameron’s talents of taking humanity off-world and using visual storytelling to bring us a true theatrical experience.
Now for those who are fans of Cameon’s Avatar films and how they are made, they will be excited to know that there are over three hours of behind-the-scenes and making of content that’s available on the digital release alone. All reflect back on the makings of these films, the power of its legacy, the evolution of the technologies that it took to build these films, the stunt work, costuming, language crafting, and more.
Overall, fans are going to be delighted at how much the bonus features have to offer.
• Memories from Avatar
Producer Jon Landau leads a spirited conversation with cast members, Sam Worthington, Zoë Saldana, Sigourney Weaver and Stephen Lang, recalling warm memories from production and reflecting on the extraordinary success of Avatar.
• Avatar: A Look Back
In this retrospective, cast and filmmakers reflect on their extraordinary journey making Avatar, the groundbreaking technologies they used to create an unparalleled cinematic
experience, and the profound effect the film had on audiences worldwide.
• Capturing Avatar
Journey with James Cameron and crew in this feature-length documentary, as they embark on a film the likes of which the world had never seen.
- Part One – After years of testing, research and design, James Cameron’s tackled Avatar, “the most complex film” in his storied career.
- Part Two – Actors and technology are pushed to the limit as James Cameron pushes the boundaries of a groundbreaking, new filmmaking paradigm.
- Part Three – James Cameron used ground-breaking technology to merge the virtual and live-action elements of his film.
- Part Four – The edit room became ground zero as music, sound and visual effects were finalized in order to make the film’s release date.
Take a closer look at the creation of Pandora and the making of Avatar with featurettes on key aspects of production design, performance capture, and the post-production
• Sculpting Avatar – Explore how clay maquettes were sculpted to help bring Avatar’s characters and creatures to life.
• Creating the Banshee – Discover all that went into designing the Banshees, high-flying predators of the Pandoran sky.
• Creating the Thanator – James Cameron and team reveal how the most terrifying beast in the Pandoran rain forest was brought to the screen.
• The AMP Suit – Explore the design of the AMP (Amplified Mobility Platform) and discover why it was the perfect weapon for Colonel Quaritch.
• Flying Vehicles – Explore the design of the RDA’s gunships and how they helped ground the story in a realistic world audiences could connect to.
• Na’vi Costumes – Discover the costumes of Avatar and why it was essential to create real-world costumes for characters that were seen only in a virtual world.
• Speaking Na’vi – Delve into the complex Na’vi language created for Avatar, and the challenging task for the cast who had to speak it.
• Pandora Flora – Explore the science behind the Pandoran rainforest, including the exotic plants and bioluminescence.
• Stunts – James Cameron and Avatar’s stunt coordinators discuss how they learned to move like a Na’vi, ride a Leonopteryx, and more.
• Performance Capture – Discover how the actors’ actions, emotions and spirit were captured in performance and transferred to a virtual character.
• Virtual Camera – Discover the virtual camera system that allowed James Cameron to apply camera angles, lighting and movement to his scenes long after the performance capture phase was completed.
• The 3D Fusion Camera – Explore the newly designed 3D Fusion camera system which enabled the filmmakers to create an immersive stereographic experience.
• The Simul-Cam – See how the newly created Simul-Cam seamlessly integrated the virtual world with the live action camera, allowing Jake’s avatar to appear in a scene with real-world actors.
• Editing Avatar – James Cameron and the film’s editors reveal the unique challenges they faced editing Avatar, and the benefits of “learning as you go.”
• Scoring Avatar – Composer James Horner and James Cameron discuss how Avatar’s score was grounded in the familiar while evoking a breathtaking new world.
• Sound Design – Explore the sounds of Pandora, including the Banshee, Direhorse and Thanator, as well as the near-future engineering sounds of the Dragon, Scorpion and more.
• The Haka: The Spirit of New Zealand – On the final day of production, the New Zealand stuntmen honored James Cameron with a traditional Haka dance.