‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ revives franchise with stunning visuals

Neytiri played by Zoe Saldaña

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Neytiri played by Zoe Saldaña

James Rioux, Staff Writer

20th Century Studios has released the truly long-awaited sequel to James Cameron’s “Avatar”, and they’ve done so to thunderous praise. On Dec. 18, 2009 the groundbreaking original film was released, showing off visuals which would set the precedent in Hollywood for the next decade. Now, nearly 13 years later, “Avatar: The Way of  Water” finally debuted in theaters on Dec. 16, 2022 after compounding years of hype, doubt and speculation. 

Despite no budget being publicly released, Cameron has claimed the film would have to be one of the highest-grossing films of all time if it were to break even. This, combined with the legacy of its predecessor being the highest grossing film of all time, set the stage for high expectations. Its story may be lacking, but ultimately the story can be excused for its astonishing visuals. The film does not just show a new Avatar title, it shows the fruition and continuation of a decade long endeavor.

Analogous to real life, there is a near two decade gap between the events of this sequel and the original. Humans have returned to the planet and established a colony, in spite of the Na’vi’s best efforts to expel them. The humans have also conceived of a new tactic to defeat the Pandorans; they have created an elite squadron of dead soldiers resurrected in the body of avatars. Heading this squadron is Colonel Quaritch, the previously deceased antagonist. In this time gap, protagonist Jake Sully (played by Sam Worthington) and his mate, Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña), have started a family consisting of 2 sons, Lo’ak (Britain Dalton) and Neteytam (Jamie Flatters), an infant girl and a mysteriously born avatar child, Kiri (Sigourney Weaver). While taking on fatherhood, Sully leads his tribe in fulfilling attacks and raids on human infrastructure. Once Quaritch and his avatar squadron arrives, their mission becomes to hunt down and kill Sully. Due to this threat, Sully’s family must leave their tribe and travel to the islands of the sea people, where they must learn the way of the water to survive. 

The story is, in all honesty, nothing to rave about. It is fairly basic, taking plot points from other family-based coming-of-age stories, but I did not watch the film to see its story; I came to see its worldbuilding, sci-fi elements and, most importantly, the visuals. 

Viewers will find slim to no comparison between the renderings of any other film and that of “The Way of Water.” Water and fluid dynamics are usually a good representation of how effective a production’s CGI is, and this film incorporates that philosophy into every shot. The creatures and world building are expanded far past the ecosystem established 13 years ago. 

It was a common occurrence in the theater to find myself in awe of the inspiring world crafted in post-production. 

While the first film acted as a stand-alone blockbuster, the clear intent is for the “Avatar” franchise to mature into a series, with future multimedia adaptations. With the box office success of “The Way of Water,” and the following film being in post-production, any doubt about the series continuing can be put to rest. Video game development company Ubisoft has also revealed the planned 2023 release of an avatar based game, “Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora”. 

Overall, the viewers should not judge the film on its story. The story is, in reality, a medium to show the modern possibilities of films at their absolute visual limits. In this effort, James Cameron has, once again, presented the world with the masterful execution of his vision. As time presses on and more sequels are released, hopefully with less of a lag, we may find audiences in awe at “Avatar” for years to come. In a system where large franchises continuously pump out sequels with exponentially degrading quality, Cameron shows how skill, patience, and dedication can still create beautiful works of art. ★★★★☆