Avatar: The Way of Water (2022) – Film Review

avatar way of water film review

Director: James Cameron
Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver
Certificate: 12A

By Roger Crow

Remember Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within? No? Fair enough. That 2001 sci-fi epic was a dazzling mix of CG thespians, action scenes, impressive hardware and a plot about nature protecting itself from bad guys. Or something. Technically it was brilliant for the era, and its heart was in the right place, but it was missing that certain something.

Eight years later Avatar arrived, and James Cameron’s tale of colonialism on the planet Pandora took everyone’s breath away with a dazzling mix of CG thespians, action scenes, impressive hardware and, well, you get the picture.

Now I’ve been a Cameron devotee since I passed myself off as 18 in 1985 and saw The Terminator, one of the best films of the mid-1980s despite a modest budget.

And in the years that followed I saw every Cameron film on the big screen, where it was meant to be seen. Aliens, The Abyss, Terminator 2: Judgement Day and so on. Yes, they were great on TV, but the big screen was made for those Cameron epics. As his budgets increased so did his scope, and each time since T2 the story was the same: “James Cameron has made the most expensive film ever made, and it will need to bank a fortune to make its money back”. And each time it did.

avatar way of water film review 2023


When Avatar was released in 2009, the critics were ready with their ‘Pocahontas in Space’ gags, and oh how clever they felt, while the cash tills kept ringing. Like Mrs Brown’s Boys, the critics just didn’t understand why people wanted to be transported to a world of alleged nonsense. And then analysts assessed ‘The Avatar Effect’, how all that blue light and phosphorescence eased those winter blues, and everyone who suffered from SAD, like me, suddenly felt better.

Like Stanley Kubrick before him, I knew the gap between Cameron films was following a pattern. A dozen years between Titanic and Avatar suggested a similar gap between Avatar and whatever came next, so I joked on social media that he’d better hurry up or I’d be 53 by the time he made another movie. (I’m now 54).

Thankfully inbetween films he did oversee Pandora, one of the most gobsmacking theme park attractions you’ll ever see. An utterly immersive experience in Orlando which is the next best thing to being on said planet.

All of which epic preamble brings us to Avatar: The Way of Water, the long-awaited sequel, has been in development for so long, teenage kids weren’t born when the original first hit cinemas, and obviously they are the target audience, so, like Jaws 2, the films feels populated by kids who say “Bro!” unironically, and often.

The first chunk feels like a recap of film one as Jake Sully’s (Sam Worthington) avatar warrior (a huge blue alien life form grown in a tank) enjoys life with his wife (Zoe Saldana) and family.

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“Sense of kinetic energy”

Sigourney Weaver is back, this time as a teenage Na’avi who is still in touch with her late mother via organic USB ports that link to a Pandora ‘cloud’, which won’t cost a few quid per month in storage fees.

Also back is Stephen Lang, who bought the space farm in film one as the bad guy super military man. I can only imagine the confusion surrounding the production as Weaver and Lang came to terms with their new roles.

Anyway, over the course of more than three hours, kids are naturally kidnapped by bad guys. Their folks stage rescue attempts, and tech geeks marvel at all that hardware, while endangered species communicate with humanoid heroes in Papyrus* subtitles.

*It’s a font, which is thankfully not Zapf Chancery (the most annoying of all fonts, usually used in bad restaurants on uninspired menus).

Yes, there are echoes of Finding Nemo, How To Train Your Dragon, and assorted other movies, most notably Cameron’s back catalogue. But here’s the thing: For every minute of screen time I was never bored. And in that third act, I was reminded of something I hadn’t felt since 2009: why Cameron is one of the greatest action directors (sometimes) making movies. Few others manage to capture that sense of kinetic energy which leaves viewers breathless. And though a good hour of his new movie is alien humanoids being one with nature, and bonding with the energy force emanating from all things, once we graduate from that peaceful retreat with a sense of spiritual fulfilment, James does what he does best: kick-ass action scenes against stunning backdrops.

There are better cat fights than EastEnders; more breathtaking scenes of near-drowning than Titanic, and bad guys getting a well deserved hiding, all in stunning, hi-def clarity.

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Given the fact many mainstream blockbusters are streaming within a few weeks of cinema release, I had considered waiting a while and watching it on TV. I’m so glad I didn’t as Avatar: The Way of Water deserves to be seen on the big screen, preferably surrounded by snacks in a reclining chair. (£20 well spent).

Even the annoying teens who say “Bro!” a lot will win you over, and while at no point in the past 13 years have I been desperate to see another movie featuring Sam Worthington, he and the rest of the key thesps do a terrific job with their motion-capture performances. Yes, we’ve seen mo-cap before, but never underwater, and that’s where the images really shine.

Though there are a few loose threads left open for the pending sequels (bits of which were shot back-to-back with this movie), you won’t emerge feeling short changed.

I did wonder why ‘Unobtanium’ the most valuable commodity in the universe, has now been replaced with space whale amber gris (that stuff that used to be used for perfumes – on Earth), but obviously times have changed, and everyone laughed at the name Unobtanium, so just go with it.

Avatar: The Way of Water is a massive, complex, at times touching escape from the real world, though echoes the all-too-real horror of our own. Don’t wait for streaming, download or disc versions. See it as it was meant to be seen, and even if you hate the characters who say “Bro!”, it’s a great way to ease those winter blues.

Special Effects8.5
Avatar: The Way of Water is in cinemas now

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