Avatar: The Way of Water review

James Cameron's follow-up epic Avatar 2 is now screening in Sale Cinema. Image Contributed

James Cameron’s long-awaited blockbuster sequel Avatar: The Way of Water has finally reached cinemas. Our resident film buffs Tom Parry and Stefan Bradley went to check it out.

SB: We’ve both seen Avatar: The Way of Water in 3D, me having viewed it on opening night, and Tom over the weekend. Since your memory is freshest, what are your first impressions of the movie, Tom?

TP: We were warned this would be a three-hour movie, and I felt every minute of it – it’s almost patience-testing. There are certainly elements of it that I appreciated, but I feel that it could have lost half an hour and I still would have enjoyed it as much.

SB: Notably, you texted me “Whoa, that was a LONG movie” as soon as your session concluded, which was not my first thought when I finished it. For me, the time flew by, but I certainly acknowledge that it could have been trimmed in some areas. In saying that, I think this sequel tops the first Avatar quite easily – it’s a big step up in a number of ways. Yes, it’s long, but I would watch it again.

TP: Sadly, I have to disagree with you, because I did not think it was as good as the first movie. I think it’s slightly worse. The sequel doesn’t throw as much exposition at us and doesn’t seem to rip-off other films as the original does, but it seemed like I was watching the same movie. It had the same conflict, the same emotional beats, and even the same villain in Na’vi form. I don’t see how this sequel is justified as it’s just the same narrative set in a water world, rather than a forest world.

SB: The structure is similar to the first, but let’s talk visuals. I think most people by now have seen a film in 3D and know if they like that format or not. I’ve personally always enjoyed 3D cinema, and if I was going to watch any movie in 3D, it would be this one.

TP: I didn’t enjoy the 3D, but I never liked 3D cinema to begin with – I don’t think it adds anything. It takes me out of the experience, and distracts rather than enhances the visuals. At least five times during my session, I took the 3D glasses off because my eyes were straining. You shouldn’t feel that it’s necessary to watch it in 3D when you could watch it in 2D and have just as enjoyable an experience.

SB: I thought all the underwater sections looked incredible and the 3D enhanced it for me. When you watch the flight sequences in Top Gun: Maverick and the HALO jump in Mission: Impossible – Fallout, they hit differently as those were practical stunts performed by the actors. It’s incredible to watch The Way of Water knowing that the actors broke world records holding their breath underwater to perform these scenes. One problem is that some characters can be hard to tell apart because they look like the same blue alien, and that issue is compounded by this film introducing a new clan of people who are also blue, just in a brighter shade.

TP: Ignoring the 3D effect, I did like the visuals. The CGI is a significant improvement over the first Avatar and it no longer looks like I’m watching a PlayStation 3 cutscene. You can tell it’s mostly greenscreen, but the shading and lighting add an element of realism that was lacking previously.

SB: There were many scenes where characters are observing in awe what they’re seeing underwater; and as an audience member I got sucked-in and did the same. Cutting some of that out would have reduced the length of the movie quite a bit, but I’m glad they didn’t.

TP: I didn’t enjoy those scenery or montage shots – it felt like I was watching a screensaver. How does this move the narrative forward? Sure, it’s pretty to look at, but beyond that, where is the appeal? On another point, when we revisited the first Avatar for its re-release in September, we talked about the fact that we couldn’t recall the names of many characters. So, Stefan, can you name any of the new characters?

SB: In regards to the Sully family I can, but some of the others I can’t because these are names I’ve never heard before or seen written down, such as the two Na’vi brothers. I can name Tuk, Spider and Kiri, who was played by Sigourney Weaver. The characterisation of the new cast, especially the Sully kids, is much better than the first movie.

TP: I agree with you there. The new characters are more nuanced, more complex and more interesting. Spider, a human teenager adopted by Jake and Neytiri, was my favourite character in the movie. The actor who plays him, Jack Champion, was great and I think he will have a bright future in Hollywood. Spider is important to the movie because he’s a bridge between the other humans and the Na’vi, but also a bridge for us as an audience. He helps us adjust to the world of Pandora.

SB: Jake and Neytiri have much less screen time than I expected, and that’s a problem because they weren’t well-developed in the first movie. Jake Sully, played by Australia’s own Sam Worthington, does get an opportunity to show how he’s changed, but once again Zoe Saldaña is criminally underused as Neytiri. In all her scenes, Saldaña is fantastic, but by the end I know just as much about her character as I did at the end of the last movie.

TP: Correct, there is very little character growth or development for Neytiri.

SB: As for the villain: we see Colonel Miles Quaritch return, and he was much more interesting this time around. However, I hope they try something different for the villain next time.

TP: Agreed again. As an antagonist, he was more nuanced than he was in the first movie; but is this really the best they can do – recycling the villain by turning him into a Na’vi? As for the action scenes, they were pretty intense – I wasn’t expecting this much gritty action from an Avatar movie! I would expect it in another James Cameron movie such as, say, True Lies or Terminator 2, but not an otherworldly, fantasy narrative like this. I’d say the action is marginally better than the first.

SB: I loved all the action scenes – I found them easy to follow and they didn’t get lost in the visuals. To conclude, I think this is a great movie that’s leagues ahead of the first film. It is epic ride from start to finish and it deserves to be seen in cinemas, not just casually viewed on Disney+. I’m definitely pumped for Avatar 3, but I don’t know if I’m excited for Avatar 4 and 5 at this point. Are you looking forward to Avatar 3?

TP: No. Not in the slightest. In my opinion, The Way of Water is not an improvement overall on the first movie. The areas where it does improve is in the visuals, the action and the characters, but otherwise it’s a facsimile of its predecessor.

Avatar The Way of the Water is rated M and is currently screening in 3D and 2D at Sale Cinema.