Cert – 12, Run-time – 3 hours 12 minutes, Director – James Cameron
When Colonel Quartich (Stephen Lang) returns to Pandora Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and his family seek refuge with the sea-dwelling Metkayina tribe to avoid being hunted down.
When recalling Avatar many think of the highly acclaimed visual effects which brought the world of Pandora to life. Such effects have already been widely discussed when it comes to the sequel, and certainly they’re on as fine a form as they were 13 years ago. However, co-writer (alongside co-writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver) and director James Cameron doesn’t allow the film to be bogged down in this and be led into sequences of simply sitting in wonderment at the world in which the events take place on. Instead you can see such moments attempted to be wound into the narrative which stretches across the 192 minute run-time.
Happily settled into Na’vi life Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) leads the race in battles against the returning ‘sky people’ of Earth who now plan to turn Pandora into a second home. However, Jake’s leadership is halted when Stephen Lang’s Colonel Quartich returns in Avatar form – his pre-death memories put into a stand-by body – intent on hunting Sully down and killing him, perhaps alongside his family. Abandoning their jungle home and tribe the Sully’s make their way towards the sea, finding refuge with the Metkayina tribe – who teach them how to adapt to the ways of the water and the creatures within it.
It’s here that the film begins to not quite make tangents but certainly starts to include a handful of drawn-out sequences as the various characters explore the world around them. Jake is pushed to the side somewhat, while wife Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) appears to have a very diminished role, as his children become the focus of the narrative. Exploring the world around them and facing the consequences on a number of occasions. Perhaps it’s in an attempt to build up relationships with the characters, while it’s interesting to see what they do and a number of their interactions they themselves/ their personalities, whilst a key element, aren’t always the most interesting points of a scene. This particularly feels the case in the grand scale battle sequences of the third act. While the highlight of the film – alongside Lang returning as a truly traditional, through-and-through bad guy – with plenty of stunning shots of characters leaping out of the sea and attacking certain points feel as if the film wants and hopes for the audience to have more emotional engagement with the characters than they actually have.
By always focusing on the narrative and trying to create engagement through that a handful of the initial grips with the film are generally dropped. Cameron’s decision to film with a higher frame rate (48fps) occasionally brings about the look of a video game cutscene to some of the action sequences. However as things move on this point, and the fact that the adopted teenage daughter of Jake and Neytiri sounds like Sigourney Weaver (it is – the character is born from Weaver’s character’s Avatar in the first film), begins to drop as you get caught up within the various developments. It might mean that things eventually become somewhat busy focusing on a number of different characters and trying to give each one (apart from youngest Tuk (Trinity Jo-Li Bliss)) some form of independent arc and development.
It’s a busy film, there’s no denying that. It’s also a lot of film. Not just in terms of action but the dramatic stakes and scenes that Cameron and co try to set up within the plot – again, The Way Of Water certainly attempts to create a bond between the audience and the various figures who pop up throughout the run-time. Over the course of 3 hours and 12 minutes the film certainly packs in a lot. Sometimes feeling a bit too much but certainly rarely meaning that it feels overlong. Maybe as a whole it could be trimmed by a few minutes to stop certain sequences from starting to drag, but as a whole there’s plenty to like about what’s on display – particularly in the aforementioned third act which is up there with Nope’s as one of the best sequences of the year.
There’s plenty to like within the busy structure of Avatar: The Way Of Water. James Cameron’s follow-up has arrived with plenty of strong visuals – likely to sweep up a number of technical awards this awards season at least – and a focus on narrative to not get caught up in wonderment. While sometimes it only just keeps itself afloat during longer sequences where the various beats begin to feel a bit too recognisable and familiar it’s made up for by the action set-pieces, especially in the third act; and Stephen Lang’s returning underrated villain. Perhaps not always hitting where or in the way that it wants to there’s still plenty that does click and work throughout making for an enjoyable, if almost too tightly held at times, return to Pandora.
Occasionally rocking the boat but never fully tipping Avatar: The Way Of Water is a lot of movie. You can feel the tight hold throughout to not detract from progressing the characters, who you might not engage with as much as the film thinks, and narrative. Yet, strong action, sound and visuals help to keep you engaged for the majority of the sometimes stretched run-time of what is undeniably a lot of movie.