It is hard to believe that it has been 13 years since legendary filmmaker James Cameron first introduced us to the faraway planet of Pandora. The first ‘Avatar’ film hadn’t even finished in cinemas when Cameron promised everybody a sequel, but it soon looked so far off that some people thought it would never happen.
So desperate were people for a boarding pass back to Pandora that Cirque du Soleil brought a prequel-inspired show to the stage, but now film-lovers of all ages finally get a chance to be transported back there with Cameron’s long-awaited sequel finally landing in cinemas… and the good news is that it has been well and truly worth the wait.
The film’s plot takes place more than a decade after the first film. Jake (Sam Worthington – Terminator Salvation) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana – Guardians of the Galaxy) are still together and are the parents of three biological children – Neteyam (Jamie Flatters – The Forgotten Battle), Lo’ak (Britain Dolton – Ready Player One) and Tuk (Trinity J-Li Bliss – The Really Loud House). They also have two adopted children: Kiri (Sigourney Weaver – Aliens), who is the daughter of Grace Augistine’s avatar; and Spider (Jack Champion – Avengers: Endgame), the son of Miles Quaritch, who was left behind during the mass evacuation.
Together the family lives in harmony and Jake leads the Omaticaya tribe in a peaceful existence. But suddenly all that is shattered when Pandora suddenly finds itself again under threat as humans arriving literally burn everything in their wake.
As General Ardmore (Edie Falco – Nurse Jackie) tries to stamp her authority on the planet while building a new city so humanity can move to the planet as Earth dies, and as they do, the Omaticaya people try to defend their territory. Frustrated with the constant battles, Ardmore brings a team of Avatars to Pandora led by one that has been filled with the memories and thoughts of Quaritch (Stephen Lang – Don’t Breathe) to hunt down Jake and his family.
After one close call Jake and Neytiri decide to move their family to live with the Metkayina tribe, where they discover that life may not be as calm as they want it to be… as they are judged for not being pure Na’vi despite the fact the tribal leaders – Tonowari (Cliff Curtis – Sunshine) and Ronal (Kate Winslet – Titanic) – try to help them fit in is as much as possible.
The first thing that anybody is going to notice about Avatar: The Way Of Water is the way the film looks. Cameron brings Pandora to life in the way that no other filmmaker could ever do so. There are times when it feels like you are looking at a painting on an art gallery wall, and if you are lucky enough to be able to see the film in 3D then you will be introduced to 3D graphics so clear that it feels like you are right there amongst all the action on Pandora. If you do get to see the film in 3D, check out the see-through computer screens that Ardmore etc use throughout the film… that is some pure James Cameron magic.
But of course there is no way this film could just be called a masterpiece just by the way it looks alone. No, much of that effort comes from the storylines. Sure the inclusion of Spider and Kiri seem a little unrealistic, but that is soon forgotten about as Cameron plants them and the other characters into a storyline so interwoven with Pandora itself that it feels like he has a better handle on the Avatar universe than any of the modern day Star Wars writers have on their universe.
What also makes Avatar: The Way of Water such a special film is the ‘heart’ that the film portrays despite at times becoming an action film. Any Fast & Furious fan can tell you that the story of ‘family’ is not new to cinema, but here that notion is taken one step further and mixed in with other important storylines that look at what it is like to be a refugee fleeing a war only to find yourself landing in a strange new world where you are ridiculed, along with strong environmental storylines revolving around indigenous tribes and also whaling.
It is those latter storylines that really emotionally involve the audience. Cameron manages to portray what it is like for a refugee family trying to settle into a new ‘land’ and just how macabre it is that humanity kills animals for beauty products in a way that slides into the storyline without ever feeling preachy.
The other wonder of this film is just how well camouflaged the actors are throughout the film. Sure, by now audiences will pick Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana in an instant, but try to pick who Kate Winslet is playing without looking at the cast list – it is near impossible.
Kudos must also be paid to the younger cast members who never ever let themselves become overshadowed by the experience cast around them. Jack Champion announces himself as a star of the future with his portrayal of the conflicted Spider, who provides much of the suspense of the film as audiences are left wondering whether he will stay with the Na’vi or go to the dark side.
While it was always going to be hard for Avatar: The Way of Water to live up to the magic of its predecessor given how different and fresh Avatar was for its time, this is still a masterpiece of a film that shows that James Cameron has certainly not lost any of his wizardry over the years. Avatar: The Way Of Water certainly does not disappoint and certainly will make all fans excited for the next instalments in the franchise.
Avatar: The Way Of Water is currently screening in Phuket and is rated ‘13’.
David Griffiths has been working as a film and music reviewer for over 20 years. That time has seen him work in radio, television and in print. You can follow him at www.facebook.com/subcultureentertainmentaus