James Cameron is one of this generation’s most innovative filmmakers. Cameron has revolutionized the industry throughout his career with technological advances in both practical and visual effects. Going back to the T-800 in 1984’s The Terminator to 1986’s Queen in Aliens to the first moment cinephiles laid eyes on Robert Patrick’s T-1000 to recreating the unsinkable, Cameron’s ability to wow audiences has remained unmatched.
As the calendar shifted to 2009, Cameron’s innovations continued with the release of Avatar. A film that became a phenomenon for both its visual effects and 3-D. The phenomenon led Avatar to receive Academy Award nominations in Best Picture and Director and wins in art direction, cinematography, and visual effects. However, the film’s most significant achievement surpassed Cameron’s Titanic as the highest-grossing film of all time, with a record $2.923 billion that stands today.
With all the success of the film, I, unfortunately, have never been a fan of it and find it one of the most overrated films I’ve seen. While impressive in its technological advances, my expectations for a James Cameron film were not matched, and it’s safe to say I was not anticipating a sequel – one that would take 13 years to come to fruition.
After the pomp and circumstance in the prelude to the sequel passed, there is one lesson to be taken from Avatar: The Way of Water – never doubt Big Jim! Avatar: The Way of Water is an indescribable visual spectacle. It’s not just a blockbuster done to perfection but an experience that captures the magic of going to the movies. Dare I say; it’s the most breathtaking cinematic h2O I’ve ever seen.
Avatar: The Way of Water follows Jake Sully and Neytiri 10 years after the first film’s events. Now with four children, the Sullys encounter a traumatic event, which leads to them escaping the forests of Pandora and looking for a haven on the islands of the Metkayina clan. What follows is a story of familial adaption along with self-discovery along the way.
Avatar‘s screenplay has been mocked over the past decade for its wooden dialogue and resemblance to Dances with Wolves. While the wooden dialogue unfortunately remains, James Cameron, Rick Jaffa, and Amanda Silver’s screenplay is rich with familial bonds and sacrifice themes. This time around, Cameron dives into the core of the Sully family’s relationship and internal struggle. From Neteyam’s pressure as the eldest son to Lo’ak’s effort to live up to expectations to Kiri, the Sullys’ eldest daughter, to find his meaning and purpose within the Sully family, Cameron and company give us characters in The Way of Water, we can fully invest in.
The screenplay’s most impressive feature is its world-building. Does Avatar: The Way of Water’s world-building overpower the film? Yes, it does, but quite frankly, I didn’t care. Leaving the forests of Pandora and entering the majestic marvel of the Metkayina was a cinematic treasure. Living in their world and being introduced to its residents was a delight. Ronal and Tonowari, the leaders of the Metkayina, instantly added newfound layers missing from the first film.
While the human element is there, the presence of Miles Quaritch and his team looks a bit different this time around. Less time is spent focused on the human side of things and more on living in a world of Pandora, one I credit Cameron and his team for.
While it may be hyperbole or a “prisoner of the moment” mentality, this is one of the most beautiful-looking films I’ve ever seen. While the 3D and 48FPS may detour some, I was enthralled. It’s the only way to see this film on the big screen, and I hope its 48FPS is included in the 4k Blu-ray upon release.
Russell Carpenter’s cinematography is stunning. From the film’s opening frame, Carpenter’s lens masterfully captures the beauty of Pandora. There are moments when it’s hard to disengage with the mindset that Cameron and the crew flew to a real Pandora to film this movie, not just on a sound stage. That’s how impressive the visuals of the film are.
Yes, visually, The Way of Water is spectacular, but the action set pieces are outrageously badass. If folks were impressed with the third act of T-2 and Aliens, The Way of Water would surely deliver a glorious finale. But, when you think Cameron can’t outdo himself, another moment arrives in the third act where audiences’ jaws will drop.
While Zoe Saldaña’s performance was the film’s most impactful and heartbreaking, this ensemble hit a home run. Sam Worthington, who I’ve not been much of a fan of, offers a nuanced take while Sigourney Weaver, Kate Winslet, and Cliff Curtis shine. Stephen Lang returns, and boy, does he deliver a conflicted yet fearful villainous performance.
Avatar: The Way of Water is the year’s biggest surprise. It’s a film I had zero desire to see, but one that enters my top 10 favorite movies of 2022. Its most significant achievement for audiences may not be its technical prowess but Cameron’s ability to have cinephiles long for Avatar 3, a feeling I thought would be impossible. I’ll never doubt James Cameron again, let alone when he’s directing a sequel.