Avatar: The Way of Water ⭐️⭐️⭐️½ – Review by Andrea Carnevali
In the sequel to Avatar, Jake Sully lives with his newfound family formed on the extrasolar moon Pandora. A familiar threat returns and Jake must work with Neytiri and the army of the Na’vi race to protect their home. Out in cinemas Friday 16 December.
Why do we go to the cinema? To relax and unwind, to lose ourselves in somebody else’s story, to have fun, to laugh, to cry, to be wowed by amazing special effects, to see things and places you wouldn’t otherwise see, to root for your heroes, to get a kick out of actions scenes and get that rush of adrenaline you don’t really get in the outside world.
I realise there are many other answers too, but if any (or all) of the above sit well with you, then Avatar: The Way of Water (or most lazily known Avatar 2) is definitely a film you should watch.
Also you might just want to be part of the conversation by the time this film breaks all the possible records at the box office, because let’s face it, it’s going to make a gazillion of money!
After all, this is why cinema was invented. It’s that communal experience where we just walk in and witness something close to magical.
By this time, if you’ve seen the first film (currently sitting at number one in box office cinema history just shy of 3 billion dollars), you probably know what to expect: a visual marvel which is so incredible and immersive, that it makes even sitting through the average plot worthwhile.
Indeed, while some of the characters are arguably much better defined this time around (so much so that it does actually matter whether they live or die), it’s fair to say that originality is not really Avatar 2’s strong point: there is actually very little in this story that we haven’t seen in many other films before.
Does that matter? Maybe a bit, because the film asks you to sit through 192 minutes and that’s a really long time, even when watching something as visually strikingly beautiful as this.
Retrospectively, after seen it twice, I don’t think it should have been this long. The first act, is particularly slow and the film doesn’t quite get into the right gear until we finally reach the “water” part, promised in the title.
There’s a lot of clunky exposition to start with, some of which relies on you to remember plot details and characters from the first film, as if you’ve just seen it (and not 13 years ago).
This part of the film is particularly fragmented, messy, confusing and doesn’t seem to find its way, nor its main character to focus on, until we finally ‘head to the water’.
Of course, you’ll catch up at some point (After all this ain’t some highbrow essay), but given its long duration, it’s inexcusable that we spend so much time in the forest in a film that’s called The Way of Water.
The middle part (or rather the hour and a half that follows) has some cracking action scenes (a chase sequence with a massive ferocious fish-like monster had me jumping off my seat a few times), some spectacular vistas and mind-blowing special effects.
It’s been more than a decade since the first Avatar came out and by now the CGI recreations, the choreography of the scenes and the amount of detail have reached such a level of complexity that after a while you just have to stop wonder how on earth they we able to achieve what they did and you just have to abandon yourself to it sheer hugeness.
There is rarely a shot which looks out of place in this film. Whether it can spark the same magic that the first one did, I’m not so sure. I guess it’s probably easier to be wowed by the many details in a forest, with all those made-up plants, trees, flowers and animals than by an environment which is mainly made by water, which is after all.. well, just water.
However, there are still surprises to be had and beautiful things to marvel at. The sense of scale between humans, avatars and the overall environment is often breath-taking and a lot of love, care and attention have clearly gone into rendering it all so beautiful.
A lot of the story centres around the family and the emotional beats of the story are carefully laid out for all of us to see and be moved by, but eventually this sequel, possibly even more than the first one, is mostly a war movie and it’s all heading to a big final battle which is takes place throughout the whole last act.
That’s when writer, producer, director and detail-obsessed maverick James Cameron pulls all his stops and shows what a master he still is at his craft, handling multiple storylines, characters and prologued action scenes and turning up everything to over-drive. All of which makes the last act a real rollercoaster ride (including a self-referenced Titanic moment).
I was generally impressed by some of it and undoubtedly the effects are some the best I’ve ever seen (the 3D is just as immersive and even more beautifully calibrated than in the first), but I must say I didn’t love it (though to be honest I didn’t love the first one either, but I did re-evaluated it when re-watched it a few weeks ago on its re-release).
I did feel it all of its 192 minutes and, with my film editors cap on, I was convinced that there is a slightly better shorter film somewhere.
The Way of Water (to quote the film itself) “has no beginning or end” (at least two or three more sequels are coming out over the next few years), it’s baggie, overblown and a bit cheesy, but clearly Cameron doesn’t care what I think (or those rather few snooty reviewers who have panned the film). He’s still laughing all the way to the bank as people will flock to see what the fuss is all about.
And you should see it too, but the only way to watch this film is on the biggest screen you can find and in 3D. After all the spectacle, the immersiveness and the experience are the only ‘raison d’être’ for this sequel, so you might as well embrace it and go with it.
This might be very well the film that saves cinema (or maybe kills it for good).
So 4 stars as a cinematic experience, but 3 as a film.
Andrea Carnevali is a Bafta winning film maker who lives in Chiswick, and a co-creator of the Chiswick In Film festival.
Avatar: The Way of Water is out in cinemas on Friday 16 December.
See all Andrea’s film reviews here: Film reviews by Andrea Carnevali
Chiswick In Film festival: Chiswick In Film festival will be back next year
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