Avatar: The Way of Water Feels like Deja Vu – And Not in a Good Way

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Avatar: Way of Water Review

The long-awaited sequel to Avatar is finally hitting theaters this weekend. It is almost amazing that after thirteen years, diehard fans of the first movie are chomping for a sequel. After all this time and the 250 Million dollars that it took to bring this movie to the screen, it should be nothing short of cinematic gold. Right? Well, there will be some fans that will surely think so, but if you were a casual fan of the original film or not really into it beyond Pandora at Disney World, this sequel may be a hard sell for you.

The movie has a lot going on in its over 3 hours and ten minute run time, some good but a lot of other things get in its way to becoming a great movie. These issues might make some fans even more worried about the planned sequels that will be hitting theaters in the future since Avatar 3 is already slated for 2024.

Avatar: Way of Water Review

The Graphics

Much like the original Avatar, the movie leans heavily into computer graphics and 3D animation. A lot has changed and updated since 2009, and now the Na’vi and the creatures of Pandora are brought to life in more vivid detail. The details on the animals, the natives and the world surrounding them is truly stunning. Honestly, this is the highpoint of the film. If you’re looking for an escape into another world – this is where it’s at.

James Cameron didn’t save a single penny making sure this movie was nothing more than a visual feast. Other than visiting the attraction at Animal Kingdom, this is the closest you’ll get to seeing what Pandora can be like. Even the water animations are beyond what we’ve seen on the screen before.

There are still some missteps in the film when it comes to graphics as well. At one point a person loses a limb, and yet there is no blood shown. At first, it was brushed off as a Disney thing to keep the rating at PG-13, there are even a few cuss words and the one required F word to keep it below this rating. But then later there are Na’vi and animals that are injured and bleed – so that man just miraculously lost an arm and had no blood loss with it.

So stunning – but not perfect of course. But don’t worry, there are three more Avatar films coming they can get it right in.

Avatar: Way of Water Review

The Story

The story is where Avatar: The Way of Water starts to lose it for us. We’ve gone forward in time, and Jake and Neytiri have started a family. Not only are they raising their children, but have adopted another. Life seems to have settled down some until the Sky People start coming back and they want nothing more than to kill Jake and his family.

Jake is willing to do what it takes to save his family, and while the “jarhead” has adapted to the Na’vi lifestyle, he’s still a marine at heart and runs his family like they’re part of his unit and is often emotionally stunted when it comes to parenting. These skills he teaches his kids come in handy through the rest of the movie and they work together as a (mostly) coordinated unit, as they take on the Sky People later. But it also plays into his lack of emotion towards losses and issues that they kids and family go through.

To escape danger, Jake moves his whole family to another tribe’s region and they have to learn to live like the water people – the Sully’s are no longer forest people. This of course results in lessons on learning to swim and stay underwater, bonding with new creatures and an underwater sacred tree that holds all of the ancestor’s memories and taps into their spiritual realm.

All of this alone, would make an interesting story. But no epic three-hour movie would be complete without conflict. And this time, it’s the same as last time. Exactly the same. Avatar: The Way of Water brings back the same cast with only a few additions. And we know the question is how, since everyone died in the last movie. That, we will leave for viewers to discover – but it’s the same battle again and the same bad guys – just with a different setting. Seriously, it’s the same story over with the addition of water and the kids element.

This may be a hard sell for a lot of viewers, especially after this long of a wait for another film. Are the graphics enough to save the movie for viewers?

Avatar: Way of Water Review

Deeper Messaging

The first Avatar movie had a great message behind it, about the negative effects of colonization and what it does to native populations. So, what can audiences expect this time? More of the same. We mean exactly the same.

This time, however, it seems we needed to do the whole traumatizing and destabilizing native cultures on a bigger and flashier screen for audiences and add violence towards animals to the mix too. It seems that the Sky People went back to their planet and decided to regroup and go back and pillage more, rather than actually learning from the experience. Granted, how they left after the first movie, they had no real learning experience other than being kicked off of Pandora. So maybe it’s more the reality of what would happen.

But the messaging seems to get mixed up or rather it’s just another deja vu from the original movie. If it’s trying to make a statement on the negativity of colonization and the repercussions, it’s doing so sloppily but just using the same plot over again. In the first movie, it was a message that could easily be taken and embraced – this time it seems so contrived its almost painful.

Avatar: Way of Water Review

Of course, all of this will be subjective for the viewer depending on their level of fandom. But the movie almost comes across as a copy and paste of the original – just with water added. It doesn’t justify the extra time in the theater, and while the graphics may be stunning – they still aren’t justifications for 3D theater tickets. If you’re not a super fan, you may just want to rewatch the original on Disney+ instead of heading into the theater to see the same story rehashed again on a splashier setting.

Avatar: The Way of Water will need to gross over $2 Billion to break even, and the international market will most likely hit that mark. But it’s not going to have the box office numbers they’re opening for domestically. The movie is beautiful, but it’s not likely enough to carry it beyond where the studio hoped it would go to.

Avatar: The Way of Water is in theaters nationwide this weekend.

Overall Rating

Two and a half star reviews

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About Avatar: The Way of Water:

Avatar the WAy of the Water

Set more than a decade after the events of the first film, “Avatar: The Way of Water” begins to tell the story of the Sully family (Jake, Neytiri and their kids), the trouble that follows them, the lengths they go to keep each other safe, the battles they fight to stay alive and the tragedies they endure.

Starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Cliff Curtis, Joel David Moore, CCH Pounder, Edie Falco, Jemaine Clement, Giovanni Ribisi and Kate Winslet

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