“Avatar: The Way of Water” is a predictable disappointment

“The Way of Water” is exceptional in its visual spectacle, and mediocre everywhere else.

Kate Winslet and Cliff Curtis in "Avatar: The Way of Water." Graphic from Walt Disney Co.

Fans of James Cameron’s “Avatar” will be delighted to hear that its sequel recaptures much of what made the franchise’s first installment great. Many found the original to be an enchanting, groundbreaking foray into the frontier of CGI in film. Many more found the original
to be ham-fisted and clumsy in its narrative and character building. “Avatar: The Way of Water”repeats and rehashes nearly every element of its predecessor, good and bad, down to having the same antagonist in both films.


Audiences in 2009 may have been more willing to excuse various deficiencies in storytelling of “Avatar” on account of the film’s visual spectacle. In 2023, however, audiences understandably expected more from the sequel, especially when considering the thirteen-year-
long hiatus between the two movies. Actual production of the second film began in 2017, though Cameron would assumedly have been thinking about prospective sequels far earlier considering the record-breaking success of the first, which begs the question: how is the dialogue in “Avatar: The Way of Water” so abhorrently awful?


Subtext is essential in all creative mediums, and filmmaking is no exception. Good filmmakers and writers seek to utilize their medium to tell stories in a visual sense alongside spoken dialogue, the two elements complementing one another and enhancing the viewing experience — “The Way of Water” does this poorly.


Characters say “I know what it’s like to be a disappointment” or “I’m not the perfect son like you,” causing their characterization to feel clunky and inorganic. There’s little nuance in the film’s dialogue and little for the audience to discover for themselves despite the film’s outrageously long runtime of three hours and twelve minutes.


Despite the recycled plot and shoddy character work, the film isn’t all bad. The aforementioned cinematography is expectedly exceptional. While the first act is more of the same “Pandora” that audiences had come to know from the first movie, the second act introduces a beautiful new area of the world. Through exploring an entirely new culture — one central to and reverent of water — Cameron effectively recaptures the wonder and majesty of “Avatar.”


Funnily enough, whereas character development is one of the film’s weakest attributes, “The Way of Water” does a tremendous job of characterizing the animal life of Pandora. The various fictional creatures are depicted beautifully, and it’s clear that a significant amount of thought went towards how Pandora’s animals would move, breathe, and coexist with the world’s indigenous people.


The “Avatar” franchise is penned to span five movies, with the third, fourth and fifth films releasing in the December months 2024, 2026 and 2028. Although “The Way of Water” was far from a perfect sequel, it does seem to have laid decent groundwork for the world of Pandora and its cast of characters moving forward. Perhaps without a decade-long break between production of the upcoming sequels, the creators can focus more on solid storytelling and less on retreading tired ground out of fear that the audience no longer remembers 2009.

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