“Avatar: The Way of Water” makes a splash in cinematic history

Avatar: The Way of Water revitalizes the breathtaking beauty of Pandora and the Navi.

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“Avatar: The Way of Water” revitalizes the breathtaking beauty of Pandora and the Na’vi.

Katie Chin, Copy Editor

Thirteen years after Pandora captured the hearts and imaginations of audiences, “Avatar: The Way of Water” revitalizes the imaginative world of the Na’vi and heroes Jake Sully and Neytiri in fantastic glory. The highly anticipated sequel of the 2009 box office phenomenon brings viewers back to the ethereal moon and introduces Sully and Neytiri’s brood of daring and adventurous children alongside the oceanic Metkayina clan. While raw and emotionally powerful scenes pierce the hearts of viewers, they may very well be lost within an arguably thin plotline and a haphazard medley of cliched young adult fiction tropes.

In 2009, James Cameron’s original “Avatar” shattered the box office with fanfare, becoming the highest-grossing movie of all time. Above the alluring storyline, the film, nominated for nine Academy Awards, was acclaimed for its unfathomably stunning visuals and the vibrant, nearly tangible universe of Pandora — borne from Cameron’s inventive CG approach to filmmaking.

With “Avatar: The Way of Water,” Cameron has once again revolutionized filmmaking technology. The crew constructed an enormous tank, replicating real ocean conditions and capturing the actors’ performances underwater — a feat never before accomplished in the history of cinema. With Performance Capture, which transforms the actors’ real time movements into their CG characters, set up both underwater and on the surface, Cameron brought a graceful, jaw-dropping reality to underwater scenes on the big screen.

Yet beyond the sensational cinematography, the meandering, thin storyline progresses with little surprise, leaving the audience yawning through the 3 hour 12 minute film. In comparison to the striking yet straight-forward “good-guy” hero 2009 film, “Avatar: The Way of Water” stutters in finding its definition, and the story’s several underwhelming and loosely related plotlines lethargically drag on the film. Opening with a snapshot of the Sully family, the story quickly hops from one scene to the next as the forest-dwelling Sullys migrate to the oceanic Metkayina clan in the blink of an eye. Much of the film is dedicated to the Sully children’s adaptation to the underwater universe and their struggle to fit in among the foreign clan. Hilariously grappling with awkward dialogue, the ragtag team face a variety of cliched tropes and are regrettably reduced to a juvenile, archetypal portrayal of teenagers. 

Eldest son Neteyam is defined simply as the “golden boy” whom his younger brother Lo’ak looks up to with jealousy. Adopted daughter Kiri, born from the first film’s Grace Augustine’s avatar, wields a graceful, powerful connection to Pandora similar to that of her mother’s. Along with the adorable youngest daughter Tuk, Pandora-born human Spider completes the young cast, grappling with his differences from his Na’vi friends. Character development is few and far between, with each teen reduced to a singular attribute and remaining solely determined and well-intentioned throughout the film.

The film is interspersed with beautifully raw, tear-jerking scenes and dialogue — the delicacy of which aligns with its arresting cinematography and magnificent nature of Pandora. Zoe Saldana, as Neytiri, delivers heart-wrenching lines sure to capture the attention of any viewer. Woven between long threads of plot, emotionally compelling scenes accompanied with a riveting soundtrack return audiences to the heart of “Avatar”.

The blatant anti-imperialist stance of the film perfectly mirrors that of the 2009 film and retains its lack of nuance, leaning on crude analogs of indigenous peoples in the Na’vi and a depthless depiction of strong-armed humans coldly destroying Pandora and its natives. Built off a brew of worn tropes, “Avatar: The Way of Water” places strong emphasis on family values with Sully’s line, “A father protects. It’s what gives him meaning,” echoing through the closing scenes of the movie. Though the film’s familial theme sparks a familiar flame within viewers and the anti-colonialism commentary stands, the story struggles to delve any deeper than a one-dimensional strand.

With tremendous shoes to fill following the first “Avatar” installation, it isn’t all too surprising that “Avatar: The Way of Water” has stumbled its way across the big screen. Yet, it is a film worthy of applause for its once again breathtaking illustration of Pandora and collection of heart-wrenching scenes. While frustrating, the opening of a myriad of Pandora’s boxes of plotlines set the table for the addition of three sequels to the franchise over the next six years, which may just be what “Avatar” needs to secure its place within the great film franchises of cinematic history.