4,745 days, 18 hours, and 35 minutes. Yes, I actually sat down and calculated the exact amount of time between my first viewing of Avatar (2009), and my first viewing of Avatar: The Way of Water. In some ways, this will be the most important thing I have ever written. Avatar: The Way of Water arrived in theaters over the weekend, a wonderful Holiday present for those of us who have an attachment to this franchise. This film is a long time in the making, almost thirteen years on the dot, and as someone who went in with sky-high expectations, I can confidently say it delivered on almost every single one of them.
History of the Avatar franchise
Before we dive into the meat of this movie, I think it's essential to give a quick breakdown of exactly how we got here. I know it's an easy thing to bat your eye at an Avatar sequel, but this is something a lot of people have been looking forward to for a long time. We've been through countless setbacks, and it got to a point where I began wondering if this movie even existed, or if I had just dreamed the idea of a sequel in my mind. This movie was pushed back more times than I care to rehash, and on top of the delays, they continued announcing sequel after sequel. At a certain point, people got tired of hearing about something that didn't seem like it was coming.
I cannot understate how important this franchise is to me. My mother and I share a deep bond with these movies, we enjoyed the first one together in theaters countless times, and have spent the last six months exchanging clips, stills, and trailers in anticipation for the sequel's arrival. Movies are something we can all get excited about, but it adds an extra layer of significance when you're able to share your enthusiasm with someone you care about.
An Avatar Sequel Done Right
It can no doubt be tricky to navigate a sequel with the prominence of Avatar: The Way of Water, but director James Cameron does a remarkable job creating something new, while feeling familiar in a comfortable way. I don't think I have the words in my vocabulary to accurately describe the state of nirvana I was in to be back on Pandora with some of my favorite characters ever. The movie does a wonderful job getting you up to speed on everything you've missed in their lives, how they've grown and changed as people, developed as a family.
The most complex task in a sequel is to not only develop the existing characters in an emotionally satisfying way, but also give the audience new characters to care about. The entire Sully family stole my heart from the very beginning, I found myself truly invested in each of their individual arcs, while also longing for more time with the family as a whole. Keeping things as vague as I can for the sake of spoiling the movie for anyone, I'll say I left the theater incredibly satisfied, while also being a complete puddle of emotion.
Tsaheylu (The Bond)
For years, I've been trying to put my finger on what I love so much about the Na'vi and Pandora. This movie made me realize it has always been the bond between the Na'vi and the animals and nature. Truth be told, I'm having a tough time working my way through this paragraph without getting emotional because this aspect of this world is so unique in storytelling. The Na'vi people have such an intense bond to not only the animals, but all living things on Pandora. Eywa, their deity, connects all people and all living things to each other, but also to their ancestors, giving them a direct line to the past. It's such a deep connection, it allows them to feel grief and love for each other on incomprehensible emotional levels.
Iconic Cast of Avatar Returns
It was always going to be tricky to return almost the entire cast of a movie so many years later, but when you have the luxury of CGI'ing blue over everyone's face, you're saved the task of explaining the age gap. Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) and Grace (Sigourney Weaver) were the two biggest question marks going in. They both appear in the sequel, despite meeting their demise in the flagship film. The way they chose to bring back these characters is one of my only real nitpicks with the movie. I think there could have been better ways to tackle this, but it amounts to a minor detail in the grand scheme of the story.
It will come as a surprise to no one, that once again, the standouts are Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana). Despite sharing little screen time over the thirteen-year gap between releases, these two have crackling chemistry and a bond that radiates throughout the film, instilled with a passionate desire to protect each other and their children. We watched them fall in love in the first installment, and now we see them stronger than ever, navigating the complications that go along with raising a family. While they have parenting styles that occasionally clash with one another, they share a connection that seems so genuine that it's impossible to do anything but root for them.
You simply cannot talk about the things that make an Avatar movie great, and not mention the visual effects. In today's world, it's common to see CGI (computer-generated imagery) constantly ridiculed by certain fan bases, but it's rare to see it praised because it SHOULD be good. The visual effects in this movie are stunning from the opening scene until the credits. Avatar (2009) was famously known for its visual effects, which were WAY ahead of their time, and while it's not unheard of now to see big budget movies consist of mostly CGI, Cameron nails it on such a massive scale. The underwater shots, in particular, are so incredibly stunning that I found myself mesmerized that someone could even conjure up these images in their head.
The Way of Water Flows Through all Things
Avatar: The Way of Water follows up a once in a lifetime event with another generational masterpiece. To say that I love this franchise and these characters would be putting it so mildly that I'd feel like I was doing it a disservice. Right now there's a plan for three more sequels–releasing every two years until 2028–and I can't wait to experience every single one of them. James Cameron could make fifty Avatar movies, and I would be in the theater seated for fifty Avatar movies. These fantasy stories that allow people to step out of the reality that are the real world challenges we face every day, are more important than ever.
Avatar: The Way of Water is now playing exclusively in theaters everywhere, if you haven't seen it already, go check it out now, and let me know your thoughts on Twitter!