Avatar: The Way Of Water has breathtaking visuals, tons of action, and a very well-developed plot. James Cameron has a unique and realistic view of sci-fi.
Avatar: The Way Of Water premiered in December of LAST YEAR. But due to COVID “squeamishness”, I could not bring myself to brave a theater for fear of infection. Thankfully, Disney+ has now made the movie available and I highly recommend you gave it a whirl. It has a whopping 3 hours and 16-minute runtime, so try to go to the bathroom before you start it and make sure your popcorn is plentiful.
The original Avatar came out in 2009. I was in high school and didn’t see it as impressive or exciting. I once likened it to Pocohantas (but in space). But over the years, I learned that Star Wars is based on the Knights Templar. Ha! So I changed my tune. It was very frustrating that the Avatar sequel took over a decade to premiere. But if you know the reason why James Cameron delayed it, your respect for him will rise. Cameron supposedly waited because the movie technology that would help make his vision a reality; did not exist then. As I watched Avatar: The Way Of Water, I was in awe of how realistic and crisp the digital effects were, especially in the underwater sequences. It is truly a feast for the eyes, and even if you aren’t a sci-fi person, I implore you to see it just for the effects.
Speaking of sci-fi, one of the other reasons to watch this movie is that it isn’t a sci-fi-heavy story. Sure it takes place in a different world and the main characters are alien, but the story is mostly about the human (or Na’vi) condition and learning to accept differences and care for your family. It has been 16 years since Jake Sully transferred his consciousness into his Na’vi body and he and Neytiri have had four children within the years. Two boys, an adopted girl, and a very young girl. The “Sully” family lives happily in the forests of Pandora and it seems to be a happy albeit different existence. They also have adopted the human boy Spider (who was a baby in the last movie) and is now a 16-year old wisenheimer.
He isn’t blue or super-tall or even able to breathe the Pandoran air!, yet he keeps pace with the kids and even dyed his skin with stripes to emulate the Na’vi. I love the dynamic between Spider and the Na’vi. They affectionately called him monkey boy and he has taught them how to curse and use human slang. He would give their tails a playful tug now and again and it makes me speculate how humans and aliens would react to their anatomical differences if and when we ever come together. I just love the jostling as it makes the movie very “real” and the Na’vi more “human”. The Na’vi are very similar to humans who live in Aborigine tribes here on Earth. And aside from the scary hiss they make when angry, I could easily see living alongside them.
The peace established in the first film does not last long. The humans have returned to Pandora and plan the eventual migration of humans from a dying Earth. And Sully’s old foe has returned to life. Well,…basically. His memories before his death have been uploaded into a Na’vi Avatar body along with his soldiers. Even with Quaritch’s memories, Cameron makes it clear that this is NOT the original Quaritch. And the military even had the colonel make a message for his uploaded self if he should fall in battle. The philosophical ponderings of whether Quaritch is the same will come at the end of this review.
Anyway, Quaritch has a bone to pick with Sully and wants to kill him and his “batshit crazy wife”. The Na’vi use Jake’s military experience to engage in guerilla warfare against the military. And Quaritch’s commanding officer has very rigid plans in order to develop Pandora into a habitat for future humanity, Quaritch’s vendetta notwithstanding. During a scouting mission gone wrong, Spider is captured by Quaritch who remembers him as his son who he last saw as an infant. Babies cannot be put in cryosleep apparently, and Spider has lived his 16 years as a Pandoran. I like how Quaritch feels a connection to this boy. Even though he is a recreation of a dead man in a completely different species’ body. Perhaps, Quaritch has some redeemable qualities.
Jake Sully is very hard on his kids, especially the youngest son Lo’ack who constantly disobeys orders and gets his siblings into trouble. However, I like Lo’ack the best as he is very similar to a typical teenager here on Earth. He struggles with his confidence and winning his father’s approval like his older brother and always felt like an outcast.
Once Jake learns that Quaritch is out for blood, he decides to retreat and put his family in the “Na’vi witness protection program” by moving them to the ocean (which is obviously why the movie is called The Way of Water). What’s SUPER interesting, however, is that the sea-dwelling Na’vi are slightly anatomically different than their forest-dwelling cousins. They are aquamarine instead of dark blue and their tails are flatter and more like paddle-like for swimming. The leader of the reef people respects Jake and lets him stay but the kids face prejudice and ridicule from the Sea-dwelling youth. They tease them for having “inefficient” tales for swimming and laugh as they struggle to get the hang of swimming, holding their breath, and riding the sea fish-bird things.
This is such a great slice of life that Cameron has captured, as it would seem that much like fooling around and teasing, aliens experience xenophobia just like every human on Earth has for the last 20,000 years! The Na’vi subspecies could actually be seen as racial deviation (like Caucasian and Black people) and the drama of trying to get along was quite fun to see in such different-looking beings.
The movie is VERY long but it is worth it as it has breathtaking visuals, tons of action, and a very well-developed plot. James Cameron has a unique and realistic view of sci-fi. And I feel the Avatar franchise falls in between hard and soft sci-fi and we can then call it moderate sci-fi. The humans and Na’vi don’t shoot lasers from guns and fly to planets within a few hours. Flights between Earth and Pandora take several years and everyone still uses bullets. It’s probably the most realistic space fantasy I’ve ever seen. And the visuals. I cannot stop talking about the visuals. I feel as if I am underwater with the Na’vi in certain instances and the Na’vi don’t look like cheap CGI.
They almost “breathe” and exist in a state between shadow and light. My only gripe at the end is one of the character’s decisions. I feel it was done so there could be an Avatar 3, but you may interpret it differently than me. Lastly, I re-iterate: you don’t need to like sci-fi to like this movie. The message and story are universal and there is just so much fun to be had immersing yourself in the plot.
Avatar: The Way Of Water is available to stream on Disney+ now. Avatar 3 will probably premiere in 2025 (due to some internal issues), so you have to wait a bit for another trip to Pandora. Don’t be blue though
I usually reserve my facts for Star Wars, but I feel there is one important thing to address here in this movie. Quaritch’s memory and personality are uploaded into his Avatar body. And it would seem like it IS Quaritch, but it is made subtly clear that the real Quaritch has died and this is a “clone” that contains his memories. Yet, what does that make Jake Sully? He transferred his consciousness to his Na’vi prosthetic body at the end of the last movie. But how is it really him when Quaritch isn’t? It’s a philosophical conundrum.
But I believe that James Cameron believes in a soul. Jake was able to transfer to a new body and still be himself because he is “alive”. Quaritch died. His soul left this plane and the memories stored in the computer just aren’t him. It’s hard to wrap your mind around but that’s what I’m sticking with.
Max Nocerino is a regular Staff Writer for The Future of the Force. He is a passionate Star Wars fan and loves the literature of the galaxy far, far away. Follow him on Twitter where he shares his love of the Force frequently!