Avatar:  The Way of Water  (12A) |Close-Up Film Review

Dir. James Cameron, US, 2022, 192 mins

Cast:  Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña, Kate Winslet, Cliff Curtis

Review by Carol Allen

It’s now thirteen years since James Cameron gave us the previous Avatar, at the end of which earthman Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) became a fully fledged Nav’I, on the far off moon Pandora, where the people are blue and earth people cannot breathe the atmosphere.   

But that didn’t stop us greedy earthlings from invading last time and they are back again now, disturbing Jake and his idyllic life in the forest with his wife Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) and their three children.  And that nasty Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang), who died at the end of the first film, is now reconstituted as an avatar, leading a team of similarly brutal reconstituted soldiers. 

The story is in three acts.   In act one, the forest people try and fail to fight off the invaders, at the end of which Jake decides to seek sanctuary for his family with the tribe living on the waterlands elsewhere on the moon.  

This act two, in which the family have to struggle for acceptance by leader Tonowari (Cliff Curtis), his partner Ronai (Kate Winslet) and their people, is the most interesting, in that it introduces us to a whole new set of customs and indeed imaginatively conceived creatures, including a vast, whale like creature – I christened him Moby Dick – who becomes an important ally to the family.  We also learn more about Jake and Neytiri’s adopted daughter Kiri, who turns out to have many interesting powers, including the ability to stay underwater for hours and who embodies the spirit of Dr Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) from the first film. 

Inevitably though the nasty earth cohorts find and pursue the family and in act three we have the big battle.   And all this takes over three hours.  

Not content with that however Cameron is so inspired by his story that he’s written and filmed another four more Avatar movies, which are in the post production pipeline.  Sounds rather like over egging the pudding, but then Peter Jackson got loads of cinematic mileage out of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and even a very slim little book called The Hobbit, so maybe there are enough fans out there to run with it.

Like Jackson’s epic the films were shot in New Zealand, and indeed the water people in particular remind one of the Māori people, with their facial tattoos and famous and fierce tongue wagging battle technique. And what Avatar is really about surely is not just the importance of family, as Cameron claims, but also the evils of colonialism and empire building.  And as the baddies are all Americans in this, let’s think Afghanistan and Iraq.

The film looks brilliant, though it doesn’t really need the 3D effect, which actually becomes tedious if you’re wearing the special glasses over your normal specs.   The technology is superb and the action sequences effectively staged. 

The problem is the characters, who are really not very interesting.  More a bundle of admirable characteristics who have little depth, lack development and are pretty one dimensional.  And the fact that they’re all blue makes some of them difficult to distinguish as individuals. 

However the original film created a lot of interest and a fan base and audiences who go for lots of action wrapped in this case in a flashy, big screen serial format will not only enjoy this but will be on tenterhooks waiting for the next four episodes.  Which I suspect will be equally long.