By Kieran Burt.
James Cameron’s latest film, Avatar: The Way of Water has finally crashed into cinemas, 13 years after the original Avatar wowed audiences in 2009. And James Cameron has delivered another film that wows audiences with even better visuals, and a slightly better story. But the characters leave something to be desired, especially as they get mixed up in the blue blur of the visuals.
The biggest draw to The Way of Water is of course its grandiose visuals. Whether it’s the epic wide shots of the landscape, the panning through the lush forests of Pandora, or skimming across the vast oceans and taking deep dives to show the audience the sea life below. The technology of course is part of what makes these look amazing, but cinematographer Russell Carpenter and Mauro Fiore did stunning work on presentation.
And the underwater shots are by far the most beautiful things in the film, showcasing a huge variety of underwater sea and plant life, which is creative enough to look alien but with clear Earth based inspiration. The new Resources Development Administration mechs are also eye-catching, being inspired by crabs and fish. The action underwater leaves a bit to be desired, as it mostly settles for above surface destruction, leaving the new mechs underused.
Visual effects company Weta outdid themselves in creating believable techniques to simulate water and its motion whenever it’s onscreen. Water is notoriously hard to recreate in VFX, and the team’s work is nothing short of breathtaking. VFX artists don’t get enough recognition for the work they do on these major blockbusters.
The visuals alone justify going to see the film once, and it should be seen in IMAX and 3D if possible. 3D is still really gimmicky, and there are scant few films that are even worth the extra cost of admission, but The Way of Water joins this hall of fame. Unfortunately Cameron hasn’t quite made the technology work without glasses, but this revolution will surely come before James Cameron finishes his sequels.
James Cameron’s story for The Way of Water is nothing revolutionary, but is much better than the derivative story of the original. It takes a much narrower focus on Sully and his family, and his efforts to save them from a revived Quaritch. The smaller scale of the story doesn’t mean the action is restricted, with a large-scale third act battle. But doesn’t mean Sully’s family gets lost, in fact this action sequence gives way to a hugely personal finale for the group.
A lot of new characters are introduced in the film, and it does become a bit overwhelming. It doesn’t help that the majority of them look similar, with few distinguishable features. The performance of all the actors behind the Na’vi gets lost behind the effects, making it harder for audiences to latch onto the characters.
The Sully family is a great example of this. There are five children in the family, (four Na’vi one human, three biological and two adopted), and the two sons are very interchangeable with each other. Often it’s hard to figure out which one is on screen, which severely weakens the emotional core of the film. Kiri is the strangest of the five, with her unexplained conception only the start of mysteries that Cameron is saving for the future.
One character that is a huge improvement is Quaritch, who gets to have some emotional development instead of just being a buff military colonel. His arc across the film makes him more than the one dimensional bad guy in the first film, and where the film leaves his story is exciting.
While The Way of Water’s story and characters need improving, the visuals of the film remain dazzlingly impressive. It continues to drive the innovation of VFX, though perhaps at the expense of the actors involved. But despite its flaws, The Way of Water is better than its predecessor, and is a cinematic film truly worth the experience.