Avatar: The Way of Water Review

Avatar caption: "Avatar: The Way of Water" was released December 16, 2022. Image courtesy of IMDb.

*Spoiler warning*

I have waited thirteen years on the edge of my seat for “Avatar: The Way of Water” to be released. Every part of me wanted to leave the theater in hysterics after experiencing a (hopefully) near-religious event, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case. 

We now see Jake Sully acclimating to being fully Na’vi instead of just an Avatar after his human body died in the previous movie. He has become a leader in the community and has relatively seamlessly and effortlessly assimilated into his new life and has started a family with Neytiri. They all have their moments, but overall Jake is living a happy and fulfilled life, completely leaving his human identity behind.

The climax of “Avatar” saw Jake killing Colonel Miles Quaritch, his commander-turned-enemy. With some shaky logic and unclear science, Miles comes back in Avatar form to seek his revenge. Something about a flash drive with his personality on it? Anyways, when Miles died he left his human son, named Spider, orphaned on Pandora. Spider is now a teenaged boy completely integrated into Na’vi culture, even painting his skin blue to fit in better.

Humans have set up bases on Pandora and continue to extract valuable goods from the planet. For example, a major plot point is the introduction of the tulkun whales who are more intelligent and emotional than humans or Na’vi. They are hunted for a small vial of serum which stops human aging. Once it has been extracted, humans dispose of the carcass without using any other part of it. One of the workers morally disagrees with the hunting of tulkum, but continues to follow orders.

The Sky People (humans in space crafts) return, but this time with Recom Avatar Miles who is out for blood. Specifically, Jake Sully’s blood. Because, you know, he killed him. When Miles and his crew land he tries to kidnap Jake’s children to use as leverage, but can only get Spider. It is then revealed to Miles that he is his son. He, characteristically, does not care. Spider struggles with having to spend time with his evil dad-turned-captor. Fair enough.

Jake and his family immediately flee from the Earth Kingdom to the Water Tribe, seeking refuge. It is rocky at first, as the leader Tonowari does not want Jake to bring war to his community. In addition Jake’s children butt heads with the leader’s children, causing extra tension for Jake as they are at Tonowari’s will. Eventually everyone starts to coexist and Jake and his family learn the way of the water.

Miles and his crew ransack the other Water Tribe communities trying to find Jake, leaving death and destruction in their wake. He manages to kidnap a few of Jake’s children and is then able to come face to face with Jake. A lengthy battle ensues which sees the death of Jake’s oldest child Neteyam who died trying to rescue his kidnapped siblings. Recom Miles appears to finally be dead, again, when in a turn of events Spider rescues him. However, Spider still remains harsh and detached from Miles when he awakes. The remainder of the movie shows the Water Tribe fully accepting Jake and his family as part of the tribe and the community begins to rebuild after the war.

Miles’ whereabouts and a few other unanswered questions leave room for another, or many other, movies. Which there will be. Ultimately the plot felt similar to the first one and I think “Avatar: The Way of Water” could stand on its own and not just as a part of a franchise. Some details felt a little too on the nose such as humans wasting a whole whale for a cup of serum and Jake struggling to get out of military mode and into dad mode. I also think keeping Miles around for a third movie is grasping at straws after he died one and a half times.

James Cameron’s ability to create an alien world and every little detail in it is astounding. I saw this movie in 3D, and visually this will go into the running for my favorite movie of the year. Every second is packed with dimension, color and life in a way that makes you forget Pandora isn’t real. While his artistic prowess is unbeatable, I found the story line to be weak. At three hours and twelve minutes, I think they could have shaved an hour off and still maintained the same depth of plot. While that extra time is used to showcase Cameron’s astonishing artistic ability, it isn’t used to expand the plot and that ultimately made the movie feel lengthy. This is not to say that this wasn’t an amazing movie; it is worth the watch for the visuals alone. I just wished the plot had been a little stronger.