“Jake Sully lives with his newfound family formed on the extrasolar moon Pandora. Once a familiar threat returns to finish what was previously started, Jake must work with Neytiri and the army of the Na’vi race to protect their home.”

Director: James Cameron
Writers: James Cameron, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Staring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephan Lang, Kate Winslet
Rated: PG-13
Release Date: December 16, 2022

Remind the world that the next time James Cameron sets his mind to something…nobody should ever doubt him at all. 13 years after Avatar (2009) became the most popular movie in the world, Avatar: The Way Of Water (2022) steps up the visual spectacle, sharpens the story and revs up the scientific action set pieces. Avatar: The Way Of Water is an immersive cinematic experience meant to be seen on the biggest screen possible.

James Cameron has done it again. God fucking damnit, he did it again.

Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is settled on Pandora with his partner Neytiri (Zoe Saldana). They have four kids, three of them being on conventional conception, and the fourth baby miracle Kiri (Sigourney Weaver). Kiri is born out of the spirit of Dr. Grace Augustine, who passed away in the original adventure. Her parentage is a mystery to everyone in the story and watching it. Sully and Neytiri also watch over a human Spider (Jack Champion), who is the son of human being and original movie bad guy, Quaritch (Stephen Lang).

Avatar: The Way Of Water brings the audience in with a Sully voiceover explaining what has happened since the events of the first movie. The Sky People left for a time, but paradise never lasts forever. The opening exposition ends with the Sky People coming back and so the fight for Pandora and all the Na’vi is rekindled.

With the human Resources Development Administration erecting a new home base on Pandora, Sully understands that he has to lead the Na’vi in yet another struggle to save their land. Unlike last time, the Na’vi are well prepared for the RDA infrastructure this time around, and under the helm of Sully they are decimating the colonization effort.

The RDA’s step to take down Sully’s successful guerrilla warfare is to bring back Colonel Quaritch and his team. The thought-to-be-dead fast-tongued human badass is…actually still dead, but his essence has been transposed to a Na’vi body. Quadritch has been cloned into a Na’vi body and his memories are uploaded from before his death; that means he still has a massive hatred for Sully and the native inhabitants of Pandora.

Quadritch and company take a trip down to the forest floor of Pandora and immediately discover the old scientific hub of Sully and Dr. Augustine’s avatars. Quaritch is literally revisiting the site of his death, and he remembers the arrow feather calling card of Neytiri protruding from his human remains. It only adds to his fuming ire. While remembering his past and planning out his future, Quadritch has the good fortune of kidnapping three his foes children.

Count myself as one of the many surprised at the sudden reunion of Sully, Neytiri and Quadritch. The new parents arrive in time to save most of the captives, but Spider ends up in the clutches of his father and the RDA. Now the human who was adopted into the world of the Na’vi is back with his expected society, and the family that took him in is left to wonder what their enemy will do to someone that everyone calls some part of domain after.

Quaritch learning about his new position, from his old self

Sully knows that Spider knows too much about his tribe, his family and their military strategies. For the safety of their friends, and their own family, he convinces the resistant Neytri that their family must leave their forest (Omaticaya) clan. Flying on their winged beasts, the Sully contingency travel to the oceanic culture of Metkayina, a coral reef environment helmed by Na’vi who live aquatically. After some initial convincing, the presiding clan chief Tonowari (Cliff Curtis) and his wife Ronal (Kate Winslet) allow the family to reside in their community. Their only ask is that the Sully’s adapt to their way of life and remain as quiet and hospital as possible.

Act two of Avatar: The Way Of Water follows Sully, Neytiri and their four Na’vi children adjusting to a completely new different way of life. They have to learn to ride fish, breath properly underwater and adhere to new customs and thoughts about nature. The center of these conversations are all between the children of Sully and Tonowari. The young men of each family get into tussling matches and are constantly trying to gain the upper hand in terms of respect. Complicating the matters is the butting romance between the daughter of the Metkayina royalty Tsireya (Bailey Bass) and the younger son of Sully/Neytiri, Lo’ak (Britain Dalton).

The middle portion of James Cameron’s three-hour plus saga also addresses some of the mysteries surrounding Kiri and how she came to be. Everyone’s curiosity is peaked when she adapts the aquatic way of life far faster than the others, and everyone’s fear senses are triggered when Kiri has a seizure after connecting to the underwater Tree of Souls. Not much is answered, but the sequence adds kerosene to Kiri’s importance in the Avatar franchise.

While the Na’vi storyline is about adapting, understanding and trying to blend in…same goes for Quaritch and company. With the help of Spider, the Colonel and his band of merry gunmen are learning the way of their new bodies. Between brushing their teeth with bullets, Quaritch and his men learn to connect with nature. They now have mounted steeds and are ready for a fight. The only problem is that they can not find Sully and his family…that is for a time.

The final act of Avatar: The Way Of Water kicks off with Quaritch learning about the whereabouts of Sully, Neytiri, and their children. Using what is a RDA whaling operation as their vessel of violence, the sky people antagonize the ocean-based Na’vi to emerge for their comfortable island homes by attacking their most beloved animals called tulkun.

The final battle will blow your socks off

The last hour of The Way Of Water is a James Cameron “I still know science-fiction action better than you” moment. The three-time Oscar nominee had worked on a pair of sequels in his career before and notched up the action in both of them: Aliens (1986) and Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991). Avatar: The Way Of Water is no different.

The battle between the Sky People and the ocean dwellers has many different tentacles. There are the brutal aspects, which is highlighted by Neytiri drilling arrows into human skulls while they are piloting helicopters. There are the stressful family moments, which are centered around Quaritch holding young ones hostage for ultimatums of surrender. Let’s not forget the mic-drop moments of oceanic animals acting like steroid-filled battering rams or stressful grappling of two mortal enemies while the possibility of drowning becomes increasingly plausible.

The Way Of Water ends with not a grand finale of action, but rather a five-course meal of James Cameron’s favorite dish called “I told you so.” While your eyes are dazzled by explosions and high-stress decisions, Cameron is still dropping in important hints about where the story of Avatar is going to evolve. His ability to have you go “oh shit” while also contemplating the internal loyalty struggle that Spider is processing really comes second to none.

I know that these two movies are very different, but the ending of Avatar: The Way Of Water reminds me of the ending of Saving Private Ryan (1998). The culminating final moments of each story highlight the growth, questions and pitfalls of the major characters that we followed. We get a sense for how many characters and relationships have changed over the viewing experience with just a few subtle decisions made in the heat of battle.

Avatar: The Way Of Water is a sequel that steps up an entire universe. In 2009 the world was introduced to something they had never seen before with Avatar, and now in 2022 the world viewing audience has simultaneously more questions and more answers. We learn more about Pandora, but as the world expands, more questions must be asked. What other climates are on Pandora? How is Kiri possible? Why is the earth dying? Who do humans care about anti-aging remedies if their world is dying?

Oh, and did I not mention that Cameron introduces the audience to even greater stakes for humanity? The earth is dying, yet all the humans care about is an essence that is used for anti-aging remedies. What the hell is happening on our out spit of water and land?

Avatar: The Way Of Water is massive in scope and accomplishment. Digesting all of it and breaking it down to its key ingredients seems as impossible as Omar getting shot by a kid in the head in The Wire. (Yea, I just watched that episode and I am hurt). You will be gob-smacked the first time you watch The Way Of Water. What you need to do is trust the ship’s captain. Let James Cameron’s skill, technique and vision carry you out to sea. Ride the waves and don’t be afraid to get splashed the the movies outrageous, outlandish magnitude.

There are moments in The Way Of Water where James Cameron is just showing off. When the Sky People are performing re-entry into Pandora after their brief absence, I mean that shit is just a double middle finger to anyone who doubted him. Much like how the humans are coming to colonize the new planet, Mr. James Cameron is planting a flag in every body he tramples by exceeding their expectations. Absolutely crazy visuals to put the audience on notice in the first 20 minutes.

When the Sully clan arrives at Metkayina…there is no right to how beautiful everyone learning how to swim is. This is going to sound so silly, but the way that the water glistens on the bodies of the Na’vi when they are rolling in the sand or emerging from the water is just sublime. This little obsession of mine is accented in the final act when incendiary explosions create shadows and spotlights on the fighting Na’vi. It is these little things in the biggest moments that make Avatar: The Way Of Water more than just a science-fiction action experience.

While the special effects, atmosphere and action are all impressive and a step-up from the original, the greatest improvement has to come in the screenplay. Yes at over three hours it has the appearance of being very bloated, but Cameron’s ability to conduct a cinematic masterpiece makes that time go by without a second thought. In 2009 Avatar, Cameron tells his tale with paint-by-numbers, but The Way Of Water is far more expansive. Cameron is painting with an easel, multiple brushes, and wonderful framing tools.

The barbed conversations between siblings is particularly well done, as well as the parenting by Sully. Balancing the duties of a military hero and a nurturing father is not an easiest thing to do, yet credit to the screenwriter for giving Sam Worthington a chance to vocally act between the necessary ranges. Come the end of the movie, you may not know exactly what everyone’s kids name is because they are confusing and there are a fuck ton, but you know the dynamic of every character and their relationship with their parents.

There are a few big questions that the Way Of Water leaves unanswered, but the biggest one in my opinion centers around Neytiri. She as a mother is fiercly protective of her land and her people…but not so kind towards Spider. In the beginning of the story she points out how he is different and can never really be one of them, and then come the end of the story she puts him in a harmful position in an effort to save her biological kids. She does not hold Spider in that same regard that Sully and her own children do. Hell, she cares less for him than Quaditch ends up caring. When the evil ass mother-fucker who is hell bend on genocide and kill your husband is more kind to an adoptive son than you are…well shit Neytiri, the problem might lie with you.

Avatar: The Way Of Water is a remarkable achievement. It is rather unfathomable that James Cameron can keep raising the bar for other filmmakers as regularly as he does. Everything this man touches turns to gold, and green. The Way Of Water will win awards, and it will continue to make a shit ton of money. This movie should be seen in theaters, and any doubts you have about it should be put to bed. James Cameron did it, again. The man is mad. He is a genius, and he is also crazy, in the best way possible.

STANKO RATING: A- (4.0/5 Stars)

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