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‘Avatar: The Way Of Water’ – A masterful blockbuster event

Published:Friday | December 23, 2022 | 12:26 AMDamian Levy/Gleaner Writer
Britain Dalton, as Lo’ak, in a scene from ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’.
Britain Dalton, as Lo’ak, in a scene from ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’.

I can distinctly remember the phenomenon that was 2009’s Avatar. As a young movie fanatic, it wasn’t lost on me that I was witnessing history in the making. Revolutionary visuals no doubt, but having been raised on animated classics like Pocahontas and Fern Gully, the plot and characters of Avatar felt underwhelmingly familiar. With Avatar: The Way of Water, the best I expected was a mesmerising thrill ride, but worried the story and cast would leave little to write home about.

What a joy it is to be wrong, at least partially. Avatar: The Way of Water definitely delivers on the look of the film, and it’s incredible action. James Cameron makes blockbusters like no one else can, with a masterful grasp on pacing, spectacle, and conveyance of stakes. There’s not a moment in the film where you’re lost as to what the focus is, which is all the more impressive given the sequel’s sprawling cast and world.

As if following up the most successful original film of all time wasn’t challenging enough, Avatar: The Way of Water sets itself up to fail with an ensemble cast. The children of Jake and Neytiri, or the Sullys, are remarkably fleshed out, with much of the film’s three-hour run time being devoted to their development.

Whether it’s the challenging relationship between father’s and sons, or the ostracisation thanks to otherness, Avatar: The Way of Water gives its characters compelling problems that endear the audience to their arcs. Over a decade of bemoaning the first film’s lack of cultural impact is assertively put to rest, with the film’s emphasis on complex characters and themes you feel invested in following for years to come. The returning cast step back into their roles as if they never left, with Zoe Saldana, in particular, reminding the world of the performance that made you remember her name.

While the content is more sophisticated, the dialogue remains exceedingly simple. The sequel has snappier lines than its predecessor, but it’s largely on the nose, without much care for subtlety. Yet, paradoxically there are moments that the film trusts its audience rather than spoon feeds it. In one instance, characters who would have been onscreen for a total of three minutes, ends the scene with a conversation conducted entirely through glances.

With astounding attention to detail, Pandora is teeming with life, both in its dense forests and its vast oceans. More than a setting, the world you’re viewing feels like an ecosystem. It’s brimming with confidence that’s earned by visuals you’re simply unable to pull away from. With your eyes glued to the screen, Avatar: The Way of Water is a veritable visual feast that’s well worth a near 15-year wait, with an engaging and exciting narrative to match.

Rating: Big Screen Watch

Damian Levy is a film critic and podcaster for Damian Michael Movies.