Back in 2009 there was this very popular film called Avatar. It did landmark stuff with special effects and made almost $3 billion worldwide.
Cut to 2022 and after many, many delays director James Cameron has landed Avatar: The Way of Water onto the world. We’ve seen it. We loved it. And we’re here to discuss (spoiler free) stuff about the thing.
The Spectacle of Avatar: The Way of Water
Right, we’re not revealing any major plot points or anything. We’ll just indicate The Way of Water follows on about 13 years after the conclusion of Avatar.
Jake Sully (played by Sam Worthington) is back! At the end of the first film he chose to morph from human into Na’vi form. He’s married to Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) the kick ass Na’vi so prominent in the first outing.
But now they’ve got a family. That includes Kiri (Sigourney Weaver) their adopted teenage daughter. Plus, Lo’ak (Britain Dalton), Neteyam (Jamie Flatters), and Tuk (Trinity Jo-Li Bliss).
They’re busy enjoying the merry challenges of family life on the planet of Pandora… when the “Sky People” (bastard humans!!) return with the digitally resurrected Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang).
To by clear, the Colonel died in the first Avatar.
This time he’s back as a kind of hologram (think of Rimmer from Red Dwarf). His personality injected into an Avatar.
With the return of the Sky People, this spells trouble for the planet and its various tribes of Na’vi. The Sully family must flee to new lands in an attempt to stop the end of everything… dun, dun, dun!
That’s the plot in a nutshell. The first half of the film develops out these new characters steadily, before the second ramps up the carnage and shattered equilibrium issues.
Colonel Quaritch goes nuts, in other words.
And the final hour of The Way of Water is spectacular. Very full on with its intense action. Some of this does lead to clunky dialogue and cliched gun-to-the-head “You let her go!” type scenes. But then this is a 12A blockbuster.
Aside from those minor quibbles, this thing is goddamn breathtaking to behold. It’s a film you need too see at the cinema to take in the spectacle.
We’re not a big fan of 3D, but those glasses work very effectively here.
Plus, that soundtrack. Bloody glorious at its very best, some fantastic work by English composer Simon Franglen.
We were swept along with it. With all the crap going on in the world right, this level of escapism is a most welcome break.
Cameron balances a lot going on and we think he doesn’t lose his way or get bogged down with one subplot or another. Everything builds effectively towards the climatic action sequences.
As immersive as we found it, others have criticised The Way of Water for its simplistic screenplay. Sure, it’s your standard goodies/baddies fair. But this is a 12A film, we didn’t go into it expecting the complexity of a Solzhenitsyn epic.
One aspect of the plot we thought didn’t work so well was the use of a character called “Spider” (Jack Champion), a human feral child adopted by the Na’vi. We just found him a bit of a seventh wheel.
Otherwise, we loved the Sully family unit and it got emotional later in the film.
Kiri and Loak are fabulous young characters to root for. They’re depicted as inquisitive and intelligent—it’s a coming of age story for both, which is rewarding to watch develop. Rather than that tedious depiction of teenagers skulking about being moody.
Plus, that is indeed Sigourney Weaver as Kiri!
Weaver’s character in the first film (Dr. Grace Augustine) died. In this, Kiri is born from Dr. Augustine’s inert Na’vi avatar. Fantabulous.
But, yeah… what else can we add?
This is big blockbuster cinematic spectacle. James Cameron knows exactly what to do with this type of thing and he’s delivered a highly entertaining, emotive action-fest here.
Critical Reception to Way of Water
Okay, we’re jamming in two responses to the film for the sake of balance. Our favourite film critic, Dr. Mark Kermode of Kermode & Mayo’s Take, hates The Way of Water.
We like his review here and the closing 30 seconds are very funny.
Dr. Kermode is famous for his Kermodian rants about films he takes a strong dislike to and that 12 minute epic is another one. Although he could have offered a little bit of balance there, but he’s gone for comedic chops instead.
On the flip side, there’s plenty of praise for the film amongst the scathing onslaughts (The Guardian’s critics—Dr. Kermode being one—handed it 2/5).
Chris Stuckmann is a YouTube film critic we respect a lot. And we like his take on the movie as he approaches it with a degree of calm clarity (and no ego).
We’ve got no issue with anyone who didn’t enjoy the film for genuine reasons. We just think it’s a shame they didn’t like it.
However, we’ll note it’s clear some people are going in to watch The Way of Water with an agenda to pursue—a chance to flaunt their superiority complex. It’s common to see these people calling anyone who likes the film “stupid”.
We’ve seen some staggeringly pretentious comments about this already. Real ego chest beating and it’s been embarrassing to behold (up there with the Ghostbusters 2016 and Star Wars: The Last Jedi debacles).
Getting worked up about a film like this is a bit ridiculous. And liking, or not liking, it doesn’t prove anyone’s intellectual superiority. But, boy, are some people getting themselves really furious about the film—even though many admit they haven’t even seen it.
Amongst the online negativity towards The Way of Water and James Cameron, let’s remember this thing is just a bit of escapist fun. And it’ll wow many millions around the world.
We should imagine teenagers will watch it and be swept away with it head over heels. And that’s a wonderful thing.
For us, we attended an 8am screening (to beat the crowds) in Manchester city centre and even at that time the theatre was already half full with excited cinemagoers. Throughout the film, total silence. No one on their phone. No one chattering away. Just people wanting to catch the big film of the moment for a memorable Sunday morning.
Maybe we’ll be wrong. After the initial foghorns from people desperate to let the world know the Avatar films are crap… perhaps the praise for Way of the Water will come to the fore.
This is how things stand on Rotten Tomatoes right now. The 78% is from film critics, the other from audience reviews.
Anyway, we think The Way of Water is fantastic entertainment and we loved every minute of it.
If that makes us stupid… brilliant! As that stupidity has afforded us one of the most enjoyable sweeping cinematic experiences we’ve had in the last decade.
The Production of Avatar: The Way of Water
We’ll close out with a few notes on the technical and production side of this film, as it really is quite staggering to behold.
Even if you don’t like the film, you’ll admit it’s beyond eye candy. This thing is just a living, breathing world of gorgeous everything. That’s complemented by Simon Franglen’s soundtrack. It has some incredible highs, with new compositions merged with James Horner’s 2009 work for Avatar (Horner sadly passed away in 2015).
The Way of Water cost between $350–400 million to make (minus the vast marketing campaign budget behind it).
We believe that makes it the most expensive film ever.
Its global taking over its opening weekend immediately hit $434.5 million. However, Cameron has noted it must take at least $2 billion to break even! Frankly, we expect the film to do that.
Give it a few more months and it’s likely to break cinematic records. We’ll be very surprised, given the marketing campaign and initial response, if it doesn’t break even.
The film was so expensive to make due to the technology Cameron employed for the film. A lot of it features underwater scenes, which is what the cast did—they swam underwater. It’s the extensive performance capture was used along with that.
That’s similar to what happened for Cameron’s 1989 epic The Abyss.
Weaver (73 years old now and still as fantabulous as ever) learned scuba diving as part of the film’s extensive shoot. This was the case for much of the cast, too.
As we really like Weaver we’re including one of her various interviews promoting the film here. This one as she’s here comparing arguably Cameron’s best film Aliens (1986) with what it’s like working with him now.
Much of the live-action filming took place in New Zealand back in 2019. The film was delayed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with filming resuming on Manhattan Beach in California instead.
Once health and safety laws in New Zealand cleared it, the crew headed back there to continue with the shoot.
Frankly, we could write a novel on what Cameron’s team achieved with technology here. You’d be better off watching one of the features about the film to get a better understanding.
As all we’ll say is, like Chris Stuckmann notes in his review, we came out of this one a bit dazed thinking, “How the hell did they do that?”