Web Exclusive: Avatar Sequel Dazzles 13 Years Later

The long wait was certainly worth it


Credit: Disney

Lo’ak befriends a Tulkun midway through the new film “Avatar: The Way of Water.”

Ethan Barker, Opinion/A&E Editor

After a 13-year gap that was undoubtedly worth the wait, “Avatar: The Way of Water”  was released in theaters Dec. 16. Director James Cameron has crafted a beautiful and immersive sequel that masterfully expands the world of Pandora to the sea while keeping the heart of the original. While the artistic achievements occasionally overshadow the story, this was one of the best blockbuster movies of 2022.

The movie expands the immersive world of Pandora that Cameron introduced in the 2009 sci-fi film “Avatar” in unique ways. Cameron introduced a new clan of Na’vi called the Metkayina that live in harmony with the creatures of the sea. Their introduction feels natural and is a perfect way to expand the world of Pandora past the Na’vi of the forest. The middle section of this film, featuring the Sully family learning the culture of the Metkayina clan, is one of the most beautiful sequences of film I have seen in a while. The depth and immersive qualities of the world kept my focus throughout the three-plus hour runtime.

The special effects and character design of the film are recent high points in those areas. The new creatures fit in with the previously established world design while feeling like they have adapted to an aquatic environment. The animals, while imaginative, feel like they could plausibly exist in an alien world. While action on the sea has supplanted the aerial sequences of the original, this keeps the film from being an unimaginative visual copy. The motion-capture Na’vi characters look incredibly realistic and capture the actor’s performances to the point where I often forgot that they were CG characters.

While the story does not break new ground, it is still solid entertainment combined with the director’s penchant for visual spectacle. The theme of family largely supplants the environmental message of the original, although that theme is still there. The family dynamic is an idea that’s largely missing from big-budget action movies, which brings depth here. Humanity’s return to Pandora kicks off the plot, and despite the same antagonist, the movie doesn’t feel like a retread of the first film. The movie has a few setups for sequels that don’t impede the story in any way, but rather provide glimpses into the future of the franchise.

The only major flaw of this is that the production design overshadows the story slightly, but not to the point where the movie was unwatchable. The children in the movie can grate on your nerves, especially their constant use of “bro” and “cuz.”

“Avatar: The Way of Water” is an undoubted success in many ways, including technologically, artistically, and certainly commercially. James Cameron has crafted a film that, while not flawless, is one of the best blockbusters of the last few years.