‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ Review

Photo courtesy of IMDb

Photo courtesy of IMDb

This review may contain minor spoilers for “Avatar: The Way of Water”: please read with caution if you have not seen the film.

I walked into “Avatar: The Way of Water,” knowing that it was quite a long film, but nothing could have prepared me to sit for over three hours. My biggest takeaway from this film was not the beautiful CGI but rather that the film could (and should) have been condensed significantly. I found myself thinking that the film was dragging on for the majority of the time spent watching rather than enjoying the climatic finish. 

First and foremost, this film has been awaited for 13 years, so many fans expected spectacular CGI, cinematography, and writing. I would say I was decently fulfilled, but this film did not compare to the original Avatar experience. 

I will admit, this was one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen. The scenes were enchanting, and the characters were interesting enough to keep me awake and interested, despite the astronomical run time.

However, it was not the sheer length of the film that distracted me from the technical beauty but the execution.

Some parts of the film felt rushed, while other seemingly trivial scenes dragged on excessively. The original “Avatar” of 2009 had a decently long run time of  2h 42m, and I felt like I could have watched another hour of the film–it never felt boring or pointlessly extended. I did not leave the theater feeling the same way about the sequel. 

However, the attention to detail in this movie is astonishing. I felt transported into this dreamy world of new creatures and deeply developed characters for three hours. The longer run time certainly provides rich background and emotional connections with the characters, something the film capitalizes on, as Jake Sully’s children never seem to stay out of trouble.

The film follows countless characters but takes time to provide deep emotional bonds and connect meaningful relationships between two differing Pandora tribes. 

Despite his amazing directing skills, James Cameron seems somewhat out of touch with the reality of viewing movies.

Despite my personal critiques of what the director has said in interviews, he seems to expect far too much, far too quickly, and I believe the film may have suffered because of this habit of his. It’s rumored that Avatar 3 is 9 hours long and Cameron wants the entire film visually edited before making cuts, something that is needlessly laborious already and seems to be a horrible recipe for a rushed film (that will also probably be too long.) Disney is also notorious for how they treat and overwork VFX artists, to which the director is further contributing.  

Cameron also compared his 3h 12m runtime with binge-watching television shows, something I believe is completely separate, as the user has control of pausing, skipping, and stopping the show. In my case, I would have probably skipped buying a large soda if I knew the film was 3 hours and 12 minutes long. 

Despite a long run time, “Avatar: The Way of Water” managed to recreate the same exciting feeling of the first film, discovering a completely new terrain for the indigenous inhabitants of Pandora. I felt like I was temporarily transported to the beautiful water tribe, and I was excited to dive into learning the differences in cultures.

While reviewing this film, indigenous accounts must be taken into consideration. Many indigenous activists have criticized the film for tired tropes of white saviorism, with Jake Sully, a white human, saving the indigenous Na’vi from resource exploitation and colonization. As I am not indigenous or a person of color, I don’t feel I should have a voice in this matter, but I encourage viewers to read some of the indigenous reviews that point to more specific microaggressions and consider how tastefully it was completed. 

The film is visually stunning; I cannot critique that. The animals, actors, scenery, and especially ocean life creatures are so life-like it feels like they are jumping out of the screen at you. 

The fight scenes were well done: they were interesting and exciting, and every fight brought interesting combinations of CGI animals, indigenous natives, and human machines interacting. However, many of the fight scenes were dragging on to the point of boredom, another thing that a shorter run-time could have solved. 

Zoe Saldaña once again performed Ney’tiri, so naturally, it felt authentic. Her facial expressions are some of the most memorable of the film, a stunning combination of CGI development and her acting skills. 

I did not feel like the graphics suffered when I viewed the film in 3-D, but I have heard multiple accounts of people who thought the darker lenses inhibit a seamless viewing experience.

Honestly, I was not wowed, so I recommend saving a few dollars and skimping on the 3-D. I think Cameron missed multiple amazing opportunities to use 3-D to his advantage, such as using the fantastic creatures to jump out of the screen into the audience (something I distinctly remember from the original Avatar, one of the things that made the film so revolutionary in the first place). 

Throughout the entire film, the 3-D editing never made me jump or even gasp in surprise–I simply was not impressed. 

However, I can credit this film for keeping me wide awake and alert during the film–I developed a relationship with the characters and wanted to see what happened to them. Despite choosing a late viewing and containing the urge to nod off, and having to wait to go to the bathroom for over an hour—I was mistaken to think at 2 hours and thirty minutes into the film, it was almost over—I paid attention to every second of the film.

I will admit the two people sitting next to me were asleep for half of the movie, so I think a shorter run time would have genuinely improved everyone’s viewing experience. I am happy I saw the film and am excited to see what the other Pandora tribes have to offer; personally, I just have a lot of critiques for the film. 

Rating: 7/10