The path of the water is more than worth the wait

It was a long, agonizing wait of 13 years. It felt like we’d never see the light at the end of the tunnel. These words feel surreal as you type them; Avatar: The way of water is real. The world can finally experience James Cameron’s long-delayed sci-fi epic on the big screen. Originally slated for a 2014 release, it took an additional eight years to finally make it to the multiplex, but it’s roadworthy.

The film also arrives under tremendous pressure, especially when compared to the original. 2009’s Avatar defied expectations of becoming a commercial disappointment by becoming the highest-grossing film of all time, even surpassing Cameron’s legendary 1997 classic Titanic. Still, its popularity hasn’t stopped it from being a massively polarizing film. It’s not uncommon for some viewers to remark that they don’t remember anything about the film.

That polarizing nature — and the staggering amount of money it takes to break even — has placed surprisingly high standards on Cameron’s latest bold visual filmmaking adventure. Luckily, The Way of Water was worth the wait and proves the franchise is worth continuing…provided it makes as much money as Cameron says it needs to make.

*Warning: While this article does not directly link to spoilers for Avatar: The Way of Water, some of the outbound links will take you to articles that cover spoilers.*

Does the writing do it justice?

Avatar 2 Jake teaches Neteyam
Image Credit: 20th Century Studios/Disney

In terms of writing, Avatar: The Way of Water follows a fairly traditional plot structure, and the story isn’t necessarily something “unprecedented”. Theoretically, that’s not so bad; Not every movie has to be a tightly-written Oscar-winning masterpiece with intricate details that will tear you apart for the next six weeks of your life. In this particular case, The Way of Water serves as a logical continuation that advances the plot in an interesting way, with many surprises along the way.

Avatar: The Way of Water takes place over a decade after the first film, in which Jake Sully is the chief of the Na’vi Omaticaya tribe and starts a family with Neytiri. They have five children to take care of; two sons and two daughters – one of whom was adopted by Grace Augustine from the first film – and a human child named Spider, the son of the first film’s antagonist, Colonel Miles Quaritch. Spider stayed on Pandora since infants cannot be placed in cryostasis and sent to Earth.

While life among this jungle tribe is initially peaceful, the antagonistic organization known as the RDA soon returns. They are once again led by Quaritch, now cloned into a Na’vi and hoping to get revenge on Jake and Neytiri. When Quaritch captures their children – and takes Spider with him – Jake and his family leave the Omaticaya tribe and seek refuge with Pandora’s water tribe, the Metkayina. The family must learn the ways of these people while gaining their trust in order to bring down the RDA and Quaritch again.

While this is a fairly standard storyline, the attention to character development makes The Way of Water stand out. Everyone here has a very real arc to go through, and it helps make a lot of the more emotional moments in filmland that much more. Jake and Neytiri can take a backseat at times in the film, but that opens the door for their kids to be real standouts.

The eldest son, Neteyam, is likable as the “perfect son” who is pressured to take care of his younger siblings, while the youngest daughter, Tuktiery – dubbed “Tuk” in the film – is an outrageously cute character who helps provide some of the movies sweeter moments.

Spider was also very emotional despite being a human among the Na’vi who cares about the tribe and tries with as much power as possible to stop his father from killing Jake and his family.

By far the biggest standouts are the middle child, Lo’ak, and adopted daughter Kiri. Lo’ak is one of the more likable characters in the film as he is the family outcast and struggles to live up to the expectations of his brother and father. Finally, his pairing with Payakan, the whale-like Tulkun who is also an outcast of the Metkayina, serves as a great foil, giving him more depth as a character.

Kiri, on the other hand, is a confident and assertive character who has a strong connection to the universe and is desperate to have a deeper relationship with her found family. These characters not only serve as empathetic arcs of self-acceptance, but lay important foundations that future films could follow.

By far, however, the greatest triumph of storytelling in The Way of Water comes from its worldbuilding. Throughout this new film, we get a sense of just how deep Pandora goes, and exiting the forest shows us a new side of the exomond. This fictional world manages to feel very much lived and superbly executed, with an extraordinary amount of detail that makes you incredibly immersed. Cameron hasn’t just created a superficial landscape for the Na’vi to call home; He has created a very believable landscape that just begs to be explored as he digs deeper into the lore and mythology as we are introduced to various tribes.

A sticking point for some will inevitably be the length. This movie lasts just over three hours, which can be an instant departure. Still, the film doesn’t waste a single moment of those three hours, and even quieter scenes meant to show off the visual design feel tastefully integrated. It’s kind of amazing how much this goes by even though it lasts three hours; The length could have been a bit of a hindrance, but to be honest, the film leaves you wanting more even after these three hours have elapsed.

It uses its time wisely and succeeds, but it’s definitely not a bad idea to download an app that tells you the best time to get up and go to the bathroom. James Cameron himself gave you permission to get up and pee; You should use this recommendation with caution.

Let’s talk about these visuals

Avatar 2 Jake rides a skimwing
Image Credit: 20th Century Studios/Disney

However, we clearly know why Avatar: The Way of Water is such a big deal, given the sheer visual powerhouse it draws. There isn’t a moment in this film that was created with less than meticulous attention to detail. While the world itself is brilliantly laid out with the aforementioned worldbuilding, it comes to life even more thanks to the spectacular visual design.

The motion capture work is particularly incredible. Characters are filmed using underwater performance capture – a practice never done before – and still manage to look incredible. The sheer beauty of these underwater moments is where the film really comes alive; It’s easy to get lost in how lush everything is. Character animations are incredibly realistic, hair is animated in minute detail, and animals feel just as real as human/Na’vi characters. Every shot of the film is rendered with so much vibrancy and detail that it’s an unreal triumph of technology.

Notably, the film used a high frame rate in some sequences. Movies are usually shot at 24 FPS, but this movie shows some scenes at 48 FPS, which is what you will most likely find when watching a 3D presentation. This technology has been experimented with before, notably with Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy, but it has been criticized for making films that are meant to look so real that the fake part can be seen. Here the high frame rate honestly helps to smooth the movie a lot without anything appearing wrong.

There’s been a lot of talk about high frame rates making movies look like video game cutscenes, but what’s wrong with video game cutscenes? Because if that’s the case, then man, those are some damn good video game cutscenes.

But seriously, the high frame rate is mainly used in action scenes and underwater scenes, while quieter moments use the standard frame rate. Interestingly, the entire movie was shot in 48 FPS, but some scenes use double frames to make them look like they’re the normal 24 FPS. It sounds confusing, but honestly it makes the visuals even more immersive. It brings you closer to the action and makes this fictional alien planet seem even more real. It may take some time for your eyes to adjust to the high frame rate, but it’s worth it.

As for 3D…did you expect less from James Cameron? The original Avatar film set the benchmark for 3D viewing, and The Way of Water raises the bar. It’s amazing how the film manages to use 3D in a way that it doesn’t just throw stuff off the screen to remind you it’s in 3D. Instead, it uses the extra dimension to create a greater sense of depth, making it feel more like the world of Pandora is right in front of you.

Sure, there are moments when you can see an off-screen arrow or debris, but it’s not like the movie uses that as a gimmick. After all, that’s not what 3D is for. It’s here to turn the screen into more of a window in Pandora. And in that it is an absolute triumph. This is a must-see movie in 3D unless you are medically incapable of viewing content in this format.

Should you see it in the cinema?

Avatar 2 Kiri
Image Credit: 20th Century Studios/Disney

That will of course always be the biggest question; Avatar: The Way of Water might be one of the biggest movie events of the year, but does it need to be rushed to theaters? Everyone else will surely do it, but does that mean you should?

Given the glowing nature of this article, I’ve made it obvious that I think you should see the film, but I think this answer goes a bit deeper than a simple “yes.” Not to sound like a presumptuous film director here (or Harry Styles describing Don’t Worry Darling), but Avatar: The Way of Water is a film that fully lives up to the theatrical experience. It’s a real ‘go to the cinema and see it on the biggest/best possible screen’.

The film industry has seen some major box office disappointments this year. With the myriad box office bombs and the rise of streaming services, questions have been raised as to whether audiences have lost interest in seeing movies in theaters. In this respect, Avatar: The Way of Water justifies going to the cinema. It’s a beautiful family story and an unreal visual treat that deserves to be seen in cinemas with all the 3D/HFR bells and whistles.

It feels so good to say that Avatar: The Way of Water is finally here and totally deserves to be seen on the big screen. It was more than worth the wait, and the film lays an excellent foundation for the rest of the franchise. Don’t miss this in its theatrical performance. The path of the water is more than worth the wait

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