Avatar: The Way of Water is a 2022 American epic science fiction film directed by James Cameron and a sequel to the 2009 box-office smash Avatar. 13 years is a long wait for a sequel. Avatar (2009) when it released, became a pioneer in terms of the cinematic experience. Wearing one’s 3D glasses and watching Pandora come to life on the big screen made for a fascinating experience. For those who have forgotten since obviously Avatar came out 13 years ago, in Avatar, we were introduced to the world of Pandora – a fictional exoplanetary moon inhabited by a sapient indigenous humanoid species called the Na’vi, as well as varied fauna and flora.
In the Avatar universe (set in the year 2154), we were told that humans had achieved a very technologically advanced, post-industrial society dominated by powerful corporations and industries who have also exhausted Earth’s resources which is where our current global situation seems to be heading. One of Earth’s most powerful corporations is the globally integrated Resources Development Administration (RDA), a public company which evolved from a Silicon Valley startup, that owns all resources off Earth. The Interplanetary Commerce Administration granted these sole rights to the RDA. Known RDA personnel on Pandora included head administrator Parker Selfridge (who was sent back to Earth after the RDA’s defeat in Avatar), Colonel Miles Quaritch (who returns in this movie despite dying in the first, in an Avatar form), Dr. Grace Augustine (whose character merged with Eywa but kind of returns in this movie in the form of her “daughter” born from her Avatar body. Don’t ask who impregnated her – even her fictional daughter can’t tell), Dr. Norm Spellman (who makes a return in this movie), and Samson 16 pilot Trudy Chacon (who died during the final fight against the RDA in the first movie)
Another quick info-bite about Pandora for the Avatar newbies before I begin my review, Pandora is depicted as being located in the Alpha Centauri A system, about 4.37 light-years (276,000 AU) from Earth. It is one of the many natural satellites orbiting the gas giant Polyphemus, named for the Polyphemus of Greek mythology. Pandora’s atmosphere is a mix of nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, xenon, methane, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, the latter three of which are unbreathable for humans, who wear Exo-Packs when outside their buildings or vehicles. The atmosphere of Pandora does have enough oxygen for humans (21%-22%), but too much carbon dioxide (16%-18%). The Na’vi have special organs (similar to kidneys) called Wichow that take advantage of this atmosphere to extract greater amounts of oxygen for their bloodstream. These organs use carbon dioxide and water in their bodies and convert them into methane and oxygen.
In terms of who the Na’vi are they are an indigenous species that live on Pandora. They are humanoid in appearance and are 9 to 10 feet (2.7 to 3.0 m) tall, having pairs of eyes, ears, arms, legs and feet like humans, as well as a nose, a mouth, and expressions recognizable to humans. The Na’vi differ from humans in having blue striped skin, pointed and mobile ears, large eyes, catlike noses and tails, and hands each with three fingers and a thumb (hybrid avatars, on the other hand, retain the five-fingered hands of their human DNA). While taller than humans, they have narrower proportions in body frame. Their bones are reinforced with naturally occurring carbon fiber. The Na’vi also have a distinctive tendril feature protruding from the back of their heads, surrounded by hair (resembling a long plait or queue), feeding directly into the brain. This organ allows them to connect with other organisms around them, transferring electrochemical signals such as thoughts and memories to the trees, plants, and other creatures.
Already so having satisfied the nerd within me, let us move on to the actual movie review. More than a decade after the Na’vi repelled the human invasion of Pandora by the Resources Development Administration (RDA) (also because James Cameron took that long to make a bloody sequel) , our hero Jake Sully lives as chief of the Omaticaya clan and raises a family with Neytiri, which includes sons Neteyam and Lo’ak, daughter Tuk, adopted daughter Kiri (born from Grace Augustine’s inert avatar), and a human boy named Spider, the son of Colonel Miles Quaritch who was born on Pandora (again who the mother is is as unclear as why the Na’vi’s method of connecting with nature and having sex is similar) and was unable to be transported to Earth in cryostasis due to his infancy. The big bad RDA returns to prepare their homeworld Pandora for human colonization, as Earth is dying (obviously as they probably sent Greta Thunberg back to school and completely ignored climate change). Among the new RDA arrivals are ‘recombinants’, Na’vi avatars implanted with the minds and memories of deceased human soldiers, with Quaritch’s recombinant serving as their leader.
Jake stages a guerilla campaign against RDA supply lines, but Quaritch and his subordinates conduct a counterinsurgency mission against Jake and kidnap his children which is a disadvantage he didn’t have in the first movie, although over there he was always hooked to a machine without which his Avatar could not function. Jake and Neytiri arrive and free most of them, but Spider is taken by Quaritch, who recognizes him as his son (no clue how). He decides to spend time with him in order to draw Spider on his side, and in turn, Spider teaches Quaritch about Na’vi culture and language. Aware of the danger Spider’s knowledge of his whereabouts poses to their safety, Jake and his family exile themselves from the Omaticaya and retreat to the Metkayina reef people clan at Pandora’s eastern seaboard. Although Jake and his family are given refuge, they are viewed with antipathy from some of the tribesmen due to their human heritage. Nevertheless, the family learns the ways of the reef people, Kiri develops a spiritual bond with the sea and its creatures, and Lo’ak befriends Tsireya, the daughter of clan chief Tonowari and his wife Ronal.
The next bit of the movie is a lot of teenage crap where basically jealous kids take one of Jake’s kids to the territory of a dangerous sea predator and abandon him there. Lo’ak is saved and befriended by Payakan, a tulkun, an intelligent and pacifistic cetacean species (basically like a whale) whom the Metkayina consider their spiritual family. Upon his return, Lo’ak takes the blame on himself, winning Aonung’s friendship, but is told that Payakan is an outcast among his species. On a trip to the Metkayina’s Spirit Tree, Kiri links with it to meet her mother but suffers a violent seizure. She is healed by Ronal, but when Jake calls Norm Spellman and Max Patel for help, Quaritch is able to track them to the archipelago where the reef people live. Bringing Spider with him, he commandeers a whaling vessel which is hunting tulkuns to harvest their brain enzymes for anti-aging remedies called amrita (a little side note for Western audiences – “Amrita” is actually called Amrit in Pali and Sanskrit and is part of one of Hindu mythology’s most famous stories – the churning of the primordial cosmic ocean by the Devas (Gods) and the Asuras (demons). It is supposed to give immortality and stop ageing to those that drink it. Please don’t assume James Cameron came up with it).
Quaritch begins to brutally question the indigenous tribes about Jake’s location; when this proves fruitless, he orders the whaling crew to wantonly kill tulkuns in order to draw Jake out. Lo’ak mentally links with Payakan and learns that the tulkun was cast out because he went against the pacifist ways of his species and fought back against the RDA whalers who killed his mother. When the Metkayina learn of the tulkun killings, Lo’ak takes off to warn his Tulkun friend Payakan, followed by his siblings, Tsireya, Aonung, and Rotxo (I think James Cameron came up with these names while being drunk in his director’s trailer and asking his assistant to write down anything he mumbled). They find Payakan being chased by the whalers, and Lo’ak, Tsireya, and Tuk are captured by Quaritch. With their children in danger, Jake, Neytiri, and the Metkayina set out to confront the humans. Quaritch forces Jake to surrender, but upon seeing Lo’ak imperiled, Payakan attacks the whalers, triggering a fight that kills most of the crew and sinks the vessel. Neteyam rescues Lo’ak, Tsireya and Spider, but is fatally shot. Jake faces Quaritch, who uses Kiri as a hostage. When Neytiri does the same with Spider, Quaritch at first denies his relationship with him but desists when Neytiri cuts Spider across the chest.
Jake, Quaritch, Neytiri, and Tuk end up trapped inside the sinking vessel. Jake strangles Quaritch into unconsciousness and is rescued by Lo’ak and Payakan, while Kiri summons sea creatures to help her save Neytiri and Tuk. Spider rescues Quaritch, but renounces his cruelty and rejoins Jake’s family. After Neteyam’s funeral, Jake informs Tonowari and Ronal of his decision to leave the Metkayina. Tonowari, however, respectfully identifies him as part of the clan and welcomes his family to stay. Jake and his family accept and forge a new life at sea, with Jake vowing to keep fighting the human invaders. Basically this movie, is not about Jake Sully as much as being about his kids. Kiri does at times give off a blue-haired feminist vibe at times which makes her annoying but thankfully she spends most of the time chilling in the ocean. The two boys are mostly the same except one gets into trouble all the time and the other is a good boy who ends up dying in the movie, so we need to remember one less name going into Avatar 3 which probably might be released when I am 43 (give or take a decade as James Cameron seems to have found some “amrita” of his own which is why he takes so long to make a sequel)
So why were the critics so mad at this movie? Basically the 3D experience got too old, the ocean world was not creative enough, the movie was too long and the “Avatar” concept was broken in this movie. Okay let me destroy these “issues” one at a time. 3D Experience got too old – um not really. Yeah we had a dozen or so Marvel 3D movies come out but atleast the Avatar world takes us on a unique journey instead of experiencing Thor’s biceps in 3D. Ocean world was not creative enough. All these “genius” movie critics saying that should realize most story tellers build universes based on their personal experiences, slightly altering the same. The Pandoran wolves and leopard type creatures from the first movie, also had roots in animals found on Earth except with more limbs or different appearances. So why are you expecting something super crazy now? Even the flying fish creatures, ridden by the sea people have a basis in the Exocoetidae. Next complaint was, it is too long. Um, Lord of The Rings anyone? To describe a fictional universe, you need to take your time. The Harry Potter series tried to rush through The Goblet of Fire and the Order of the Phoenix and we got two pretty average flicks compared to the awesome books. Last was the “Avatar” concept was broken. Well, the villains were all in Avatar suits and plus technology moved ahead in a decade so obviously they could not be lugging heavy boxes everywhere. Plus, most of the original soldiers were already dead so they would need to introduce a whole new set of enemies and give them sort of back story and that would have made the movie even longer.
Avatar – The Way of Water is a brilliant movie and way better than most of the “woke” Marvel movies we have been enduring lately since Endgame. It is creative, it adds a whole new universe to Pandora and it keeps you engaged till the very end.
Avatar – The Way of Water is as good as the original and still manages to leave audiences awestruck. Go watch it and explore a new world in Pandora.