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There’s no better filmmaker to usher back in the modern age of must-see blockbuster entertainment than James Cameron, and his “Avatar: The Way of Water” is the most visually incredible film I have ever seen. This gorgeous, technically advanced, science fiction action thriller is nothing short of spectacular.
In order to fully appreciate this follow-up to Cameron’s 2009 film “Avatar” (the highest grossing movie of all time), I highly recommend that you give this one the classic moviegoing experience it deserves: in other words, see it on a massive screen in a real theater. And here is something you have never heard me say before and probably will never hear me say again: see this movie in 3-D. The technology is dazzling, and the three-dimensional visuals are so immersive that it will transport you to another world.
Set more than a decade after the events of its predecessor, the film tells the story of the Sully family, including Jake (Sam Worthington) ,his now-wife Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), and their children. When an enemy from the past makes a sudden return to their peaceful home on the planet of Pandora, Jake must quickly uproot his family and seek safety on the coast. They move from the forest to the ocean, and must learn the ways of the Na’vi who live in the water. With serious trouble following the family and imminent danger lurking nearby, they must work together and fight to keep each other safe.
The story heavily references and builds on the original “Avatar” film and assumes that you recall quite a bit from the first movie. While it will prove helpful to have a brief refresher on the “who’s who” in the canon, you can still follow along even if you don’t remember much about it. There are a lot of new characters introduced (you could argue too many), but most are well-developed, emotionally rich, and thoroughly interesting. The plot is simple but stays engaging for almost the entirety of its 3-hours-plus run time and what the film lacks in story, it makes up for tenfold in pure visual artistry.
The technical achievement is astounding. In tandem with the dazzling cinematography, the 3-D technology takes the film to another level. Throughout the journey, audiences are treated to scenes of soaring over the misty mountains of Pandora next to colorful banshees, frolicking underwater with colossal dragon-like whales, and floating through the vastness of outer space. The action pieces are thrilling, including a chase through a seaweed forest that’s one of the most amazing looking film sequences of all time. The 3-D is so good that there are times I felt queasy, getting a bit of motion sickness from the dizzying, swooping scenes. The high frame rate (HRF) technology (where footage is run at 48 frames per second rather than the standard 24) is sometimes distracting with its hyper-real feel, however.
The film’s success is not solely due to its visual spectacle. There’s a massive emotional weight to the storytelling, where characters face real danger and high stakes. There’s a touching family drama underneath the surface. Cameron also incorporates themes that are important to him personally, like animal rights, kindness towards all creatures, ocean conservation, and other pro-environmental messages. It’s a story with strong messaging about respecting Mother Earth and placing a high value on nature. Cameron does a great job building an emotional attachment with the sea creatures in his story, which makes the especially grim scenes of whale hunting feel even more upsetting and awful.
The film requires a good deal of stamina, especially when it gets draggy during the last half hour. It’s a little exhausting to have your mind and eyes so engaged with what’s on screen, but “Avatar: The Way of Water” is the perfect example of James Cameron doing what he does best. This exhilarating, breathtaking, sci-fi action spectacle is a rare sequel that improves upon the original.
By: Louisa Moore / SCREEN ZEALOTS