Avatar: The Way Of Water brings back epic cinema, Latest Movies News - The New Paper

Avatar: The Way Of Water brings back epic cinema

Avatar: The Way Of Water (PG13)

192 minutes

Opens Dec 15
4 stars

The story: In this sequel to the 2009 hit, former Earth soldier Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) has lived on Pandora for over a decade in his Na’vi avatar – the tall blue alien body that his mind was downloaded into in the first film. He and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) are mates and have children. Their life in the forest is shattered by invaders. Fleeing to the coast, they find refuge with a group of sea-adapted Na’vi, the Metkayina. The film is a two-parter, with the second half expected in 2024.

Sometimes, something happens in the cinema that lets audiences know that a breakthrough has happened, that film-making has reached a new, higher level. This movie, which the reviewer watched on Imax 3D at Shaw Lido, has created that moment.

Visually, it is astonishing. The migraine-inducing attempt at 3D of the Fantastic Beasts franchise (2016 to 2022) can be seen as an aberration rather than an example of the format.

In Avatar: The Way Of Water, nothing is murky – the colours are vibrant and the focus sharp. Director and co-writer James Cameron clearly understands how the large-screen 3D format works.

The visual storytelling is not just beautiful – some moments are pure cinematic bliss – but also coherent. There are no whiplash-inducing camera spins or pointless spinning drone shots.

At its heart, this is an old-fashioned survival adventure about a family in a strange land – in the style of Swiss Family Robinson (1960), with just a touch of the Disney high-school drama as the Sully children come of age in the Metkayina youth pecking order. Yes, there is getting-shoved-into-the-lockers action, Pandora-style.

Zoe Saldana’s vivid performance as the awesomely fierce warrior-mother breathes life into the story’s formulaic structure. She delivers the tear-jerking punch that comes in the final act.

If one were to find a bone to pick, it would be the liberal American lens through which Cameron and the other screenwriters view tribal communities. It is so infantilising – think animated film The Lion King (1994) – that it is comedic.

At a bladder-busting three hours and 12 minutes, this movie is not as long as, say, the epic drama Lawrence Of Arabia (1962), which ran at three hours and 42 minutes. But the older film, as was common in those days, had an intermission.

But Avatar should keep audiences pinned to their seats throughout its marathon length because Cameron offers spectacle – overwhelming amounts of it. Not just in eye-popping seascapes and magnificently baroque Pandoran sea creatures, but also in the film-maker’s understanding of the physics of large objects.

(From left) Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), Ronal (Kate Winslet) and Tonowari (Cliff Curtis) in Avatar: The Way Of Water. PHOTO: THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY


As in his Titanic (1997), there is an all-out, go-for-broke climax in which massive machines groan, fold over, crack and break up in ways that are not just impressive and interesting – they become characters in their own right. This scene alone makes the work highly rewatchable.

Hot take: Do not wait for streaming or be put off by the runtime. If you have to, invest in adult diapers and watch this visual spectacle in the biggest, brightest cinema near you.