Some films ask the audience to immerse themselves in visual brilliance and overlook all else but James Cameron does not expect that. His latest, Avatar: The Way of Water is both visually striking and brilliant, despite shortcomings in scriptwriting.
The Way of Water picks up a few years after the events of the 2009 film Avatar which was considered to be almost revolutionary for cinema (and the theatre experience). The former human marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) has now completely assimilated into his life as a Na’vi.
He, and his mate Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña), are now parents to a bunch of kids – the stoic and responsible eldest Neteyam (Jamie Flatters), the firebrand Lo’ak (Britain Dalton), the empathetic Kiri (Sigourney Weaver), and Tuktirey (Trinity Jo-Li Bliss).
A human boy who was left behind when the Earthlings left, Spider (Jack Champion) is now like a cousin to the kids.
This Utopia is soon disrupted by the return of the ‘sky people’ with weapons that can raze the forests the Na’vi hold dear and sacred in a minute. Sully and Neytiri then make the gut-wrenching decision to abandon their land and the people they vowed to protect to find sanctuary.
The original Avatar had a major flaw – the white man’s guilt makes him a saviour to the same Indegenous population he tried to destroy.
This film skirts away from that, putting the Na’vi family at the epicenter of every conflict and yet, the stakes never rise above a limit. It seems like the film, shot in the controversial 48 frames per second, is often about beauty and opulence above all else.
With The Way of Water, Cameron has recreated (and even overshadowed) the visual magic of Avatar but there’s little to expect with character building.
While the entire cast performs well, and seem to be perfectly fit for their roles, Saldaña, Weaver, and Kate Winslet as the Metkayina leader Ronal stand out with their powerful portrayals.
However, the relationship that all the characters share with each other in the film is well sketched out – especially the ones the kids share with their parents and those around them.
Neteyam’s equation with Sully is starkly different from Lo’ak’s and even beyond that, Kiri’s experience as an adopted child differs from the former.
This deep understanding of adolescence, especially when it comes to the emotional weight of being an outcast (or the sense of not belonging) is the core of the film, instead of the critique of imperialism like its predecessor.
The film, through the worlds that Cameron has expertly and meticulously built, explores the relationship that the natives have with nature – from learning to adapt and breathe for longer underwater to building spiritual bonds with migratory species (here named ‘tulkun’).
The latter part of the film plays out like an action film as all loyalty and revenge is tested and meted out in equal measure but it’s a pity since the interactions between Na’vi and the Metkayini deserved more screen space.
Thankfully, The Way of Water doesn’t go the Black Panther: Wakanda Forever way, pitting two underdogs against each other – the two clans fight as one against their foreign invaders.
Avatar: The Way of Water is an experience more than it is a film because you will find yourself taken aback when you leave the darkness of the theatre as you’re jerked back into reality. James Cameron is a master filmmaker with a strong grasp at what he wants to audience to ‘see’, here’s hoping his next Avatar installment has more to ‘tell’.