Avatar: The Way of Water – sink or swim

Avatar: The Way of Water

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

It would be easy enough to slam James Cameron’s new film, Avatar: The Way of Water, for being too long, too expensive, too preachy, too goofy or just too “been there, done that,” but despite those minor complaints this movie is still an incredible, thrilling, jaw-dropping experience and every second of its 13 years in the making is astoundingly evident up on the big screen.

In case you missed the original Avatar in 2009, Earthlings have invaded a distant moon called Pandora and we’re stealing its resources and destroying its inhabitants (as we are apt to do). The natives are fighting back, so the military attempts to infiltrate the Na’vi tribe by transferring the mind of a human soldier into an alien body.

Things go awry when the soldier sympathizes with the natives and the story has often been described as Dances With Wolves in space… or better yet, like Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars in that it’s the story of an incapacitated soldier having an out-of-body experience with weird aliens on a strange planet – just like John Carter.

The new story takes place some 10 years after the end of the first film, with Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) living the Na’vi good life with four kids and a weird human child (Jack Champion) named Spider, who acts more animal than human. And in an odd bit of casting, Sigourney Weaver plays Jake and Neytiri’s adopted teenage daughter, Kiri.

But just when everything is all blue and beautiful, those pesky humans show up again and the forest is up in flames. Even worse, the military evildoer from the first film is back, but this time Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang) has taken over the body of a Na’vi native himself and is set on revenge against Sully.

In order to protect his tribe, Jake and his family leave the forest and find themselves hiding amongst their more ocean-friendly cousins, the Metkayina, where the Sullys soon learn, you guessed it, the way of the water.

Be it in the forest, the coastline, or the ocean, Cameron’s world of Pandora is endlessly amazing. You could watch this film a dozen times and still never catch all of the beautiful detail on the screen. The motion-capture performances, the computer-generated effects and the unbridled imagination behind it all are breathtaking, and the 3-D action sequences are off-the-rails exciting.

And Cameron brings some of his old cinematic staples as well, like a crew of military renegades reminiscent of the platoon in Aliens (accept this time they are the aliens), and there is even an extended ending that will take you back to the time of Titanic. (Did I mention that Kate Winslet plays Ronal, the wife of the Metkayina leader?)

The storytelling here is very clearly inspired by the pulp space-fantasy serial stories of the early 20th century (like the aforementioned Burroughs’ John Carter tales), and at over three hours, Cameron packs in plenty of cliffhangers.

Avatar: The Way of Water does have some problems, like a script that should probably have received some more attention, but for my money it would be hard to beat this movie and a big bag of popcorn at a Saturday morning matinee.

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