“Avatar: The Way of Water”: Big Jim is Back


Will Teare

Director: James Cameron

Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, with Kate Winslet and Cliff Curtis

Release Date: December 16, 2022

Rating: 4/5 

I needed a hero. It was finals week and I was almost done after multiple nights of little sleep and much work. I took a look at the release schedule for the rest of the year and besides maybe Noah Baumbach’s “White Noise” and Damien Chazelle’s divisive epic “Babylon” there wasn’t much to look forward to. But then I remembered, he’s coming back. The self-proclaimed “King of the World” is risen to release me from the chains of academia and bring me to Pandora. I am now very happy to say, in my expert opinion, Jimbo did the trick. 

“Avatar: The Way of Water” picks up a little after ten years from its predecessor with Jake Sully and Neytiri. In the time between films, they’ve had kids! Two boys and a girl while adopting a mysterious Na’vi girl named Kiri. But when an old evil returns to Pandora, the Sullys are forced to retreat deeper into the planet to a faraway land. As they try to assimilate with the oceanic people known as the Metkayina tribe, Jake realizes it may not be enough to escape the horrid sky people.

I was never a huge “Avatar” guy growing up. I was aware of it and put it off until I finally watched it at home a few years ago. I thought it was just okay, I even resented it a little for being overhyped. But then, I saw it in IMAX when Disney put it out a few weeks back. Something clicked. I simply opened my heart and let it all wash over me and it really took me on a ride. Sure it’s a very simple, dare I say “bare-bones story” but that’s not what you’re there for on Pandora. James is trying to give you an experience to reflect his concerns on the state of things but simultaneously sweep you off your feet in a sci-fi/fantasy adventure. The first “Avatar” excels at that. The second film might do that but even better.

This film is exceptional blockbuster filmmaking. I didn’t think someone could really give me that rush in 2022 after “Nope” but here we are. The way James Cameron is able to fully sell me on a movie after a few minutes into what I know is a 3 hour ride is quite impressive. This is even more impressive considering I think he totally earned my 3 hours. Sure, the middle hour grinds to a halt but honestly, I was so there for it all. Chalk it up to my love of fantasy worlds and my much-needed escapism from the thralls of daily life but anytime Big Jim wanted to give me weird world-building stuff I only wanted even more of it. 

Movies have been made fun of for becoming an event, or some amusement park ride. I know I’m certainly on that team, but that’s maybe the best thing about “Avatar: The Way of Water”. It’s in that rare camp of movies where it’s more “experience” than “film”. I could tell you that my favorite performance was surprisingly Stephen Lang as Colonel Quaritch or Jake Sully is a much better character. I could just tell you that I didn’t get enough time with the best character in the whole franchise, Zoe Saldaña’s Neytiri. But all that would be doing it a disservice. For the first time in a while, there aren’t too many actual spoilers you can put online because it really is just a movie you need to go to theaters and experience. 

Okay film nerds, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Let’s talk about variable frame rates. All movies(or at least the good ones) operate at 24 frames per second. Been doin’ that since the dawn of cinema as an art form. Here, Mr. Cameron sometimes ups it to 48 fps for effect. Now in Jim’s defense, it’s done remarkably well and quite smoothly. However, every time it came on it genuinely looked like a video game. I was almost upset that I couldn’t pick up my controller and start playing. This is a new technique that I’m sure could be utilized artfully in the right hands somewhere down the line. But for right now, it’s bold, very bold, but I don’t think we’re ready for that yet. It’s just a little too gimmicky for my taste. 

Other than that, I really don’t have anything bad to say! Sure, you can get all uppity about James Cameron-type dialogue, but honestly, I think it’s just beautiful. I mean something about the sheer madness to have 74-year-old Sigourney Weaver play a 14-year-old that says “I’m not your buttercup ya perv.” is just blockbuster filmmaking at its wildest and I have to respect it. When Big Jim goes big he means BIG, and as a humble moviegoing citizen of the United States, I can’t really complain about it. 

I mean when the guy who made “Titanic”, “Aliens”, and “Terminator 2” has a movie on the way, what am I to do but be there opening night. And after “Avatar: The Way of Water”, I’ll be there anytime.