/ 15 January 2023

One Film Two Takes: Avatar 2: The Way of Water

Avatar2 Thewayofwater
True blue: Avatar 2: The Way of Water explores many of the same themes as the first movie, such as conservation of the environment, greed and spirituality.

With big claims, big names, and big budgets come extra-high expectations. When they watch Disney’s Avatar 2: The Way of Water, directed by the legendary James Cameron and released 13 years after its box-office busting predecessor, audiences can expect stunning entertainment, while Disney is set to rake in the profits. 

Set a decade after the first film, Avatar 2 picks up the story of Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), in his Na’vi form, who has formed a family with his Na’vi partner Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) on the distant planet, Pandora. 

Sully has evidently evolved from grunty American marine to a protective, paternal figure for his five children. 

A threat familiar from the first film returns to Pandora to finish what it started — the human-led Resource Development Administration (RDA) escapes Earth’s environmental collapse and discovers a most desirable commodity — an anti-aging liquid derived from a whale-like species on Pandora. 

The RDA’s destructive return to Pandora —wiping out forests and oceans — is even bigger than the previous colonisations, turning Sully’s Na’vi tribe into refugees.  

Avatar 2 is a fun, crowd-pleasing movie but a rewatch of the first movie is necessary to refresh your memory, especially now that the franchise has been renewed for a third film next year and a fourth in 2026. 

Cameron builds a good grudge match between Neytiri and Spider (Jack Champion), a boy who was unable to return to Earth as a human, whom Neytiri struggles to trust. 

As in the 2009 Avatar, a natural substance is used to justify why the RDA is destroying Pandora’s forests and oceans and slaughtering galactic-aquatic creatures. 

It is evident that Cameron does not care about this precious commodity as much as the point he is trying to make, which is that humanity is destroying this planet in pursuit of profits. 

He explores a simple message — the importance of our environment and the need to respect native people who have an intimate and ancestral connection to the environment, which capitalism does not. 

Cameron’s portrayal of the RDA’s slaughtering of the whales is disturbing and traumatising. Because RDA’s greed is so obvious, it’s easy to side with the Na’vi and the ocean creatures in their mission to literally squash and destroy humans. 

Avatar 2 shows how lucrative mixing live action with expensive computer-generated imagery (CGI) is in today’s cinematic universe. This film is visually impressive but the storyline is nothing new. 

However, the repetition of the message may be what audiences need — this destruction is not just on a faraway planet but happening right here on Earth, outside the air-conditioned theatres. 

Despite trying to position itself independently of its predecessor, it is hard to watch Avatar 2 without comparing it to the first film. In the latter, it was easy to get bored during scenes when Sully was in human form because you wanted to return to the extraordinary blue Na’vi scenes. Avatar 2 is, unfortunately, only visually dazzling. 

There are hectic massacres, Na’vi bravery, and a rollercoaster of emotions, but Avatar 2 is too long. No film should run for three hours. The extra-long runtime and extra-loud explosions make it merely a really, really expensive cartoon. — Kimberley Schoeman 

If someone had asked me five years ago if I enjoyed animated movies, I probably would have laughed. But after watching Avatar: The Way of Water I’m sold on the idea.

I have always found it difficult to relate to mystical characters which don’t look or even sound like me and, the older I become, the tougher it has been for animated films to capture my attention. 

After the release of the first Avatar in 2009, it was clear that award-winning director James Cameron had created an imaginative, innovative cinematic experience. And he has certainly maintained that through the latest instalment. 

As an animation sceptic, I only watched the first movie about five years after it was released. Avatar bagged more than 20 awards, including Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture, Best Director Motion Picture as well as Academy Awards for Best Visual Effects and Best Cinematography.  

What initially captivated me about the first movie, apart from its exceptional cinematic quality, was that I found myself emotionally invested in Jake Sully’s journey of self-discovery and how he begins to understand the Na’vi people.  

And it was with that appreciation of a compelling plot, highlighting themes of spirituality, greed, modernisation vs nature and love, that I experienced the sequel. 

Similar to the original blockbuster, the mission in Avatar: The Way of Water is to protect Pandora and the Na’vi from the invasion of humans. What’s different this time is that this film centres around the family and the lengths parents will go to in order to protect their children.

Neytiri continues as a character imbued with strength, resilience, bravery and is a symbol of the protection in The Way of Water, as she was in the first film. In this storyline, after a horrific incident, we get to witness what lengths she will go to when protecting the people she loves the most. 

I got to understand the effects of grief through Neytiri. If “holding a grudge” was a person, Neytiri would be the poster child. 

Her rage and aggression in the final battle against the human troops is beautifully and passionately captured by Cameron. The rampage she goes on is filmed in wide-to-medium shots and we only see her close up at the very end of the scene. 

Choosing to show her rage in this manner had me emotionally invested in Neytiri’s grief. It was an intense and heartfelt moment in the film where you see how loss can manifest itself in anguish.         

I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed Avatar: The Way of Water and it’s certainly worth a watch if you enjoyed the first one. — Bongeka Gumede