The year was 2009, Avatar was a massive hit, and I had no idea why. How was this good-but-not-great Pocahontas riff doing so well, breaking box office records left and right?
I didn’t have to ask this question too many times before I realized my mistake—I had seen James Cameron’s sci-fi epic in 2D, when the spectacle of the 3D was half the experience.
I didn’t love the story, but the story was not the point. This is a sentiment that also perfectly encapsulates the long-awaited sequel, Avatar: The Way of Water, which has a serviceable enough plot that is greatly overshadowed by its technical achievements, stunning 3D, and gorgeous visuals.
Having learned my lesson, I coughed up the extra few dollars to see Way of Water in 3D, and I am very glad I did. The world of Pandora is stunning and vibrant, and this time we even get to go along with James Cameron to his happy place—the ocean.
A lot of the self-indulgent “look how cool we can make stuff look!” moments could have been cut, true, and Way of Water might have had better pacing and a more reasonable run time because of it, but things just looked so cool that I really didn’t mind.
The story and characters themselves are by no means bad in and of themselves, of course. There is as nice message about family at the core of the proceedings, and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t completely invested in Jake Sully and his blue kitty cat family by the time the exciting climax (which features the most badass space whale of all time) came along.
The other messages are more of the same—humans are terrible to nature, nature always wins in the end, etc.—but that’s fine. Once again, it is not the point.
I’m just glad that Way of Water not once mentioned “Unobtanium,” because it turns out I can take the world of Pandora much more seriously without that silly word floating around in the back of my head.
I would be remiss if I didn’t also give a shout out to the excellent acting, particularly by Zoe Saldana and her ever-haunting and sorrowful wails, and Sigourney Weaver, who plays a teenage Smurf so convincingly that I had no idea it was her until the end credits. The entire cast, both returning and new, help bring Pandora to life just as much as the special effects. I’m looking at you, badass space whale.
Avatar: The Way of Water is not so much a film as it is an experience. You would be doing yourself a disservice if you saw it in theaters in 2D, a disservice only dwarfed by waiting to see it on the small screen.
If the inevitable third movie finally hits that sweet spot of having a plot equal to the visual feast, the Avatar franchise might just become unstoppable.
Avatar: The Way of Water is now in theaters.