Is Avatar: The Way of Water Worth Seeing?


(Artwork/Kayla Zhang ’24)

Tony Wang, Online Staff Writer

James Cameron’s 2009 Avatar stands as the highest-grossing movie of all time, raking in nearly $3 billion at the box office. The film follows paraplegic former Marine Jake Sully and his adventures on the extraterrestrial planet of Pandora, where the Na’vi, an alien race, live. To survive the extreme conditions, he’s linked to the mind of an Avatar—a human/Na’vi hybrid—and learns to live with the natives, even falling in love with Neytiri, a Na’vi woman. Soon, however, he realizes that he must choose between humanity and the Na’vi. So was a sequel necessary, especially thirteen years after its release? Did it come even close to the spectacle the first movie achieved?

When considering statistics, yes, Avatar: The Way of Water has already crossed the $2 billion milestone and has ascended to become the fourth highest-grossing film of all time less than two months after its release. But many aspects of this film are not nearly as good as the numbers make them seem. A significant criticism of the first Avatar was that its plot was weak and had virtually no cultural impact. Additionally, Indigenous groups advocated boycotting the movie altogether due to its appropriation of Native culture. Unfortunately, The Way of Water suffers from the same issues. Sophomore Eric Xia thinks the story “could’ve been more innovative,” a sentiment shared by many. Others have criticized the film for being much like its predecessor in its reliance on racist and antiquated tropes. Although there are plenty of new additions in terms of characters and setting, the story structure is nearly identical to the first, featuring many clichés and plot contrivances. The first two hours jump around different plots, focus on various characters, and essentially serve as a prolonged buildup to its third and last hour. Granted, its final act is action-packed, the pacing is rapid, and the scenes are imbued with tension, but the middle parts of the film drag, seem weak at times and are simply unnecessary.

Where The Way of Water lacks, it makes up for through stunning visuals. Many attribute the original film’s success to its industry-changing special effects, but what about now, a decade later? Standards have risen to absurd levels, and no digital imagery surprises viewers anymore in an era of CGI overload. However, the digital effects in The Way of Water evoke a kind of wonder that is rare in modern blockbusters. Through producing a movie entirely reliant on VFX, Cameron creates an incredibly consistent visual experience. 1,700 people worked on the visual effects, and nearly all the liquid in this movie is computer-generated. Only two shots in the whole film contain no VFX. The groundbreaking visual techniques featured in Avatar: The Way of Water redefine the borders of technology in film, similar to the phenomenon the first film achieved. Within the movie, these outstanding visuals serve their purpose of immersing us in the world of Pandora with ease. The Na’vi feel real enough to touch, the scenery and soundtrack place audiences in a beautiful and majestic world far from Earth, and the directing is simply spectacular; unfortunately, poor writing sometimes breaks this immersion. Additionally, the film would benefit immensely from further input from Indigenous groups and a more innovative storyline rather than relying on elements from other cultures.

So, is Avatar: The Way of Water worth seeing? Definitely, but not for the story itself or its cultural significance (many other series have attempted the same thing and accomplished it better), but to reward your eyes with a supreme, once-in-a-lifetime show.