'Avatar: The Way of Water' Is a Visually Stunning Follow-Up, But Is That Enough?

When I saw the first Avatar film in 2009, I was not the biggest fan. I’ll admit, it was visually stunning and immersive—but dangling a few shiny objects can only distract me for so long. For instance, the lush, magical forests weren’t enough to make me ignore the predictable storyline and stereotypical characters. And the impressive CGI didn’t quite make up for the problematic “white savior” trope.

So, yes, I was one of the few who had a bone to pick with Avatar while the rest of the world fawned over the striking visuals in Pandora. But now, having watched the film’s follow-up, Avatar: The Way of Water, I will say that the director raised the bar with mesmerizing visuals. And while it's not perfect (particularly when it comes to showing cross-cultural differences), it does a great job of highlighting the importance of family, community and loyalty. Oh, and those action sequences? *Chef's kiss*

In case you haven’t seen the first film, it revolves around a paralyzed former Marine named Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), who regains his mobility as an Avatar when he goes to the alien world of Pandora. After bonding with the native tribe, he gets emotionally attached to their planet and abandons his original assignment to protect their home from the Sky People (humans).

Now, more than a decade after Jake has rallied the people to victory, the sequel sees the Omaticaya clan’s newfound leader and his wife, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), living peacefully with their children in the forests of Pandora. But their happily ever after doesn’t last for too long, because the corrupt Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang) and his team are back for revenge—but this time, as Na’vi avatars.

As expected, the three-and-a-half-hour-long sci-fi epic is even more dazzling than the first, especially with the introduction of the Metkayina clan and their breathtaking underwater adventures. Expect to see a variety of stunning sea creatures, from swarms of glowing fish to massive four-eyed whales. It’s especially fun to see Jake’s family learn to adapt as they explore the sea world, and the Metkayina people’s special connection with these creatures is definitely a highlight. (For instance, one whale-like creature, known as the tulkun, is considered Ronal's soul sister.)

avatar way of water review
20th Century Studios

Another plus? The film’s focus on family, acceptance and loyalty. Jake and his family flee from their home and seek refuge with this water clan in order to protect his family. The Metkayina people (reluctantly) let them stay, and despite initial tensions, they become like a family. So when the military eventually tracks Jake down and brings the war to their island, they don’t hesitate to join forces and fight. And the result? A seriously intense battle that’ll have you on the edge of your seat.

But gorgeous visuals and action sequences aside, The Way of Water doesn't exactly boast a unique storyline, and the film could’ve done a better job of breaking down the distinctions between the Omaticaya and Metkayina clans. Yes, there are some surface-level differences that get pointed out, like the color of their skin and the shape of their tails and their ability to breathe under water. But the history behind these cultural differences doesn't really get explored. It's never explained why the Metkayina developed certain practices or how they came to connect so easily with the sea creatures.

avatar way of water colonel

And then of course, there's the portrayal of Quaritch and his blue minions, who are hell-bent on taking over Pandora by any means necessary. Quite frankly, they all come off as greedy, self-absorbed, one-dimensional villains—even with Quaritch's small (but surprising) moment of vulnerability when it comes to his son.

But even with these drawbacks, The Way of Water touches on some valuable themes and provides plenty of eye candy. Avatar fans who love the spectacle certainly won't be disappointed.

PureWow Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Avatar: The Way of Water—especially when viewed in 3D—is visually breathtaking, colorful and immersive. While the film could've done more to explore deeper themes, loyal fans of the franchise won't be disappointed by this wild, mesmerizing underwater adventure.

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Nakeisha Campbell

Associate Editor, News and Entertainment

Nakeisha has been interviewing celebrities and covering all things entertainment for over 8 years, but she has also written on a wide range of topics, like career...
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