REVIEW: Avatar: The Way of Water (2022)

Avatar 2: Blue AND Green Cat-People in Space!

I probably have a similar history with James Cameron’s Avatar to that of most people. I saw it once when it came out and loved the visuals and music. However, I wasn’t won over by the movie’s paper-thin characters and paint-by-numbers story of colonialism and love overcoming the odds. There were some interesting ideas, but I was unimpressed with the execution. If Avatar wasn’t such a box-office juggernaut and Cameron didn’t eventually announce a barrage of sequels, I would have forgotten about this movie. When those sequels were announced, I was surprised and assumed they would be about the same. Let’s dive in. 

The Way of Water picks up years after the first film; Jake (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) now have a brood of precocious kids striving to live up to their parents. Life is good, as Jake leads raids on the remaining Skypeople, and Neytiri balances badassery and parenthood. However, this blissful status quo is disturbed when Col. Quaritch (Stephen Lang) returns in Avatar form to exact revenge on Jake. The family is forced to relocate and join a tribe of water Na’vi called the Metkayina. This presents its own challenges, forcing the Sullys to adapt and evade Quaritch. 

Let’s get this out of the way: this is the same story as the first Avatar. Just like Jake in the first one, his kids are thrust into a strange culture and forced to adapt. One of his sons even falls in love with the local Chief’s daughter, and they bridge the cultural gap. The upshot is that this one tells this basic story a little bit better. I enjoyed The Way of Water more than Avatar because some characters (Jake’s daughter Kiri, Col. Quaritch) are actually fleshed-out and have interesting story arcs. The love stories of both Jake/Neytiri and Lo’ak/Tsireya remain stale, predictable, and devoid of any charm or personality. 

Avatar The Way of Water

Another issue I have is with the script. For one thing, most characters are still plain and lack anything unique to distinguish them. We learn nothing about Neytiri except the stuff from the first one. She’s a warrior; she’s pretty, ruthless, and loves Jake. Jake gets some new layers to his character in his interactions with his children. He treats each of them differently, and we see how his priorities have changed. That’s pretty good; I found him much more engaging here than in Avatar. I think the basis of a strong lead was always there, with his military background and disability. The script just didn’t support the story and characters enough.

I’m sad to say that while The Way of Water’s script is an improvement, it’s still the film’s biggest handicap. I wonder why James Cameron wants the characters in this franchise to be so dull and uninspired, but they are so because the script is banal, relying on tropes and shorthand. There’s a lot of slang I found out of place as well. Avatar wasn’t exactly a timeless classic, but I didn’t find the dialogue this distracting. The Na’vi call one another “bro,” “dude,” and at one point, Kiri calls one of the invaders a “perv.” It pulls me out of the movie and distracts me in a way I can’t ignore.

Finally, I dislike the narration mechanism in these movies. Having Jake Sully narrate the film, telling us how he feels about things and explaining the world-building verbally, is a mistake. I’d love to watch things play out and learn about Pandora and its inhabitants visually, but Jake won’t shut up and let the movie speak for itself. Throughout this film, he says, “A father protects” rather than just showing this in his choices. This theme or message is patently obvious through the film’s events, so I don’t know why Jake has to come out and announce it this way. No spoilers, but at the end, he verbally states what he learned in this movie. This is screenwriting 101; show, don’t tell. Why did they do this? It robs potentially emotional payoffs because we’re too busy listening to exposition to sit with the characters. 

Avatar The Way of Water

That’s a real shame because The Way of Water made me feel more in a couple of scenes than Avatar did in its entirety. There’s a reason so many online make jokes about The Last Airbender being the real Avatar. Most of it comes down to attachment to the material. I never felt emotionally attached to anybody or anything in Avatar, and I don’t know anybody who did. Kiri’s journey is satisfying despite a couple of setups that go nowhere. For that matter, this movie is bad about setting things up and doing nothing with them. I guess some of it is being saved for Avatar 7, but watching The Way of Water, I found it distracting. Without going into spoilers, Jake is warned that something Kiri does could kill or harm her. He looks troubled but never communicates this to her, and she continues doing it, and nothing bad happens. What was the point of that scene?

Regardless, Kiri has an interesting, engaging, emotional character arc, which is more than I can say about anyone in Avatar. Quaritch also gets more characterization than I expected here. I hesitate to call this impressive because he’s still far from a fully realized character. Still, he has more going on under the surface than in Avatar. I also feel an improvement in Jake as a lead, and I loved the bond between the family members. I wish we got to know Neytiri better and learned why these two, in particular, ended up together, aside from the obvious marketing reasons. 

Avatar The Way of Water

Avatar: The Way of Water is an improvement over the original, for what that’s worth. The characters are more dynamic, and the water effects are just as impressive as you’d expect. With that being said, the script is still very surface-level, and I’d expect more visual storytelling from a movie with such beautiful visuals. This is a frustrating movie for me, more so than the first one, which I didn’t care about. Finally, if you’re wondering if this movie justifies its over-3-hour runtime, I’d say no. After seeing the whole thing, I don’t see why The Way of Water had to be more than two-and-a-half hours. 

Avatar: The Way of Water (2022)

Plot - 4
Acting - 7
Direction/Editing - 10
Music/Sound - 9
Character development - 4



Avatar: The Way of Water is an improvement over its predecessor, but its lovely visuals and rousing musical score are still hampered by a meandering script.

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