‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ Offers Subversive Defense of Nuclear Family

Cameron's stunning sequel matches eco-warnings with parental empowerment

James Cameron has done it again.

“Avatar: The Way of Water” is a near-perfect sequel to his groundbreaking 2009 original. That isn’t as complimentary as it sounds.

“Water,” the first in a proposed series of sequels, essentially re-tells the “Avatar” saga. A peaceful, nature-loving species is once again attacked by cold, cruel humans from planet Earth.

Boo! Hiss!

They must rally to fend off invaders who place no value on life, be it an alien species or the creatures that inhabit various worlds.

The same ol’ flaws still stick to the saga, from clunky dialogue to story beats that don’t make much sense. We’re also asked, again, to root against the human race.

It’s still a mesmerizing experience, unlike anything you’ll see this year on the big screen, or maybe next. That matters.

Avatar: The Way of Water | New Trailer

Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and his bride, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) are living a blissful life on Pandora when we reunite with the Na’vi couple. They have four precocious children, and the horrors of the past are but a memory.

“Happiness is simple,” the proud husband and papa says … until the Sky People touch down on their planet. Again.

Led by Edie Falco in a poorly realized role, the invaders want to move the human race from a dying earth (why is it dying, pray tell?) to Pandora. And, if that means crushing some of the locals in the process, so be it.

Move. Or we’ll move you.

To make this happen, the “Sky People” unleash a new version of Stephen Lang’s baddie from the first film, Colonel Quaritch. Why? Cameron needed some continuity between the films, and Lang remains a wildly entertaining villain.

This time, Colonel Quaritch is an Avatar, a Na’vi creature who looks as tall and blue as the native population.

It’s still Colonel Quaritch, though, from his sneer to his brutal methods. And he wants to hunt down Jake, the turncoat who helped repel the Sky People during the first “Avatar.”

Why, though? Shouldn’t the mission focus on saving the Earth’s population, not blunt-force revenge? It’s something “The Way of Water” has little interest in addressing. When you’ve spent 13 years between films you should have game planned these questions.


Jake’s family moves from its beloved wilderness to the sea to avoid the Colonel’s clutches. They’re taken in by a tribe of Metkayina who live near Pandora’s perfectly blue waters. Will Sully and co. be safe there, though, with Lang’s digital recreation bent on revenge?

A nagging sense creeps up while being dazzled by “Avatar: The Way of Water.” For all of Cameron’s mastery, there’s little reason to tell this story. The first film shared all the messages that needed to be shared, from humanity’s cold approach to other life forms to our willingness to mock Mother Earth.

Done and done.

Those narratives are here, too, and even the plots of the two movies are staggeringly similar. The first movie found humans trying to swipe Unobtanium from the world of Pandora, and they didn’t care how many natives died in the process.

This time, the earth itself is dying and humans want to “pacify” the Pandora locals to relocate to the bountiful realm (even though humans can’t breathe the air). And they don’t care how many natives die in the process.

Why did Cameron wait, and wait, to tell such a similar story? Just know that he’s squeezed every last artistic breakthrough into “Water,” and that by itself is enough to recommend the film.

The film looks magnificent, although that word fails to capture what audiences will experience here. It’s a near-perfect marriage of digital effects and real-world actors and props. “The Way of Water” feels light years ahead of the 2009 film, visually speaking. The 3D is breathtaking, the visuals astound and the creativity poured into this realm must be seen to be believed.

Even the 3D makes you want Hollywood to give the gimmick a second try (actually, a fourth try if we’re counting past experiments in that third dimension) … if only for a moment.

There’s nary a sequence when you doubt the Na’vi are as real as the human figures, although very few can be seen in the film.

Yes, that’s Jemaine Clement as a local hunter conflicted by his mission, but the script doesn’t leverage his comic energy. Far better is Spider (Jack Champion), a human living among the Na’vi who embraced their culture from top to bottom. He even hisses like them when threatened, and his presence proves electric.


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The “Avatar” franchise is set in the 22nd century, but Cameron and co. insist on adding modern phrases that take you out of that setting. Words like “dips***” and “wuss” rush to mind. And when someone says, “Show me the money,” your eyes may roll out of your head and onto the movie theater’s sticky floor.

At least it’ll be in 3-D, right?

Cameron’s eco-beliefs are never far from the screen. The various families connect with their environment, be it the lush forests or the achingly beautiful underwater realms. He’s not lecturing the audience this time, at least not directly, but his story sends the obvious message.

Respect Mother Nature. Love it. Feed it. Never forget its power or majesty.

A few scenes push that spirit to the breaking point, like when Sully’s teenage kids commune with massive, whale-like creature.

The subplots are both engaging and simplistic. One of the Sully teens, voiced by Sigourney Weaver with a connection to her “Avatar” character, whines, “Why can’t I be like everyone else” at one point.

Other sequences harp on teen-on-teen bullying, the kind you’d see in any John Hughes movie.


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What sets “The Way of Water” apart from the original as well as most Hollywood fare?


The Sully clan is a devoted bunch. Papa Jake is constantly teaching his children right from wrong, how to honor their heritage and avoid bringing shame to the clan.

That bond, reinforced over the film’s ghastly running time (3 hours, 12 minutes!) shows Cameron as a populist to his core. It’s how he’s been able to shatter box office records time and again. You’d think if Hollywood can’t get in the James Cameron business at least once a year they could chat with the filmmaker on a regular basis … and take notes.

“A father protects … it’s what gives him meaning,” Jake says at one point, and he means it.

So does “Avatar: The Way of Water,” and it’s the movie’s most subversive touch.

HiT or Miss: The visuals in “Avatar: The Way of Water” are gorgeous enough to recommend it by themselves.


  1. This movie should be re-titled “Avatar: The Way of a 10-Year-Old.” It is likely the most expensive movie ever made for the pre-teen set. The family dynamics noted in this review have a closer resemblance to something out of Leave It To Beaver. However, parents should note that every time No. 2 Son reacts to an event, he prefaces it with “s***.” The visuals are stunning but turn repetitive by the 2-hour mark and get in the way of the Cameron-esk action by the finale. And the ending makes it clear that this is now officially a movie franchise, meaning that everyone involved will do just fine.

  2. I will not even bother watching this movie. The first one was way over-hyped and I Hated it! I actually had a friend who had an Avatar viewing party when the dvd came out. Second worse party I’ve ever attended. Only a ‘Martini only’ party was worse. Most people I know didn’t care for the original Avatar cartoon either and that’s what it was to me a fake looking cartoon.

  3. Proud to say I never saw the first one. Even prouder to say I have no intention of seeing any of the 68 planned sequels.

  4. The same people who want you to cheer the Na’vi fighting off those evil humans are the same people that want to take away your 2nd Amendment. Let that sink in.

  5. I saw this movie last night and I loved it. I think you just need to get into the spirit of entertainment. Moving scenes, great action, spectacular visuals.

    1. It’s a cartoon presented as a full length film. I won’t waste my time on more of the ‘Bad (English speaking) Earth people invaders who have Screwed up Earth so bad they have to find other planets to Plunder’! It’s all Bad Humans/ climate change all wrapped up in a CGI bow!

  6. So- mainly see it for the visuals…

    pay $15 (or more) per person for pretty pictures when I can drive for less time and see real views. Gonna give it a hard pass.

    1. Don’t forget the other 100 or more on overpriced drinks and stale popcorn with fake butter that’ll clog your veins worse than the clot shot. Then you get the joy of sitting in front of a group of babbling twast sharing cat selfies on their phones making sure you can’t enjoy what little of the movie you can hear over them.

      You want to see fighting for life and death. go into your back yard,take a shovel and shovel one ant pile and dump it on top of another and watch. There, epic battle at an epic price !!

    2. They could have done it as just that, a documentary about the lifeforms of Pandora and people would have went to see it.

  7. I didn’t finish the first Avatar to the end. I got bored with “humans are evil” theme. All these pro ecology movies are the same…Humans are evil and the everything would be wonderful without us. Cameron never asks how God and Jesus feels about his anti human philosophy? Not surprised he doesn’t ask because most environmental warriors are pagans and/or atheists.

  8. Two movies into this series, and I’m still trying to figure out why Colonel Quaritch is supposed to be the villain. I imagine if the story was told from his point-of-view, things would feel very different.

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