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“Avatar: The Way of Water” – An Entertaining Yet Exorbitant VFX Endeavour

Image of Avatar: Way of Water
Avatar: Way of Water. Image courtesy of Disney/ 20th Century Fox

Staff writer Taha Khambaty reviews “Avatar: The Way of Water”, an incredible visual spectacle that might have overindulged in its VFX to the detriment of its plot. 

“Avatar: The Way of Water” is a gorgeous spectacle that redefines the potential of CGI technology. It fills its 3-hour 14-minute runtime to the brim with fantastical imagery, leaving you mesmerised by the beautiful worlds the story inhabits. However, the VFX comes at the cost of the film’s plot.

The plot, which is better than that of its predecessor, focuses on the return of the “Sky People” to Pandora. They are led by Colonel Quaritch, now in an avatar body himself, and have the singular mission of squashing the Na’vi resistance led by Jake Sully. The plot follows Jake and his family as they retreat to the water tribe of Metkayina to save their village from Quaritch’s wrath.

While the narrative is well laid out, it often wastes time on drawn-out sequences which primarily serve to highlight the film’s VFX. These sequences, despite slightly progressing relevant C plots, could still have fared much better if they were edited down to their essentials. This leaves the narrative with several arcs that, while enjoyable, could be easily cut to focus on a generally well-executed narrative centred on the themes of colonialism. If you can be engrossed by the visuals alone, the run time might feel a bit more manageable. If not, the plot will do little to keep your attention.

The cast from the first “Avatar” also return to reprise their roles. The highlight among them again is Zoe Saldaña as Neytiri who, despite not being given much to do, manages to give an incredible performance as a mother and warrior torn on having to leave her home. Alongside her are her three children Neteyam, Lo’ak, and Tuktirey, as well as her adoptive daughter Kiri, played by Jamie Flatters, Chloe Coleman, Trinity Bliss, and Sigourney Weaver respectively. While Coleman and Weaver’s characters each have arcs of their own that are built on throughout the film, the same cannot be said for Flatters and Bliss, who lack any distinguishing character traits other than being the “older, mature brother” and “younger, immature sister”.

Stephen Lang also returns, now in a new Avatar body that he gained after being killed in the first instalment. While Lang does bring the same gravitas and villainous charm to the screen, there is something about seeing him as a blue cat person that removes the sense of menace that used to be there. Sam Worthington’s performance is also a definite improvement from the first film, with him having actual motivations and dimensions that separate him from the role of “generic protagonist” that he fulfilled in the original. Lastly, it is worth mentioning the character of Spider, played by Jack Champion, who added an interesting dimension to the film as a human raised amongst the Na’vi that was fully realised by Champion’s commendable performance.

Having an estimated budget of $250 million before marketing and a hefty runtime, which limits the number of showings, it remains to be seen if the film can manage to reach the box office success of its predecessor. When asked about the film’s budget, Cameron told GQ magazine that it is “the worst business case in movie history” and that the film would need to be about the 3rd or 4th highest-grossing film to be considered successful.  This means that the film would need to earn around $2.0 billion in global box office revenue, placing it near “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” ($2.07 billion) or “Avengers: Infinity War” ($2.05 billion). Here, one might look at the depressed domestic box office that we have seen since October and the continued lockdown in China (where the original made $202 million) as almost a guarantee that “Avatar: The Way of Water” is not going to enjoy the same success as the original. However, having already done around $1.7 billion globally (at the time of writing) and showing stable legs at the international box office, Cameron has shown his critics that betting against the man responsible for getting 2 of his films as the highest-grossing films ever is not a smart move. While some of this success can also be attributed to it being a movie that invites audiences to watch it in more premium formats, i.e IMAX and 3D, raising revenue per ticket, it is also clear that the film is a commercial success. While it is safe to say that “Avatar: The Way of Water” will enter the top 5 highest-grossing films of all time, it still remains to be seen whether audiences continue to flock to the film, and get it past its predecessor’s impressive $ 2.9 billion.

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