Now That’s More Like It, James Cameron

It’s no secret that I hated Avatar. I saw it on Christmas Day in 2009, and I was sorely disappointed. James Cameron has written and directed some of my favorite films of all time, including The Abyss, Aliens, and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. So it was truly frustrating to watch a genius filmmaker recycle old ideas from his previous films in the most simplistic way possible in Avatar.

That movie made piles of money because everyone else in the world was distracted enough by the beautiful visuals to look past its bland story and characters. So here we are 13 years later with a sequel entitled Avatar: The Way of Water. I watched it on Thursday, December 15, 2022 with some friends of mine who were holding me to a promise I made many years ago.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m committed to watching every Avatar sequel. Going into the theater, I was expecting to be in immense pain as I would be once again disappointed. However, my worry soon evaporated when I found myself enjoying this film. I’m not saying it’s the greatest movie ever made or anything like that. But it’s not dull, and it’s much better than the first one. I actually found quite a lot I enjoyed about it. And I’d like to talk about the things that won me over.

More-Interesting Characters

Unlike The Mummy Returns and The Legend of Zorro, the children of the husband and wife from the first film are more interesting than their parents in this film. I don’t care about Sully and his wife. But his two sons are incredibly compelling. They make foolish decisions, act brashly, and start unnecessary fights. And they have sincere struggles and frustrations they need to work through over the course of the film.

The younger son is particularly interesting, which I’ll get into a little later. He feels like an outcast. The older son is trying to live up to his father’s greatness. For those of us sons who feel unable to equal our father’s achievements, there’s a poignant lesson in his selfless actions. And even though I really like those two characters, there’s an even more intriguing father-son dynamic at play in this film.

Likable Villain

I didn’t care about the villain in Avatar. Miles Quaritch was a walking cliché with little in the way of motivation. So when I saw that he was returning in this film, I rolled my eyes at first. Oh great, I thought. They’re going to pull an Agent Smith and bring back the villain from the first film and make him even more unkillable. But that’s not really what they did with the Quaritch clone.

He has all the memories and feelings Quaritch had, but now he’s in the body of a Navi. And when he learns that Quaritch’s son Spider is still alive and living among the Navi, he becomes surprisingly protective of the boy. He claims that he doesn’t care about Spider all through the film, but he’s constantly giving off little signals that there’s something more going on behind the scenes. Technically, he’s not Quaritch, so he’s not connected to Spider. But that doesn’t change the fact that he feels the same way Quaritch once did.

I absolutely love at the climax when he’s holding one of Sully’s kids hostage, and Sully’s wife threatens to kill Spider if he doesn’t let her go. He finally shows how he feels about Spider in that moment. He relinquishes the girl and begs for the boy’s life. In that moment, he loses all leverage and control, and he gains my admiration. He’s not a cartoon villain. Instead, he’s an extremely complex and likable villain.

Character-Driven Story

I was expecting another movie about trying to save Pandora from the evil humans, but there’s a lot more subtlety to Avatar: The Way of Water. There are big stakes, to be sure, but this film chooses to ignore the wider war and zero in on a much smaller conflict with personal stakes on both sides. It’s about two fathers fighting for their children.

My first child hadn’t yet been born when I saw Avatar. Thirteen years later, I have four children, and I can relate to Sully and his fears for his children. When it’s not just a hero and villain fighting for themselves, but for their families, there’s something really compelling about that.

There's a wonderful How to Train Your Dragon-esque subplot in Avatar: The Way of Water.In addition, there’s a wonderful How to Train Your Dragon-esque subplot going on within this movie. I already did an in-depth analysis of how the first Avatar compares to How to Train Your Dragon. This film makes an even more obvious connection to that animated classic. Sully’s younger son feels like an outcast no matter where he goes. He’s a tree dweller among sea people. He’s a hybrid of a human and Navi, being shunned by both races. And he has a kinship with another outcast, a giant sea creature who saves his life.

Seeing this boy befriend the creature and find out why it’s an outcast is one of the best parts of the film. I love a good forbidden friendship, from The Fox and the Hound to The Land Before Time. And this has echoes of all those while adding its own unique twist on that familiar formula.

No One Sinks a Ship Like James Cameron

One of my friends told me after the film, “No one sinks a ship like James Cameron.” And I completely agree. The Abyss has several great sinking scenes, and the second half of Titanic is one big sinking ship. Avatar: The Way of Water adds another feather to Cameron’s cap by having an excellent scene involving a ship taking on water. It’s wonderful because it uses everything the film has been building up to create a satisfying payoff for all the characters.

It’s full of great character moments as everyone gets separated, and they have to find each other and work together to survive. I especially love what Spider does. What an interesting relationship he has with the Quaritch clone.

Not Perfect, But Good

If there’s a message to Avatar: The Way of Water, it’s the importance of families sticking together. We all have unique strengths and weakness that a father, mother, brother, and sister bring to a family. It’s nice to see a big-budget movie that emphasizes the value of a traditional family structure without some hidden agenda.

This film comes across to me as unpretentious and earnest. The complete opposite of the first one. It won’t dethrone any of James Cameron’s previous films as his greatest work, but it’s totally serviceable as an action movie. And that’s fine because an average James Cameron film is better than a lot of filmmakers’ best.

This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.

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About Robert Lockard, the Deja Reviewer

Robert Lockard has been a lover of writing since he was very young. He studied public relations in college, graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in 2006. His skills and knowledge have helped him to become a sought-after copywriter in the business world. He has written blogs, articles, and Web content on subjects such as real estate, online marketing and inventory management. His talent for making even boring topics interesting to read about has come in handy. But what he really loves to write about is movies. His favorite movies include: Fiddler on the Roof, Superman: The Movie, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Back to the Future, Beauty and the Beast, The Fugitive, The Incredibles, and The Dark Knight. Check out his website: Deja Reviewer. Robert lives in Utah with his wife and four children. He loves running, biking, reading, and watching movies with his family.
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