‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ is a visual, stunning work of art


20th Century Studios – Art by Dylan Cole

Fifteen years have passed on Pandora, and Jake Sully and Neytiri return with a family in an absolutely remarkable sequel.

Hannah Liu, Staff Writer

There is something so visually spellbinding in James Cameron’s original “Avatar” (2009) that led to its overwhelming success, becoming a phenomenon that changed the landscape of the film industry. Millions of people fell in love with the stunning world of Pandora and the breathtaking cinematography of the Na’vi people, leaving an indelible mark on pop culture. 

“Avatar” went on to become the highest grossing movie in film history, racking up a record-breaking $2.9 billion box-office, and it is no surprise why: the film’s technology and special effects transported audiences to a fully-fictional alien world and cemented its place as one of the most notable and successful franchises within entertainment. With a nostalgic place in many people’s childhood memories, it’s no wonder why “Avatar” remains a beloved classic.  

After over a decade in the works, its sequel, “Avatar: The Way of Water” premiered in theaters on Dec. 16, 2023, with Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) returning as the main characters. Both have grown fifteen years older and are now raising a family of two sons–Neteyam (Jamie Flatters) and Lo’ak (Britain Dalton), as well as two daughters–Tuk (Trinity Jo-Li Bliss) and their adopted daughter, Kiri (Sigourney Weaver).

The beginning of the film gives an insight into Jake and Neytiri’s family as audiences get to witness their family live in the lush forests of Pandora. Their kids fight and bicker, learn to hunt for fish in the waters, and grow up in a matter of minutes. Their family harmony is interrupted when Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) returns as the main antagonist and attacks their forest, forcing the Sully family to leave their home and seek refuge on an island. 

The island is home to the ocean-dwelling Metkayina clan, a different subspecies of Na’vi who have adapted a lifestyle in the waters and call themselves the “reef-people.” Instead of running through jungles and soaring through floating mountains, the forest-born Sully family must learn to swim in the coral reefs and oceans, adopting an entirely new way of living.

In this change of landscape, “Avatar: The Way of Water” showcases a new culture and life on Pandora that we hadn’t seen before. Though it is hard to escape the inevitable coattail-riding that sequels are commonly bound to do, I surprisingly found the film to be even more impressive than its predecessor, and most of it can be attributed to the film’s central focus on family.

With family becoming the center of the movie, the story gains so much more in the midst of the plot. The youngest Sully brother, Lo’ak, feels like an outcast in his own family due to Jake’s harsh methods of fatherhood. Kiri, the adopted daughter, yearns to find out who her father is, while also having a mysterious yet unique connection to wildlife. The kids form their own close friendships with Tsireya (Bailey Bass), Aonung (Filip Geljo), and Rotxo (Duane Wichman), as well as with the Tulkun, who are highly intelligent and emotional whale-like creatures. 

In terms of the plot, “Avatar: The Way of Water” is a parallel of the first movie with nothing new or revolutionary–and that’s okay. Most viewers watch “Avatar” for its visually striking cinematography and become emotionally invested in its characters, rather than focusing solely on the action sequences and general plot development. The narrative is fairly generic, and the motivations for the main antagonist remain unclear, but at the end of the day, “Avatar” is special for reasons beyond their plot. 

Overall, “Avatar: The Way of Water” is a filmmaking marvel that not only lives up to the legacy of its first film, but expands on its foundations of family and world-building in new, exciting ways. The film serves as a celebration of parenthood and childhood, telling the story of what one must do to keep their family safe. I highly recommend this film to anyone who loved the original “Avatar” and is looking for a captivating, visually-stunning work of art.