REVIEW: “Avatar: The Way of Water” Is Disappointing

“Avatar wallpaper” by Rego – is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Released more than a decade after its predecessor, Avatar: The Way of Water was a long awaited sequel to the widely acclaimed success of the first Avatar. Earning nearly $434.5 million dollars in its box office opening weekend alone, it would be an understatement to say this movie was anticipated. Through its 3+ hours of runtime, this film again follows the story of Jake Sully, this time as a fully incorporated Avatar into the Na’vi society. Yet, even with this new premise to explore, Avatar: The Way of Water fails to create an engaging plot, redeemed only by the strong suits of the original.


!!! Spoilers Ahead !!!


While the 2009 Avatar was fresh and exciting for its time, its sequel is shockingly lacking. It reuses the same plot point of a mysterious resource that is extremely valuable to Earth being extracted from the planet Pandora. This time, that resource is amrita, an immortality-granting substance extracted from whale-like creatures, instead of the ironically named unobtanium from the previous film. The film also fails to properly convey this goal, only giving a brief mention of it very late in the movie. Throughout the hours leading up to its mention, the audience is led to believe that humans returned for military expeditions, only to suddenly pivot to a colonization and resource-farming subplot. Even the climax of the movie follows the same plot points as the original, starting with another standoff with the humans who are led by the same Colonel Quaritch, albeit larger and more blue.

Similarly, the story is boringly predictable, following the same overused cliches present in so many other films. The underlying drive of Jake Sully, the movie’s protagonist, can be summarized in a single message: “Sully’s stick together.” From the moment that message is first introduced, the audience can easily predict the victory of the so-called good guys, with them somehow possessing enough plot armor to beat over their much better prepared adversaries. We are led to believe the human forces on the Na’vi planet are some of the most elite fighters from Earth, yet they are somehow defeated by the Na’vi who possess little more than spears and bows. Despite that, the humans are overwhelmed, resulting in only a single casualty on the Na’vi side, an extremely unrealistic result of the battle. Even the death, which was Jake’s oldest son, was overplayed in a classic usage of the cliche: younger child causes death through recklessness and is somehow redeemed later.

Even worse is the lack of depth given to any of the characters in the film. Many are given only a singular trait to distinguish them from the countless background characters, such as Lo’ak, Jake’s second son, who is defined by his sheer recklessness. The unique worldbuilding behind the Na’vi society does not make up for the weak character stories, which is only made worse by the movie’s attempt to appeal to modern audiences. The constant usage of addressals like “bro” or “cuz” among the children of Jake serve to merely make their weak dialogue even more unrelatable.

The villains of the story suffer from similar plot dysfunctionalities. Quaritch, the primary antagonist of the film and main opponent of Jake, is given hardly any motivation behind his desire to kill Jake other than the rather weak idea of him somehow betraying the humans. Yet, that weak motivation is associated with billions of dollars of dedicated military equipment all meant to capture a single person.

One point in Avatar: The Way of Water’s favor, however, is its much stronger visual department, building beautiful scenery for audiences to marvel at. Rather than capitalizing on this obvious strength to highlight the plot though, this Avatar sequel chooses to rather detract from the story to focus on the cinematography, leaving the story bland and dragged on at far too many parts. For an over three-hour run time, this film has few memorable moments notwithstanding its massive budget. Overall, Avatar: The Way of Water wasn’t worth the anticipation given to it. Despite its amazing visual effects, which admittedly do redeem the movie in small part, its characters are uninteresting and its plot even less so. While others may disagree, I would rate this movie a ⅖.