James Cameron has long been one of modern cinema’s true visionaries. As a filmmaker, he takes time between projects, waiting until the technology catches up to his lofty and brilliantly grandiose ideas. This time, it has been a 13-year stretch. The wait has more than paid off, as “Avatar: The Way of Water” is one of the great movie events of the decade.

Modern Hollywood and its highest paid filmmakers have lost the ability to deliver event films that earn that honor. 98 percent of Hollywood product is designed with no sense of style and even less thought. In today’s cookie-cutter American “blockbuster” cinema, it has become impossible to tell one big budget wannabe extravaganza from the next.

It takes a master craftsman with old school cinema skills and an eye for world building to show moviegoers what true spectacle can be.

James Cameron takes us back to the world of Pandora, creating an even more magnificent visual feast than his 2009 original.

Jake Sully (Sam Worrhington) has now given his life to the Na’vi; he is truly one of them, and his human body is no more. Now married to Neytiri (a fantastic Zoe Saldana), the couple has three children: two sons, Neteyam (Jamie Flatters) and Lo’ak (Britain Dalton) and daughter Tuk (Trinity Jo-Li Bliss). The family also includes Kiri (the always great Sigourney Weaver), who was “born” from character from the first “Avatar”. What Weaver does with her performance of the 14-year-old is wondrous.

National acting treasure Stephen Lang returns as Miles Quaritch, killed in the first film and now reborn as a Na’vi.

Angry about his death and the fact he now inhabits the body of his sworn enemy, Quartich wants revenge. Aiding his quest is Edie Falco’s General Ardmore, who wants to colonize Pandora and uses Miles’ rage to make it happen.

Once the plan to destroy the Na’vi is set in motion, Sully understands that his presence puts the rest of the tribe in grave danger.

Sully seeks shelter from the water people of Metkayina, another beautiful Cameron creation and one even more beautiful than the world of Pandora.

The images in this creation (and in the entire film) leap off the screen, and not just due to the 3-D. Cameron and his team of visual effects artists (from the FX company Weta) make Metkayina incredibly vibrant and ultra-realistic. With its oceans of sun blanketed blue and the fire lit nights on the shores, this film has imagery that you will never forget.

Cliff Curtis is the leader of the tribe, Tonowari, while Kate Winslet (in a fantastic performance) plays his pregnant warrior wife Ronal.

The film finds an ethereal elegance and profound grace as Jake Sully’s children gain knowledge and understanding of the water tribe and their ways.

Incredible scenes of bonding with the tribe and the creatures who inhabit their seas hold some of the finest moments of the filmmaker’s career.

As Lo’ak befriends one of the whale-like creatures, he learns that it too lives as an outcast from his own species. Viewers will either go with the flow or not, regarding the moments between the two. I found their moments to be the most moving in the film.

As the film builds towards its war-filled FX finale, viewers are treated to spectacular sights and sounds full of excitement and jaw-dropping imagery. One can forgive Jim Cameron for crafting another self-homage in the final moments where both protagonists and antagonists are trying to navigate and survive a quickly sinking whaling ship, a’la “Titanic”. The sequence is captivating.

Another of the film’s strengths lies in its bold score from Simon Franglen. A longtime collaborator of composer James Horner, co-arranging and co-producing the scores for the first “Avatar”, “The Amazing Spider Man”, and Antoine Fuqua’s remake of “The Magnificent Seven”.

Franglen’s work for this second film is a gorgeous, ravishing companion to Cameron’s visuals and a heartfelt tribute to James Horner’s musical legacy, complete with the late composer’s signature chime/drum mixtures and echoing trumpets. It is rare for an American film to warrant a fully orchestrated score and the composer does not waste the opportunity, creating one of 2022’s best.

The screenplay from Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, and the director, is very good (yes, it is full of cliché. Move on!), but Cameron and his cinematographer Russell Carpenter dazzle with their images.

Shot in high frame rate 3- dimension, this picture makes everything look and feel flawless, sidestepping the phony visual motifs when Peter Jackson first (mis)used the technology for his “Hobbit” trilogy.

Again, Cameron is a supreme technician and strives to raise the FX bar with each new film.

This sequel (as was the first film) is filled with messages regarding the environment, the dangers of white supremacy, and the treatment of the indigenous peoples of any land the white man sets foot on. Are they hokey? Perhaps, but they work very well, as the emotional pull outweighs any “preaching” found within the film. Both of Cameron’s “Avatar” films have good messages about connection, to the soul and to the land. As these two films teach us, all life is connected.

James Cameron has always been a unique craftsman and a director who always achieves a good balance of “New Age” messenger and guns-a-blazin’ macho.

“Avatar: The Way of Water” is a tremendous work of Science Fiction adventure. This film is an absolute triumph and proof that James Cameron is the king of the modern spectacle and an innovator with true vision.


Avatar: The Way of Water

Screenplay by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, & James Cameron

Directed by James Cameron

PG-13, 192 min, 20th Century Studios/TSG Entertainment/Lightstorm Entertainment