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"AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER"
(2022) (Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaņa) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Sci-fi/Action/Adventure: A father tries to protect his family from the clone of his former military commander who's been sent to a faraway planet to find and kill him.
PLOT:

More than a decade after the events of the first film, former human Jake Sully (SAM WORTHINGTON) is a full-fledged Na'vi, married to Neytiri (ZOE SALDAŅA). They have three biological kids -- Neteyam (JAMIE FLATTERS), his younger teenage brother, No'ak (BRITAIN DALTON), and their younger sister, Tuk (TRINITY JO-LI BLISS) -- one adopted teenage girl, Kiri (SIGOURNEY WEAVER), and a human teen, Spider (JACK CHAMPION), who was left behind during the previous colonization attempt of Pandora.

But now Earth is dying and the powers that be once again want to colonize the planet. Realizing Jake is going to be a problem, they clone his late commander, Col. Miles Quaritch (STEPHEN LANG), turn him into a Na'vi, and send a similarly built military team with him to find and kill the former Marine. Knowing that will put his family and people in danger, Jake decides to take his family and flee to a remote part of Pandora where they can hopefully live out their lives peacefully.

That not only doesn't sit well with the kids, but also the reef people of Metkayina. While their king and queen, Tonowari (CLIFF CURTIS) and Ronal (KATE WINSLET), cautiously accept them, their teenage son, Aonung (FILIP GELJO), views the outsiders as freaks, although his teenage sister, Reya (BAILEY BASS), takes a liking to No'ak whose carefree and reckless ways don't sit well with his father. The newcomers try to assimilate the culture and traditions of the Metkayina, but it's not long before Quaritch and his team eventually track down Jake and his family.

OUR TAKE: 8 out of 10

I think it's hilarious when studios tell me they can't provide a screening link of their offerings -- so that I can watch their film on my 4K, 150-inch home theater screen -- unless there's a pandemic that shuts down theaters, or when one of more of their films is up for award nomination. Then, it's like "Here's the link. Enjoy!" and I watch the film when I want without having to deal with traffic, parking, and all of the distractions (including sub-par projection and sound at times) that now occur far too often in movie theaters.

I understand that there are more potential distractions at home and that with all the money poured into movies, they want us to see their product on the biggest screen possible. But let's be honest, aside from a handful of big action and special effects-laden tentpole films, most can be watched on the small(er) screen without any loss of enjoyment or entertainment. And, in the end, that's how every film ever made is going to be seen over the entirety of its existence.

Thus, I typically don't buy into any studio-forced or critic or average moviegoer hype that ALL movies must be seen on the big screen. But I'll occasionally make exceptions such as I did with last summer's "Top Gun: Maverick" which really did need to be experienced on the biggest screen possible. And that same statement now also applies to "Avatar: The Way of Water," the long-gestating sequel to James Cameron's king of the world, er, box office extravaganza from way back in 2009.

I was lukewarm on the original, finding it to be a mostly empty spectacle that never really engaged me beyond the pretty visuals, and thus I wasn't eagerly anticipating this follow-up, especially with the long interlude between the installments. Having now seen the sequel, I can say it's better than the original in every aspect.

And considering it's upped the ante in terms of visual splendor, I can also state that it's an absolute must that you have to see this on the absolute biggest screen around, with the best sound, and where it's being presented in a special high frame rate (in this case, double the usual amount of 24 per second).

While I hated that in "The Hobbit" (as it made everything, especially the physical props, look fake) and found the hyper-realistic visuals of "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" looking too much like live video rather than film, the enhanced projection rate works wonderfully here. Yes, it's a little odd at first and initially gives the impression that you're watching a video game in 3D. But after a few moments, the stunning visuals wash over you and you'll likely be left wide-eyed and with your mouth agape.

So much so -- especially the underwater scenes that are so beautifully immersive you'll half-imagine you're snorkeling in the middle of everything -- that the film's running time of three hours and change flies by in rapturous delight, half expecting to hear David Attenborough providing some "Planet Earth'' narration describing the awesome creatures and plant-life on display. It doesn't hurt that Cameron knows a thing or two about making hyper-engaging movies (such as "Titanic," "Terminator 2," "The Abyss" and so on), particularly from an edge-of-your-seat action standpoint.

The story -- penned by Cameron and Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver -- picks up more than a decade following the concluding events of the first film. Now a full-fledged Na'vi who's left his human body behind, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is raising a family with his Pandoran mate, Neytiri (Zoe Saldaņa). They consist of sons Neteyam (Jamie Flatters), Lo'ak (Britain Dalton), and their younger sister Tuk (Trinity Jo-Li Bliss). Also in their clan is their adopted daughter, Kiri (Sigourney Weaver), and a human boy, Spider (Jack Champion), the abandoned human son of the first film's villain, Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang).

Despite being killed last time around, the latter shows up once again, albeit as a clone deposited into a Na'vi body whose order is to find and kill Jake so that humans can colonize Pandora, what with having pretty much killed Earth. Once he and his team show up, Jake takes the family on the run and ends up among a different sort of Na'vi who are water rather than forest beings. They're led by Tonowari (Cliff Curtis) and Ronal (Kate Winslet) and they reluctantly allow the outsiders to stay with them due to their obvious family bond.

And family is one of the film's big themes and one that gives the offering more emotional connection and heft, especially as things play out, than the first time around. Alongside that are the aforementioned environmental issues that expand here into a statement of sorts on the evils of whale hunting where similar sentient creatures known as tulkuns are being wiped out for something they can offer for human need, greed, and profit. One of those ends up playing a pivotal part in the story, including as a kindred spirit of sorts to one of the teen characters.

It's not long before the colonel tracks down the former Marine, which results in the spectacular third-act action scenes that, as icing on the cake, throw in a bit of homage to one of Cameron's previous cinematic spectacles. Along the way, there are long passages of simply beholding the years-long and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of special effects that Cameron and his team have created. While a few might complain that only adds bloat to the overall length, or that (like me last time around) it's just empty spectacle, I found such footage absolutely mesmerizing and engaging.

Would I have felt the same way had I watched this at home, especially on a regular-sized TV? It's hard to say, but I'd guess yes, although likely not with as much slack-jawed, big-grin enthusiasm as I left the theater with. Simply put, this is an offering that must be seen in the biggest format possible.

And if experienced that way and you simply go along for the ride, oh, what a ride it will be for you. One of the best sheer entertainment offerings of the year, "Avatar: The Way of Water" is why movie theaters exist and thus rates as an 8 out of 10.




Posted December 16, 2022


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