[Review] “Avatar: Way of Water” is an emotional cinematic tale fit for the whole family

Jessica Rios

Avatar: Way of Water is a whimsical, action-packed film that highlights the importance of family so much so that Vin Diesel would give a stamp of approval to its engaging theme of protecting loved ones. Directed by James Cameron, the film was released in theaters December 16, 2022 but is still earning money in theaters despite having been over a month since release. So far the movie’s hit a global box office of over $2 billion, making it Cameron’s third film to reach this successful endeavor. 

So what exactly does the sequel to one of cinema’s highest grossing films have to offer? While the plot isn’t anything too spectacular or complex, the writing and amount of thought that was put into the script shows towards the conclusion of the film. The story begins with an overview of Jake Sully’s (Sam Worthington) life after the events of humanity’s invasion of Pandora, a central conflict of the first film. Since then, he’s had multiple children with Neytiri: an eldest son Neteyam (Jamie Flatters), another son Lo’ak (Britain Dalton), and the youngest daughter Tuktirey (Trinity Bliss) or “Tuk.” They’ve also adopted Kiri, who is the biological daughter of Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) and Spider who is a teenage human and biological son of Colonel Miles Quaritch (antagonist of the first film). With a family of six, Jake has a significant responsibility to protect them and raise them in a time of uncertainty as nobody anticipates when the sky people may strike again. 

That is exactly what happens when the twist of the movie is revealed: Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) is alive, somewhat. He had transferred his consciousness to a Na’vi avatar, but when reborn he doesn’t remember his past memories and has to watch a video that his past-self had prepared. The conflict arises when that video reveals cruel intentions: to kill Jake Sully as revenge for his betrayal against humanity. The stakes become higher as Quaritch, now with the mightier strength of the Na’vi, can possibly defeat Jake. 

Jake Sully and his family are pressured to flee the forest, their home, in search of shelter far away from the humans after they began an insurgence on the forest once again. In their endeavors of a new home, they encounter the Metkayina, a clan of Na’vi that are spiritually connected to the ocean and exhibit different physical features that allow them to adapt to their environment. The Metkayina accept Jake and his family despite initial hesitance, and so a major portion of the film portrays the family’s efforts to adapt and grow accustomed to the Mekayina’s way of life such as hunting, connecting with tulkun (a whale-like creature), and riding Illus (another aquatic creature that swims swiftly through the ocean).

(heavy spoilers discussed)

As a result, characters such as Lo’ak and Kiri form a connection with the ocean and its inhabitants. For instance, Lo’ak bonds with a tulkun that was casted away from the Metkayina cause he had an injured fin due to being attacked by humans earlier. Despite being two beings, Lo’ak relates to tulkun as they’ve been treated unfairly for being different as Lo’ak was being bullied by the sons of the Metkayina chief for his human-like physical attributes like possessing an extra finger.

On the other, one of the more intriguing reveals is Kiri’s abilities to communicate with sea life due to her connection with Eywa, Pandora’s deity and guiding way of force. The lore is simple: she gained these abilities as she was born out of Dr. Grace Augustine and Eywa’s force, similar to Anakin Skywalker from Star Wars. Lo’ak and Kiri’s discoveries and bonds form serve a purpose for storyline later on, ultimately aiding Jake Sully in his victory against humanity once again.

Unfortunately, while the film deals with the heavy topic of protecting one’s kin and defending the ones you love, sacrifice is also a dealt element that evokes one of the more emotional scenes of the film, the death of Jake and Neytiri’s first born and eldest son Neteyam. Neteyam’s death is tragic because it was necessary. He made himself a vulnerable target to a shootout in order to buy time for his brothers Lo’ak and Spider to escape the pursuit of human soldiers. His devastating sacrifice allowed them to escape safely, fulfilling his duty as eldest. However, mother’s rage is conveyed strongly when Neytiri is enraged by his death and immediately ventures to kill Quarith whom she believes is at fault. This turn of events causes havoc to both sides as Jake intervenes and duels out their grievances in an epic brawl against Quarith. 

Lo’ak also aids in the clash against Quarith and the sky people as he manages to call all of the tulkun to help as the Na’vi began struggling against the technology and harpoons that the humans possessed. Tulkun are smart, and Lo’aks newfound friend pulls a shocking stunt as it overturns one of the boats with the harpoon and severing one of the enemies’ arm, ending in poetric irony. Towards the end of the film, Kiri also uses her abilities possessed by Eywa to control these glowing sea critters similar to fireflies to guide Neytiri and Tuk to a safe exit from the inside of an submerged ship they were all (alongside Jake Lo’ak and Quarith) previously on. 

It’s no surprise that there’s little to no plot holes within the movie because a known fact of the Avatar series is that Cameron had planned out all sequels before releasing them after the immense box office success of the first film. Although a notable amount of characters were added to the existing cast, most of them didn’t seem bleak or uninteresting and were very grounded to the story. Lo’ak and Kiri both contributed toward the survival of their family as their immense love for them propelled them to adapt to their environments and figure out a solution. Jake’s fatherly love for his children forced him to protect them and fight with Quarith once again. Aside from the film’s fantastic cinematography and special effects, the theme of family and sticking together is prominent throughout the film and should thus be watched among groups rather than alone.