SMART MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Avatar’ sequel demands viewing on the big screen

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, December 28, 2022

By Ian Omar Smart | Guest Columnist

Now playing at the B&B Theater at the Vicksburg Mall in 3D,  James Cameron brings audiences back to the world of Pandora and the Na’vi (the blue alien race) with better effects and a more intimate pathos, where Jake Sully and his newly formed family fend off the people of Earth in “Avatar: The Way of Water.”

More than a decade after shaking the industry with the original “Avatar,” Cameron returns following a similarly structured story, but one with more depth, urgency and emotion. Jake Sully and Neytiri return with an entire family in tow, still doing their best to fend off the human colonizers from engulfing their natural world.

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The Sully clan’s small-scale rebel alliance is thwarted when the humans revive an old foe who seeks to destroy Jake Sully and all he holds dear. From there, Jake’s family flees the jungles of the first film and seeks refuge with the water-based Na’vi.

They adapt to this new community with a few hiccups along the way, but after becoming one with the water, Jake, Neytiri and this new water clan mount an attack on the humans to protect their land and their families.

This is a long movie, but somehow it mostly justifies its length. The first hour catches us up with the story so far. The second hour slows down to casually ingratiate the audience with the new clan and teach everyone about this new culture. And the final hour is a breathless action sequence that builds and builds with some of the most impressive action filmmaking I’ve ever seen.

Cameron has always had a knack for mounting impressive action set pieces, but “The Way of Water” (much like the first film) has this undercurrent of emotional depth that is foreign in this modern age of blockbusters.

Foregrounding the familial unit feels like a smart way to bring in new perspectives but tie them back to the core of this story. Jake and Neytiri’s children are an extension of them, and even when they are missing on screen, they remain connected to the narrative through their kids.

This is highlighted through impressively committed performances from all involved, especially Zoe Saldana as the mother bear Neytiri and Sigourney Weaver, who masterfully plays the mysterious character Kiri (Weaver is in her 70s playing the teenage Kiri). 

Cameron pairs these performances with sublime moments where characters commune with the natural world. He really helps audiences understand what’s at stake and why everyone feels compelled to protect this environment.

“Avatar: The Way of Water” logically progresses the story, builds out its world, and increases the original movie’s scope without losing its heart. It improves the previous film’s elements in every way and feels worthy of sitting alongside Cameron’s legacy of great action cinema.

A divine cinematic experience that needs to be seen in 3D on a big screen — one of the best of 2022.

Ian Omar Smart is a graduate of Warren Central High School and Mississippi State University with a degree in architecture. When he’s not drawing buildings, he’s probably at the movies. Smart can be contacted at isiansmart@gmail.com.