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MOVIES: Avatar - The Way of Water - Review

It's already become a saying as tired as the repetitive comments made by the detractors of the 2009 James Cameron masterpiece Avatar; but I am nonetheless happy to report that the old adage rings true: never bet against James Cameron. 13 years later; Avatar: The Way of the Water is finally here and it delivers on the biggest, grandest most operatic scale possible - a true sequel in every sense of the word, expanding on the size and scope with a rare authenticity and attention to detail - the audience in my screening got completely sucked into this return to Pandora, which removes the location from its forest to the water - after a frantic, stage-setting opening act that plunges you back into its world like you never once left it.

There are few directors working in big blockbuster films that can raise the stakes like James Cameron can - he did it admirably in the 09 film and his Terminator and Alien movies; nobody else can quite keep the audience on the edge of their seats in the final third. The technical accomplishments that Cameron utilised here to craft the third act and throughout the film make Pandora feel like a realised, believable world in a way unlike few other science fiction films truly have before - it's the first film in a while where you're completely immersed in this world - to the point where stepping back into our world almost feels underwhelming. You're consistently left asking: how did they pull this off? There's some sheer feats of breath-taking spectacle that give its critics an easy weapon of it being just a technical marvel, but that feels reductive - and deliberately so.

The character depth is all - like Fast & Furious and so many blockbusters lately; about family - but there's a lot of Top Gun: Maverick in here too - at this point Jake and Neytiri are the old guard, and their four children, including those who they've taken under their wing - are the next generation. Unlike Tom Cruise in Maverick; Jake Sully is not there to show the youngsters how cool he is - he screws up; multiple times, is a jarhead of a father and can only think in the confines of the military training that he was given. The best decision for the characters was to move the story away from Jake - casting Sigourney Weaver as Kiri, her characters' Na'vi daughter, and letting the story flow through her character and her siblings. Finding herself at odds with society is far more an entertaining storyline than Jake's now that his has essentially already been told, and through that The Way of the Water uses the next generation to connect with the wider landscape around us - exploring James Cameron's continuous love affair with the water in a way that's best seen on the biggest screen possible.

Maximalist yes, unoriginal yes, but do we really care when it's this good? The film itself is so entertaining at what it does - the stakes are higher than ever and Cameron has a way of using empathy with the natives of Pandora to really build them - there were multiple scenes with animals in peril where the audience reacted to them as though they were humans; afraid for their life - and it was the busiest I've ever seen a 10:30am screening. The spectacle is so good because the story has been told so well - 192 minutes completely engrossing in a way that a similiar length of time hasn't really been able to be used as effectively - and this time out, both are working in tangent - the story is just as engrossing, standing on its own as an actual film whilst providing more information about the universe that Pandora inhabits that sets it up for a third, and fourth, and however many films that James Cameron wants to make - not stopping by the wayside to make silly quips that suggest that the film is ineffective at what it is - there are parts that are actually quite moving, and The Way of the Water finds a way of creeping up on you when you least expect it.

The Way of the Water makes you care about the Sully Family and their journey, their world - and it does so in a way that makes it completely and utterly worth the wait - the perfect blend of character and spectacle that has the whole thing firing on all cylinders. Its earnestness and distinct lack of cynicism really makes it sing - it completely believes in its world and never once asks us to acknowledge its absurdity. Kind of want to see this in 3D - was the only thing that was missing.

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