James Cameron’s Avatar took the world by storm in 2009. I remember hearing how awesome the movie was: It was stunning. It was beautiful. It took the historical story of European expansion into the Americas to a futuristic level. I don’t think I heard a single bad review for this movie, so when I got to see it, I was kinda disappointed.

Maybe the hype was too high, but I did not really enjoy it. While it was visually one of the best movies I had ever seen, the story was bland. It was one of those, “I know exactly what is about to happen” films. You could see the ending a mile away, so it left me feeling like I was spending three hours just to find out I was right. Was I the only one who thought this?

After 14 years, we now have a sequel to the blockbuster. Avatar: The Way of Water made its U.S. premiere on December 16th. This review may be a little late, but I had to talk myself into going to check it out. With the movie clocking in at 192 minutes, I thought, “The original didn’t move the needle for me, so why would the sequel be any different?”

But the little one saw a trailer for the film, and demanded to see it. I did a little research to ease my mind. Seeing that the delay was caused by technology limitations and that the film was budgeted around $400 million, I plopped down the cash and took the baby girl out to the movie theater.

The Way of Water takes place 16 years after the first film. Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) has fully embraced his new life living with the Na’vi as the chief of the Omatikaya clan, beloved by all the members. By his side is his mate, Neytiri (Zoe SaldaƱa), his biological children Neteyam (Jamie Flatters), Lo’ak (Britain Dalton) and Tuk (Trinity Jo-Li Bliss), and their adopted child, Kiri (Sigourney Weaver). They also watch over one of the last remaining human settlers, a teenage boy named Spider, who is the son of the first film’s primary antagonist, Col. Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang).

Life has returned to normal for the Na’vi, and the world of Pandora seemingly has healed. However, the RDA, led by recombinants (Na’vi avatars implanted with the memories of soldiers who were killed in the first battle), return to charge Sully with crimes against humankind and continue the colonization of Pandora. At the forefront is a recombinant embedded with the memories of Col. Quaritch. With newly empowered bodies and the knowledge of soldiers from the first battle, the RDA embarks on its mission, no matter the cost.

As I mentioned before, the Avatar films are a futuristic retelling of European expansion. The RDA (humans) represents the expansionist. Earth is dying, and humans must find a way to survive. Pandora is a planet rich with resources with an atmosphere much like Earth that can sustain humankind for years. The Na’vi represent the indigenous people (like the Native Americans), who live off the land, only taking what is needed. They show great respect for the planet and all the wildlife it holds. Their bond is deep with the land, unlike the humans who see it as just a way to prolong their existence.

Avatar puts our species in a huge negative light, with only a handful of humans actually being self-aware of their negative actions. In the first film, humanity seemingly tried to blend in with the Na’vi, using the avatars as a way to co-exist. However, The Way of Water throws that notion out, turning the avatars into entities of war, allowing the dead to return to exact their revenge. Humankind is truly in its worst light, now.

James Cameron still pulled off some of the most stunning visuals I have ever seen in a film. The world of Pandora expands beyond the forests by introducing the audience to the Metkayina clan, who are the people of the seas. They have evolved with stronger tails and finned arms so they can swim through the waters with ease. Taking us underwater, Cameron makes an already beautiful world even more stunning. The sea is alive with all sorts of life, adding more animals to the count. It’s simply awe-inspiring how well this is done.

Still, The Way of Water‘s storyline has one issue. Neteyam and Lo’ak, Sully’s two sons, are supposed to have a close bond. Neteyam is the older of the two, always taking the blame for his brother’s misdeeds. However, this seems to be the extent of their relationship. Instead of Neteyam keeping Lo’ak from doing things he shouldn’t, Neteyam follows him. He is never shown to be the mature brother. He is shown more as a pushover and a follower rather than the role model he should be.

This makes one of the climactic moments feel weak. I don’t want to spoil anything here, but just understand that should something happen to one of the brothers, neither is really shown as being dependent upon the guidance of the other. A moment that should be gut-wrenching just falls flat to me. If you know, you know. And I would love to chat about it in a spoiler-filled conversation.

Besides that, Avatar: The Way of Water is a great film. I give it four out of five stars. Despite being three hours long, not only was I invested in the story, but so was my 8-year-old daughter. It was her first movie that lasted over two hours and she locked onto the whole film, from start to finish.

As of this writing, the movie has grossed more than $2 billion worldwide. Despite the high budget, James Cameron knows how to make money for any studio. Lucky for us, we don’t have to wait 14 years for the next installment, as this sequel and the third part of the story were filmed together. I may not have been a fan before, but I can enjoy the movies going forward. See you at the movies for Part 3 in December 2024.