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5th March 2023

Avatar: The Way of Water – Cinematic masterpiece or blockbuster failure?

The anticipated sequel to revolutionary CGI film, Avatar, has finally arrived, yet audiences are not convinced it lives up to expectations
Avatar: The Way of Water – Cinematic masterpiece or blockbuster failure?
Photo: 20th Century Studios

The $250 million production, Avatar: The Way of Water, begins with Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), Neytiri (Zöe Saldana) and their half-Avatar-half-human family, escaping a conflict with the humans. They must seek refuge with another Avatar family that resides in an alternative and beautifully constructed part of Pandora.

The film has received an influx of positive reviews, including a 7.8 IMDb rating, and numerous award nominations including Best Motion Picture for the Oscars. However, many have contested that, despite the immersive visuals, the so-called cinematic masterpiece was arguably an anti-climax: consisting of an exhausting build-up to a mediocre storyline. In all fairness, if Jack and Rose’s painfully stretched separation taught you anything, it is that James Cameron loves his slow burner films- just as much as he loves to break our hearts.

Beyond the admittedly impressive use of CGI and the nostalgic comfort in seeing Jake Sully’s return from the 2009 prequel, the film evidently lacks relevancy until viewers are almost sinking into a cinematic sleep. By the second hour of watching a family of Avatars learn how to swim, or rather, learn “the way of water”, any hope viewers had for the climax had begun to wither.

However, around the third hour, when viewers began to give up hope for a revival (myself included), the storyline picks up in a rush of action, suspense and outrage between the Sully family and the human-turned-Avatar invaders. Emotions were undeniably heightened during the final battle which had viewers on the edge of their seats and nearly shedding tears during the ending scene.

Nevertheless, by the time the peak arrived, in the last three-quarters of the film, viewers had already lost their engagement and patience. This three-hour-and-twelve- minute picture could have certainly been edited into a two-hour sitting. Therefore, it seems that, within Cameron’s creation of the Avatar universe, his focus on the carefully crafted visuals overshadows the film’s potential for depth.

The remarkable acting and detail put into this production certainly offered an element of escapism within the cinematic experience. Nevertheless, can these attributes elevate Avatar’s chance of winning the Best Motion Picture? When competing with critically acclaimed films such as: Everything Everywhere All at Once, All Quiet on the Western Front and Tár, Avatar’s chances of taking home the gold feel narrow. Whist Avatar reigns the visual effects award category at the Oscars, and may continue to do so, one could argue that the film borders being a blockbuster failure rather than cinematic masterpiece.

However, after 15 long-awaited years of production, it can be contested that the sequel was never going to fully satisfy viewers to the standards set by the original. This begs the question: was Avatar’s initial success due to pioneering the technology-driven films we have normalised today, or was the film genuinely a cinematic masterpiece? Furthermore, is this 2009 legacy enough to ensure that Avatar: The Way of Water, will win the 2023 Oscar for Best Motion Picture?



Avatar: The Way of Water was released in UK cinemas on December 16 2022

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