‘Way of Water’ pushes Avatar to new depths

‘Way of Water’ pushes Avatar to new depths

‘Way of Water’ pushes Avatar to new depths
Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) and Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) return in the blockbuster sequel to 2009’s “Avatar.”

Jeff Mellinger Screen Shots(Jan. 15, 2023) — Nobody was waiting for “Top Gun 2.” If it had never existed, the original would have held the banner for Maverick and the gang in perpetuity.

But, 36 years later, “Top Gun 2” appeared – and it is fabulous.

Comparatively, the time between 2009’s “Avatar” and its sequel was much shorter. The difference is that people were actually waiting for an “Avatar” sequel … and waiting … and waiting. If the record-setting box office of “Avatar: The Way of Water” is any clue, fans have determined it was worth the wait. They are correct: It is a triumph of filmmaking.

In my review of the rerelease of “Avatar” a couple months ago, I talked about how director James Cameron used new technology to enhance the effects. “Avatar” had become the highest-grossing film of all-time; waiting 13 years to release the sequel was a deliberate move by Cameron. He wanted that new technology to develop so he could use it on not only in “The Way of Water,” but the three upcoming sequels as well.

The plot of “Avatar” was relatively thin, and “The Way of Water” does not stray far from the original. Fifteen years after the events of the first film, the humans have returned to the moon of Pandora. New technology allows them to build quickly and completely dig in.

An old menace comes back to look for Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), who has started a family with Neytiri (Zoe Saldana). They have four kids: two older boys, Neteyam and Lo’ak, a young girl Tuk and an adopted teenage girl Kiri (played through the wonders of motion capture by 72-year-old Sigourney Weaver).

The boys often get into trouble, and the girls are curious about everything. There is also a human teenager boy, Spider (Jack Champion), who was left behind as a baby by the previous human inhabitants. All five of the kids play major roles in the film.

Moving the action underwater

The film really hits its stride when Jake and his family realize that to keep their people safe from the invading humans, they must flee the trees and head for the water. Once an outsider, Jake must again learn the ways of a completely different group.

The water people, known as the Metkayina, developed differently than the tree folk. The Metkayina have much longer, stronger tails and bigger hands and feet, all to make them superb swimmers. They can also hold their breath for astonishingly long times.

Cameron’s familiarity with water from his days helming “The Abyss” and “Titanic” certainly came in handy. All the major actors had to spend hours learning how to properly hold their breath so they could not only act underwater for lengthy periods, but also keep from exhaling bubbles that would obstruct the shots. The underwater cinematography is extraordinary. As actors go from above to below the water, the 3-D puts the audience right there, bobbing along with them.

The last 45 minutes feature some amazing fight scenes. Cameron incorporates aspects from many of his other films like “Aliens,” “The Abyss,” “Terminator,” “Titanic,” and even “Piranha 2!” It was hard to avoid playing “spot the reference.”

Not enough can be said about the technical marvel that is “Avatar: The Way of Water.” As it is only part two of a five movie arc, it may go unnominated for Best Picture. That would be a shame. It deserves a heap of awards. Not many sequels improve on the original; this one did. A

Catching up on TV

“Station Eleven” on HBO Max.

I missed “Station Eleven” (HBOMax) in 2021 but am glad I finally watched it. This show plays with multiple timelines, often cutting back and forth quickly. Yet, it is not confusing at all.

Based on a book that came out before the pandemic, “Station Eleven” very much echoes our initial fears and chaos when everyone got sick and everything shut down. The virus on the show, however, is much worse.

Jumping from sequences both immediately before and after the shutdown to 20 years in the future, we get to see characters at very different stages in their lives. Main character Kirsten (Mackenzie Davis of “Halt and Catch Fire”) is a fledgling young actress when the virus hits. Stuck with a benevolent stranger named Jeevan, she must navigate her new surroundings armed only with a comic book aptly titled “Station Eleven.”

In the future, Kirsten is one of the youngest “pre-pans” in a traveling theater troupe filled with wonderfully oddball characters. The show masterfully intersperses this story with episodes focused on other characters and how their lives inadvertently set up the course of action for our main group.

Helmed by very capable showrunner Jeremy Podesawa, “Station Eleven” is terrific mix of genres. Be sure to watch “Inside the Episode” after each episode for his amazing insights.

Jeff Mellinger

Jeff Mellinger is a screen writer and film buff. He holds a BA in Film Studies and an MFA in film production. He lives in Concord.