Avatar: The Way of Water movie review – breathtaking effects, even if the plot’s a bit watery

Avatar: The Way of Water movie review – breathtaking effects, even if the plot’s a bit watery

Back in 2009, James Cameron’s eye-boggling sci-fi epic Avatar blew a gazillion minds. A hybrid of live-action and revolutionary CGI and visual effects, it proved spectacularly successful at the box office. It was also half an hour shorter than this sequel. The filmmakers are gambling that fans want more, not less, of the lushest moon in the cosmos.

They could be right. The 14-year-old boy I took to the screening thought Avatar 2 was a vast improvement on the original. Asked what he liked best, he replied (in the reverent tone he usually reserves for discussions of Formula 1 drivers and the YouTuber KSI), “Everything!”

The focus, in the first film, was on cross-cultural soul mates Jake and Neytiri (Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana; superbly gritty). The couple remains important: Jake, the paraplegic Marine who evolved into a full-bodied member of the Na’vi tribe and no longer needs an avatar to function on Pandora, is fretful decency personified, while Neytiri is full of surprises.

Here though, it’s the pair’s three biological children, Neteyam (Jamie Flatters), Lo’ak (Britain Dalton), and Tuk (Trinity Jo-Li Bliess), their adoptive daughter Kiri (Sigourney Weaver on brilliant form) and their adoptive son “Spider” (Jack Champion), a human, who get the most screen time.

 (Courtesy of 20th Century Studios)
(Courtesy of 20th Century Studios)

These youngsters have to leave their beleaguered forest home because Jake’s old foe Colonel Quaritch (a sparky Stephen Lang), killed in the last movie, is back from the dead and bent on revenge. Jake thinks he and his family will be safe if they lie low with reef people the Metkayina, whose leaders are Tonowari (Cliff Curtis) and Ronal (Kate Winslet). But a showdown is inevitable.

Avatar 2 is definitely a showcase for visual effects company Weta FX (the faces of Pandora’s Na’vi heroes have become even more expressive). It’s also a love song to coral reefs, as immersive and intricate as anything in David Attenborough’s The Blue Planet.

But I’ve never thought Cameron was God’s gift to cinema. For most of Titanic’s running time my gut feeling was, “Just sink already” and some of the 68-year-old director’s worst tendencies are on display in Avatar 2: over-familiar plot beats, overwrought score and endless shots of the Na’vi’s obscenely willowy, coyly sexualised bodies.

Avatar 2 pales next to last year’s Christmas blockbuster, Spider-Man: No Way Home. Yet it is still breathtaking. When I left the cinema, I felt like I’d been through something special. I felt boosted. And I’m desperate to know what Lo’ak and Kiri, in particular, do next.

Cameron sets the stage for humongous battles (part three has already been shot). Plot-wise, this movie is treading water. But that’s fine, because the water’s lovely.

In cinemas from Friday