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A joyous return to Pandora in Avatar: The Way of Water

After a decade-plus visionary director James Cameron brings moviegoers back to the world of Pandora in Avatar: The Way of Water from 20th Century Studios. Since leaving his human body to become one of the Na'vi permanently, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) has built a loving family with Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña).

Their clan includes the first son and oldest child Neteyam (Jamie Flatters), the second son, Lo'ak (Britain Dalton), the adoptive teenage daughter Kiri (Sigourney Weaver), and another daughter and youngest child, Tuktirey (Trinity Jo-Li Bliss). In addition, we have human teenager Miles "Spider" Socorro (Jack Champion), who, for lack of a better word, the clan has adopted.

Jake and his family find their peaceful life disrupted when a new threat known as recombinants emerges. Led by Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), recombinants are avatars embedded with the memories of humans. Of course, this means that after his defeat in the first film, Quaritch is looking for revenge against Jake.

The Sully's realize they must vacate their home and flee to another area known as Metkayina. A Waterworld tribe led by Tonowari (Cliff Curtis) and his wife Ronal (Kate Winslet) who have a different way of life than the Na'vi, which naturally disrupts tribal politics.

I remember seeing the first Avatar opening weekend with one of my best friends on a Friday night back in 2009. That same night a blizzard was due to hit Northern Virginia, and fans were in line for the 10:45 pm show. We left the theater still in awe of the visuals but flabbergasted at folk waiting in line with the pending storm.

Nevertheless, Avatar would go on to break box office records and change filmmaking as we know it. For the average moviegoer, thirteen years may seem like a long time between films. However, franchises such as Mad Max, Bad Boys, Blade Runner, and Tron all had longer gaps. So the question on everyone's mind is, will Cameron do it again?

For the most part, the answer is a resounding yes. When the 20 Century Studios logo appears on screen, we get an instant reminder of just how skilled Cameron is at visuals. Taking us back to Pandora, Cameron effortlessly makes the 13-year wait worth it.

One of the most common criticisms about the first Avatar film was the human characters and how they relate to the Navi. In the sequel outside of Spider, humans take a backseat, with most of the cast giving a motion capture performance. However, Edie Falco pops up in an extended cameo that may be extended in the third film. Joel David Moore and Giovanni Ribisi reprise their roles from the first film.

While I doubt anyone will win any Oscars for their performances. Those who perform motion capture are all very talented, with Sigourney Weaver standing out. However, the cast brings plenty of enthusiasm for a popcorn film like this. Avatar: The Way of Water runs for 192 minutes. I don't know if it was my full stomach, the long work day, or the comfortable reclining seats. However, I did briefly dose for five minutes in the third act.

Nevertheless, the film is never dull, but I advise potential viewers who fall asleep at a movie to take in a matinee. The movie uses a few familiar tropes and raises one big question that some moviegoers may find irritating. However, when it comes to the story Cameron is trying to tell, it all works and should get a resolution in the next film.

At its core, Avatar: The Way of Water is about family and the lengths a father will take to protect his tribe. James Cameron may not have invented the blockbuster, but he created a visually stunning theatrical experience again.

Final Grade: A-

Avatar: The Way of Water opens this Thursday, December 15th. See it on the biggest screen possible.


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