Given that the wait for an Avatar sequel has been longer than the average lifespan of a household pet, it’s safe to say that expectations were high. The much-anticipated return to Pandora continues the story of Jake (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) over a decade after where Avatar left off. Not only does this account for the real-life production issues that repeatedly delayed the sequel, but it also makes use of improvements in motion capture technology in the years since.

This delay actually works in The Way of Water‘s favor in many ways, because it means the film’s narrative roughly matches the time frame of the sequel’s lengthy production. That it took so many years to finally come to fruition may be either a blessing or a curse, but ultimately, The Way of Water makes it work. The film concerns Jake and Neytiri’s family and the delayed aftermath of the events of the first film.

After being beaten by the Na’vi in Avatar, the RDA left Pandora, but later returned with plans for colonization. As this endangers the Na’vi’s way of life, Jake, Neytiri, and the Omaticaya clan fight back, entangling themselves in the RDA’s plans for Pandora. This sets the scene for the film’s story proper, which concerns the return of Colonel Miles Quaritch in the body of a Na’vi avatar. Out for revenge on Jake and Neytiri, Quaritch targets their family, forcing them to take refuge with a Na’vi water clan known as the Metkayina. It’s there that Avatar: The Way of Water finds much of its dramatic and emotional drive, all while building upon the world explored in the first movie.

Jake And Neytiri’s Arc Follows A Logical Trajectory

Jake and Neteyam in Avatar: The Way of Water

After the events of Avatar, it makes sense for Jake Neytiri to start a family. The Way of Water addresses this, establishing not just their family dynamic but also explaining the events of the intervening years. All of this seems relatively sensible, and there are no real surprises in the film’s general context for the new characters and ideas it introduces. This is undoubtedly a strength, because it not only allows for the inclusion of the four Sully children but also the ridiculously-named Spider, the human son of Quaritch who was left behind on Pandora after his father’s death.

This itself allows for a satisfying (if somewhat predictable) sub-plot about Quaritch’s avatar-resurrected consciousness building a bond with his sort-of biological son. It also draws some interesting parallels between Jake and Quaritch and the way they treat their children, lending further depth to Avatar: The Way of Water‘s story and capitalizing on the unavoidable time jump. Importantly, this logical continuation of Jake and Neytiri’s story sets The Way of Water apart: where Avatar was an original reimagining of an unoriginal story, the sequel feels fresh from the ground up, making the follow-up generally more impressive than the original (in a narrative sense, at least).

Avatar 2’s Rich Worldbuilding Makes For An Immersive Experience

Ronal and Tonowari of the Metkayini clan in Avatar: The Way of Water

The way in which The Way of Water expands upon Avatar‘s world is the sequel’s biggest strength. Opening up Pandora to introduce a new tribe of Na’vi as well as exploring the Sullys’ family dynamic makes for a much richer and more immersive film. The world of Pandora continues to feel like a living, breathing entity with numerous elements that feel almost tangible. Through this regard, The Way of Water brings its characters to life brilliantly, cementing the Na’vi as a proud and fascinating people.

However, there are issues that run deeper than the audio-visual splendor that The Way of Water has to offer. The sequel’s script is a little flat in places, with countless snippets of dialogue sounding unimaginably wooden, and certain relationships rendered hollow by the baffling overuse of the terms “bro” and “cuz”. It’s an incredibly strange problem to have for a film that spent such a long time in production: you’d think that something so obvious would have been far more polished, but it’s inescapable. This is also true of the film’s cheesiest moments, where despite the impressive imagination involved in creating Pandora, The Way of Water devolves unabashedly into the most blatant clichés possible. It’s particularly disappointing, as it tarnishes the sheen of The Way of Water‘s dazzling visuals and extensive worldbuilding.

The Way Of Water’s Ending Establishes The Avatar Franchise’s Exciting Future

Jake Sully in Avatar 2

Despite a few general shortcomings, The Way of Water builds excellently upon the first film and builds genuine excitement for what’s still to come. It manages to move away from the more derivative nature of the original, bringing something fresh and engaging to the franchise in its place. Though there are still formulaic elements of The Way of Water‘s climax, it manages to round its story off in a way that teases an even bigger and better third entry into the franchise.

Maybe it’s impossible to live up to 13 years of hype, especially after Avatar‘s huge success. Still, The Way of Water makes a remarkable effort to make the wait worthwhile, and generally speaking, it manages to do just that. The writing may seem a little half-baked in places, but it’s a truly gorgeous film and an absolute spectacle to behold. Occasional emotionless dialogue and heavy-handed clichés aren’t great, but when a film looks this good, it’s difficult to judge it too harshly.

Rating: 70%

Summary: Avatar: The Way of Water may have a fairly formulaic and predictable plot, but visually, it’s excellent. It improves upon its predecessor by expanding the scope of the franchise’s fantastical setting, offering an incredibly deep sense of immersion.

Highlight: The care taken to introduce new creatures and make them feel real brings Pandora to life perfectly, and is one of the major ways in which The Way of Water improves upon the original.