Strong Heart. 4 / 5
Directed by James Cameron.
Jake Sully lives with his newfound family formed on the extrasolar moon Pandora. Once a familiar threat returns to finish what was previously started, Jake must work with Neytiri and the army of the Na'vi race to protect their home.
13 years since Avatar changed the landscape of immersive storytelling, James Cameron's world of Pandora returns to screens to prove how much more there is to see.
It's an overwhelming task figuring out where to start expanding this vast world - I was apprehensive but intrigued to see if there was even more story left to tell. As we are welcomed back to Pandora and meet the new additions to the Sully family, it was thrilling to watch but felt like much of what we had seen before; that was until the family is forced to move and arrives at the village of Awa'atlu located on Pandora's reefs.
As the title suggests, The Way of Water is integral to this story and gives some of the most stunning visuals ever put to screen. The VFX and motion capture work is beyond anything audiences have previously seen with much of the second act playing out like a world-standard nature documentary, showing off what the technology is now capable of. I'm still undecided on the use of High Frame Rate - though it helps some of the more dynamic moments, its primary use in modern video games almost devalues the work put in as action scenes begin to feel like (very impressive) cut scenes. But it's all part of the ride - the scale of the story, the motion capture, the stunning IMAX 3D, the HFR are all tools that James Cameron uses to create a uniquely immersive experience.
The performances really shine through despite the minimal use of live-action characters. Not only can you recognise actors through their Na'vi personas but the emotion carries through effortlessly. Whether it's 74 year old Sigourney Weaver playing a 14 year old or Zoe Saldaña giving her all as a mother that has to leave her old life behind to protect her family, you feel every beat of their incredible performances.
Despite the expansive runtime, the best compliment I could give The Way of Water is that it did not feel it. You get swept up into this world of fascinating locations and characters with another epic final battle that Cameron pulls off in a way only he can.
Like the original, time will tell how this story carries across when it is pulled away from the cinema experience but while you can get to the biggest and loudest showing you can find because love it or hate it, there's nothing quite like Pandora on the big screen.