Who would have thought that a 10-foot blue alien would be such a sight for sore eyes?
But the 13 years since James Cameron’s first hit theaters in 2009 have flown by like the best of friendly reunions as we reunited with Jake Sully and his Na’vi companions.
That’s because the new sequel, Avatar: The Last Airbender, is as visually exciting and impressive as its predecessor. The plot is emotionally stronger and you are once again starry-eyed and in disbelief at what you just saw.
Running time: 192 minutes. PG-13 (Strong violence and intense action sequences, partial nudity and some strong language.) In theaters Dec. 16.
Spending more than a decade on Pandora was worth it. Cameron has delivered the biggest film since Avatar and never lets up for over three hours. What better way to get struggling theaters back on their feet than with a huge movie that glorifies big-screen glory?
Waterway shares many similarities with the director’s other great sequels, such as 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day and 1986’s Alien. It involves the passage of time (like Ripley waking up after 57 years), takes us to a new environment (a la exomoon LV-426), and introduces family dynamics (remember John Connor Jr.?).
It’s an exact formula, but close to perfect.
In “Waterway,” we travel more than ten years after the events of the original film to the ocean where we meet the sea clans of Pandora, specifically the people of Ava’Atulu. Meanwhile, Jake (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) are now parents to four children, three of whom are about to reach adulthood.
Jake must protect his kin when the militaristic people he banished from the planet – the “sky people” – return for revenge and once again wreak havoc on the Eden that is Pandora.
Eldest child Neteyam (Jamie Flatters) is a warrior in training, youngest Lo’ak (Brittany Dalton) is a Jean Brady-style nuisance and Tuck (Trinity Jo-Lee Bliss) is a little girl. The couple adopts Kiri (Siguri Weaver), a teenager with a mysterious past. And complicating their struggle with the land is a spider (Jack Champion), a human child who was left behind years ago and now thinks he’s one of the Na’vi.
The character development and drama are stronger here than in the first film, which was the indigo-heavy Dances With Wolves , and the cast of the funny kids in particular is better. Some viewers will find the reintroduction of Quaritch (Stephen Lang) as a villain, but this is sci-fi — the whole shebang is long overdue.
Cameron never crams too much plot into his epics—no Tesseract or Multiverse, thank goodness—instead embraces universality and powerful imagery to move his audience. Locke’s coming-of-age story about a hippopotamus sea creature is not only touching, but also wonderfully reminiscent of Elliot and ET, Harry Potter and the Hippogriff Buckbeak, and Pete’s Dragon.
The place where the director rises again, or rather floats, is his arduous world. The beach variety of Pandora (one of whom is Kate Winslet) is a light aqua color rather than blue, and has a wider tail and arms for swimming. And when they dive underwater, the bioluminescent flora and fauna are as majestic as the rainforest on land. Cameron always shows exactly where he wants the viewer to look, but every inch is covered with the amazing detail you’d expect after 13 years and $350 million.
Pandora also continues to liven it up with music that pays homage to the great work of the late James Horner, albeit this time composed by Simon Franglen.
Waterway’s best move seems to have come full circle for Cameron, even though he still has three potential Avatar movies under his belt. Filled with water and fire, the terrifying sequence contains undeniable glimpses of Titanic, Aliens and T2. However, with his spectacular effects, the director is still breaking new ground for film decades later.