When it comes to critically acclaimed movies, having a sequel has, in a lot of situations, proven to be an uninspired decision (Rocky II, Jaws 2, The Fly II). Whether it was because bringing the whole cast and production team back was impossible or just because the script was not a great continuation of the story, follow-ups have always been a sensitive part of cinematography.

With Avatar: The Way of Water (2022), the sequel to the original Avatar (2009), launching over a decade after the first movie, fans and critics have started to question whether it was the right decision. When Avatar appeared in cinemas 13 years ago, it shocked the entire world. The visuals, the cinematography, and the details were completely new, which led to the movie being such an immersive 3D experience for the viewers. The film managed to become the absolute box office leader of all time, still holding its place after all these years. So, after a perfect ending and 3 Oscars to account for its influence in the industry, Avatar could have been remembered as a classic. However, James Cameron, the original’s magical director, decided that he was going to make Avatar a series, releasing another 4 movies by 2028. Now, in December 2022, we got the first sample of this new series of movies that would follow the first one.

To begin with, Avatar: The Way of Water managed to bring back all of the big names in cast members and crew, and most importantly, was directed and written by Cameron, the only creative genius capable of portraying the astonishing world of Avatar. The movie now shows life on the planet Pandora, with the Na’Vi living under the leadership of Toruk Makto, their one true born leader, Jake Sully. Time has passed, and he is now shown together with his grown up kids and wife Neytiri. Their perfect world is shattered again after the arrival of their old enemies, the humans, who come more prepared than before to exploit Pandora’s resources to the maximum by building a massive city right on the planet. The old marines are now avatars who have fully adopted the Na’Vi ways, and the script follows the battles between them and Jake’s family, who initially find refuge with the water tribes.

The shift away from the jungle wildlife and the water Na’Vi represent the new element of the movie, and to me this is the part that truly makes the film worth watching. Although the script is not the most creative and the dialogue is lacking in parts, what I always thought extraordinary was the world building that Cameron manages to achieve, accounting for minute details that make it incredibly immersive. The budget for the production was huge and indeed there is a lot of computer-generated imagery (CGI) in most of the scenes, but I think it is only for the best, as there is no other way of portraying the people, traditions and wildlife of the planet better than the way Cameron did. Although the screen time is over 3 hours and I have to say that might be too much; my personal recommendation would be to watch the film in a theatre, possibly in IMAX 3D, and enjoy the soundtrack, the visuals, and the whole experience it brings. On the more critical side of things, the voice acting and the gestures of the characters were decent, but there is no aspect that could turn this into a bad film.

We have had late sequels of fan favourite movies before with Independence Day: Resurgence (2016), which was launched 20 years after the first one and was widely criticised. However, Top Gun: Maverick, released in early 2022, managed to do the impossible and became higher rated than the original. What this movie did was make use of the already strong foundation that was Top Gun (1986), and preserve the most important and beloved elements of the first movie while creating a much more engaging experience.

Trying to follow the footsteps of a great sequel, I must say that Avatar: The Way of Water did not disappoint. It is definitely not a perfect movie, with flaws in the screenplay that were not as obvious in the original, but it shines with the stunning world building and the intimate connection that audiences form with the Na’Vi. I am very curious to see where the imagination of James Cameron takes this franchise, but until then I must say I am happy to have witnessed such a technical wonder in the theatre and I cannot wait for the next instalment to be released.