In 2009, James Cameron's Avatar ripped up the blockbuster rulebook.
It was a sublime marriage between the most bleeding-edge technology available and epic, emotionally direct storytelling, and its game-changing use of 3-D and performance-capture alchemy brought the beautiful bioluminescent world of Pandora vividly to life. It created a deeply immersive environment that became 2009’s must-go-to vacation spot.
The result was a huge pop cultural touchstone, garnering critical raves on the way to becoming the highest-grossing film of all time (currently standing at $2.9 billion). Now, some 13 years later, Cameron is back with Avatar: The Way Of Water and, as you’d expect from the man behind Aliens and Terminator 2: Judgment Day, it’s a sequel that’s bigger and bolder in every way imaginable.
Avatar: The Way Of Water is set some 14 years after the events of the first film. If the original was an inter- species romance, the sequel is a family saga set against the backdrop of the raging guerrilla war between the blue-skinned Na’vi and humans, embodied by the voracious Resources Development Agency (RDA).
Former human soldier Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Na’vi warrior Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) now have four children: Neteyam (Jamie Flatters), Lo’ak (Britain Dalton), Tuktirey, known as Tuk (Trinity Bliss), plus Kiri, the Sully’s adopted teenager played in performance capture by Sigourney Weaver (who played scientist Grace Augustine in Avatar).
Joining them for the ride is Spider (Jack Champion), an adolescent human left parentless after the war. For all the fantastical imagery, Avatar: The Way Of Water shares very relatable ideas about the best ways to raise children, even if it is in the crucible of conflict. As Jake puts it, “Wherever we go, this family is a fortress.”
The ravages of war make the family flee to the coastlines of Pandora, taking refuge with the Metkayina tribe, a clan of ocean-adaptive Na’vi who live on the planet’s distant atolls. The Metkayina are led by Tonowari (Cliff Curtis) and Ronal (Kate Winslet) and the couple butt heads with the Sullys, whom they see as inviting trouble to their peaceful community.
Cameron has a long-held love of the sea–themanledan expedition to the bottom of the Mariana Trench – and the Metkayina sequences include sub-aqua set pieces so beautiful they feel like a David Attenborough documentary on steroids, made possible only by ground-breaking advances in underwater performance capture.
As with the first film, Cameron juggles beauty and terror in equal measures. The film is filled with brand new fauna and wildlife, and at the heart of the film is a touching relationship between middle Sully child Lo’ak and a tulkun, a giant, whale-like creature, named Payakan. The threat comes in the return of the formidable Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), who was killed by Neytiri in the first film and returns as an autonomous avatar, this time in Na’vi form.
Avatar: The Way Of Water is envisaged as part two in a five-film saga. This first step in audacious long-form storytelling is a mythos being created before your very eyes by one man.
So, step into Picturehouse this Christmas, your very own passport back to Pandora.
By Ian Freer
IN THE KNOW
1. To perform in the underwater scenes, Cameron brought in world champion freediver Kirk Krack to teach the cast how to do sustained breath holds and still act. The record for the longest breath hold by the actors went to Kate Winslet, who managed seven minutes and 14 seconds.
2. The performance-capture filming took place in a 900,000-gallon tank (built specifically for the production), which could mimic the ocean’s swirling currents and crashing waves. To help acclimatise to the aquatic life, the cast became certified divers and went on a field trip to Hawaii to dive with manta rays.
3. The subtitle “The Way Of Water” is a running motif in the film that, according to Cameron, is about “understanding the medium in which you operate”. The idea started life in Cameron’s unfinished novelisation of the first film, where it was referred to as “The Way Of Air”.