The release of James Cameron’s “Avatar: The Way of the Water” in December 2022 absolutely demolished box office records. Beating out “Top Gun: Maverick” as the highest-grossing film of last year, it ended up reaching the $2 billion echelon. The sequel to the 2009 smash hit “Avatar” not only provides audiences with state-of-the-art visual effects but also satisfies critics and audiences by making fundamental improvements to the original film’s story and universe.
The development of “The Way of the Water” was conceived back in 2006 when Cameron was working on the first Avatar film. He expressed interest in developing sequels for “Avatar” if the film ended up being a financial success. Four years and $2 billion later, Cameron announced in 2010 that sequel films would be in development.The first of what would become many planned sequels was originally scheduled for a 2014 release.
The original “Avatar” was groundbreaking for its innovative use of computer visual effects and motion capture technology which lended itself to the film’s setting of Pandora feeling lifelike and extraordinary. Cameron wanted to develop new filming technology to create the sequel, which would include underwater scenes being entirely motion captured. The scenes of underwater motion capture involved the main crew of actors having to train in free diving, as scuba equipment would interfere with the process.
This process would end up causing “The Way of the Water” to experience excessive delays in development. The film was in development for so long that when the principal photography stage began in 2017, Cameron made the decision to film “The Way of the Water” alongside the upcoming Avatar 3 and Avatar 4 films, which are scheduled to be released in 2024 and 2026 respectively.
The live action filming portion of the production began in 2019 and faced even more delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The final budget of the film is estimated to be over $400 million, making “The Way of the Water” one of the most expensive films ever made.
What came from the film’s prolonged development cycle are some of the most detailed visual effects in any film to date. The blending of motion capture and underwater filming for the underwater scenes is absolutely amazing to experience.
The original Avatar film was often criticized for its rather simple story and generic characters. The first film had a very simple premise that involved protecting the environment of Pandora and the Na’vi race of people who reside there. The second film is still very simple but it focuses its attention more on the main character of Jake Sully and his family. The new family dynamic works to some degree as it provides reason for the characters of Sully and Neytiri to be more vulnerable, not only to seek refuge in the film’s new location but also showing the relationships with their children, who will likely take their place in the sequel films down the line.
While the film has a rather lengthy three-hour run time, the pacing seems to be rather quick near the end of the film where the majority of the action scenes take place. The story takes its time to develop the new location of Pandora’s eastern seaboard and how the characters interact with their environment. While the film does a serviceable job of setting up the characters in the films plot and for the later Avatar films, some audience members will feel drained regardless.
“Avatar: The Way of the Water” echoes the previous film in terms of incredible box office performance as it is currently the fifth-highest grossing film of all time, surpassing even immensely popular titles such as “Avengers: Infinity War.” “The Way of the Water” has shown noticeable improvements over the previous entry in the series, even if the film still prioritizes its new filmmaking technology first and foremost. Nonetheless, the visual effects of the film are jaw-dropping and worth at least the price of admission.