Avatar 2: A Pandora-mic Experience

How the long-awaited sequel, Avatar 2: The Way of Water, continues to dominate at the box office


Chirps and whistles in a glow-in-the-dark forest, floating spores, a bright blue ocean with luminescent reefs, a giant armored whale, and a palpable touch of wonder. This is Pandora. A perfect encapsulation of nature that is untouched by human life. But like any other James Cameron movie, Pandora’s pristine environment, plentiful resources, and natives just cannot be left alone without unethical human intervention. Avatar 2: The Way of Water not only captures a representation of the wider indigenous community but also serves as a transition to the next phase of high-grade filmmaking.

Released last December, Avatar 2: The Way of Water has been confused by many as more of a “Blue Planet ” documentary than a story about the alien race of the Na’vi at war. But while the trailers may seem too bland and “watery,” this might actually have been a strategic move by Cameron to lure audience members in. The actual story follows the first movie Avatar, revolving around Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a disabled Marine that tumbles onto the scene of an “unobtanium” mining operation on the planet of Pandora. While navigating the planet, he eventually encounters one of the natives: Neytiri, played by Zoe Saldaña, whom he falls in love with. The sequel opens up with  Neytiri and Jake’s family having to fend off the revenge-seeking General Quaritch.

Jake’s family seeks refuge with the sea-dwelling Metkayina tribe.

Although many critics would argue that this film is a surface-level sci-fi film, the broader issues that Cameron tackles are more about the violent nature of settler colonialism and the destructive exploitation of native land. Displayed as a deadly firestorm that engulfs all of planet Earth, Avatar 2 shows human greed as a violent rush to obtain resources from burning down forests to poaching armored whales. Many of Cameron’s references and representations are drawn from a real-life tribe, the Māori peoples—the inspiration for the fictional sea-dwelling Metkayina tribe in the film. His commitment to native representation adds a further level of depth. Meanwhile, Cameron manages to masterfully forge a connection between us and an unknown alien environment by depicting a human-like family relationship, navigating Jake’s family and their bond with one another. Halfway through the movie, I somehow already found myself siding with the native Na’vi. As someone who watched the first movie at 2x speed, I didn’t necessarily think I would relate to a 9-foot bipedal alien with yellow eyes.

 When I finally watched the movie in IMAX 3D, I felt as if I was submerged in the environment and could feel the currents splashing behind my seat. Personally, the wait was worth it. ”

A cinematic moment as Jake stares at the boats that threaten his homeland

While the deeper meaning of the film has been searched by many moviegoers, the elephant, or rather, whale, in the room is why there was a 13-year hiatus between the first film and its sequel. The reason was due to the lack of an effective CGI that could portray water in a realistic manner at the time. Thus, the production studio had to use a multitude of innovative tactics to capture the true depth of the blue sea. For example, Cameron implemented anti-reflective orbs and filled the surface of the water tank to prevent unwanted light from reflecting into the water, while developing waterproof IMAX-grade cameras to capture the true essence of the sea. The actors also had to adapt and were trained in free-diving, holding their breath underwater for prolonged periods of time with the assistance of professionals. When I finally watched the movie in IMAX 3D, I felt as if I was submerged in the environment and could feel the currents splashing behind my seat. Personally, the wait was worth it.

In summary, Avatar 2 not only continues to dominate the box office, but it also holds a much deeper and significant meaning for the broader indigenous community. Although The Way of Water has been frequently criticized as a film that is too “dry,” the film’s power will inevitably wash the critics away.