I wouldn’t call Avatar: The Way of Water one of the year’s best movies, but it’s undoubtedly one of the best movie-going experiences I’ve had in a while. I had more or less the same reaction to James Cameron’s first Avatar in 2009.
It told a thin but trippy Dances with Wolves-ian story about the colonizers v. the colonized, but the world building was spectacular: It was thrilling to visit the faraway moon called Pandora, with its immersive, digitally created jungle landscapes. It was thrilling, too, to root for the towering blue-skinned Na’vi people, brought to life through Cameron’s pioneering use of performance-capture technology, which translates actors’ movements and facial expressions into computer-generated imagery.
And so it’s great to return to Pandora, although since many years have passed since the events of the first movie, there is some clunky exposition to get through. Sam Worthington again plays Jake Sully, a former human now reborn as a Na’vi man, and Zoe Saldaña returns as the fierce warrior princess Neytiri. They have four Na’vi children, including an adopted teenage daughter, Kiri. She’s played, through the magic of performance capture, by the decidedly not-teenage Sigourney Weaver. And Weaver, as you might recall, played a human scientist who was killed in the first Avatar.