Few directors have the track record that James Cameron has. His films routinely smash box office records and become de facto cultural icons in their own right. Terminator 2 is one of the best action films of all time. Titanic is so iconic that you can hear lines from it quoted out of context during any random conversation.
And then there’s Avatar. Cameron’s 2009 sci-fi epic is the highest-grossing film in human history. It may tell a straightforward story, but it’s visually arresting in a way that makes it a real movie lover’s movie. And now it has a sequel.
Cameron saw the gargantuan eleven-year gap between Titanic and Avatar and said, “I can top that.” So, he waited a good 13 years to do his second Avatar movie. Okay, that’s probably not what happened, but it is kind of funny that things panned out that way.
Avatar: The Way of Water is the first of several planned sequels to the highest-grossing movie ever. It follows protagonist Jake Sully and his wife Neytiri as they, along with their children, face off against the “sky people” (humans) once more. Jake now resides in his “avatar” body full-time, his original human body having perished during the events of the first film. But the storyline is hardly the main focus here: Avatar 2 is visually stunning. That’s why it took so long.
After the first film raked in over a billion dollars at the box office, Cameron and his team started working on the follow-ups. They initially planned to make only two sequels, but that quickly became four. At the same time, Cameron held up production so that filming technology could advance far enough to record motion capture performances underwater.
These delays pushed The Way of Water back from an expected 2014 release date to 2022. An eight-year delay is something that you only hear about with a filmmaker as particular and exacting as James Cameron.
So, after a 13-year break from visiting the world of Pandora, how does the sequel hold up? It’s good, according to critics. It’s a visually stunning film that transports viewers to another world–even if it lacks some narrative heft that might make it a bit more riveting. Still, if you like your movies to just be visual treats akin to visiting a theme park, you’re certain to love the movie.