“Avatar: The Way of Water” drags and dazzles in a special effects spectacular.

After 13 years of waiting, the time has come to return to Pandora for Avatar: The Way of Water.

The sequel takes place decades after the events of its predecessor, where Jake Sully and Neytiri (Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana) are now parents forced to travel the vast regions of Pandora to protect their family from a dangerous threat: mankind.

Avatar came out in 2009. I was in high school and on a date. And although the date was miserable, I will never forget how immersed I was in James Cameron’s world building. Sure. At its core, Avatar is a retelling of Pocahontas with blue people, but you cannot deny the power of its storytelling and hypnotic visual effects. For crying out loud, it inspired an entire land in Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

And so here we are. The night before Christmas in 2022. Back in Pandora. In Dolby 3D. For over three hours.

And was it all worth it?

Well, I found myself completely transported into the wildly wonderful world of Pandora, just like I was in 2009.

There is no denying that Avatar: The Way of Water is a visual masterpiece. James Cameron and his talented team leveraged every special effect they had in their arsenal to create an all-consuming and effortlessly dazzling world that is far more impressive than its predecessor.

And it isn’t just the creatures and surroundings that are stunning. The Navi’i are more realistic with intricate details. Even the action sequences are more explosive (literally) and eye opening.

Cameron went hard. And I applaud him. He really knows how to put on a show.

However, a GIANT chunk of the runtime is devoted to these sequences of eye candy. Sure it is beautiful, but it has NO need to be SO long. It started to feel like a turquoise screensaver. I am sorry my friends, Avatar: The Way of Wonder is long and feels long.

And as far as storytelling, the plot settles with simplicity similar to its predecessor. The dialogue is clunky, there are frustrating plot holes, and there are also some subplots and characters that are just not that interesting.

However, a bulk of this film focuses on the power of family, which is demonstrated through an exceptionally compelling ensemble of newcomers playing the Sully Children — newcomers with the exception of Sigourney Weaver…who somehow found a way to return to the cast. I also have to commend Zoe Saldana. Saldana’s raw emotion and commitment to bringing the fiery Neytiri to life has always fascinated me. Watching her character take on the role of mother and warrior is a mood.

Despite its flaws, Avatar: The Way of Wonder is visually stunning and pure escapism. So it’s safe to say, I am invested in the next chapter of the story of Pandora.

However, please remember, the runtime is long and feels long. So…pack snacks and dress comfortably. You’ll thank me later.

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