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⭐⭐⭐⭐☆ Avatar: The Way of Water, PG-13
In 2009, Avatar became the highest-grossing nonsequel movie ever at $2.9 billion, topping director James Cameron’s earlier $1.8 billion monolith Titanic. It’s about a paraplegic Marine, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), who travels to the distant moon Pandora, where he falls in love with the blue, tall and tailed Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), an indigenous Na’vi, realizes his fellow Earthers, “the Sky People,” are genocidal and switches allegiances.
Where are we now?
In the second Avatar film (the first of four planned sequels), the mixed marriage of Sully and Neytiri has borne fruit. They are the proud and engaged parents of three biological children, another adopted and a wayward human orphan named Spider. They’re thriving in an Edenic state in the forest, sharing the odd hammock, as the children frolic among stunningly imaginative flora and fauna as hallucinogenic as the unicorns and centaurs in Fantasia.
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‘This family is our fortress’
In a script prone to declamatory voiceover narration, we soon discover that the family “fort” is under siege — by the return of the original’s uber-villain. Remember Stephen Lang’s nasty, gnarly Col. Miles Quaritch? He’s back (having died and been reconstituted as an undercover Na’Vi) and on a brutal, colonialist mission to eradicate Sully, his family and as many happy villagers and sea animals as possible. Will the family fortress hold as the Sullys flee to the far side of the moon and a sea-loving indigenous stronghold? Also returning is Sigourney Weaver in a dual role and Edie Falco as a general who disappears from the plot early on, perhaps promising to reappear in a future sequel.
A whale of a tale
Like the previous Avatar, only with 13 more years of FX development, the spectacle captivates. Take the tulkun, whale-like creatures with strong tribal and mother-child bonds. When mature, they can stretch to the size of a football field. There are skimwings and ilus and ikran, dragon-like predators that make the fire-breathing beasts in Game of Thrones seem like beagles. Cameron completely succeeds in world-building — he’s the Jacques Cousteau of CGI undersea photography.