Avatar: The Way of Water is a 2022 American epic science fiction film directed and produced by James Cameron. He co-wrote the screenplay with Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver from a story the trio wrote with Josh Friedman and Shane Salerno. Distributed by 20th Century Studios, it is the sequel to Avatar (2009) and the second installment in the Avatar film series. Cast members Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña, Stephen Lang, Joel David Moore, CCH Pounder, Giovanni Ribisi, Dileep Rao, and Matt Gerald reprise their roles from the original film, with Sigourney Weaver returning in an additional role. New cast members include Kate Winslet, Cliff Curtis, Edie Falco, and Jemaine Clement. Its story follows a blue-skinned humanoid Na’vi named Jake Sully (Worthington) as he and his family, under renewed human threat, seek refuge with the aquatic Metkayina clan of Pandora, a habitable exomoon on which they live.
Cameron stated in 2006 that he would like to make sequels to Avatar if it was successful, and he announced the first two sequels in 2010, following the widespread success of the first film, with the first sequel aiming for a 2014 release. However, the addition of two more sequels, for a total of five Avatar films, and the necessity to develop new technology to film performance capture scenes underwater, a feat never accomplished before, led to significant delays to allow the crew more time to work on the writing, preproduction, and visual effects. The filming process, which occurred simultaneously with a currently untitled third film, began in Manhattan Beach, California, on August 15, 2017. The filming location moved to Wellington on September 25, 2017, which ended in late September 2020 after three years of shooting. With an estimated budget of $350–460 million, the film is one of the most expensive films ever made.
After repeated delays in the expected release schedule, Avatar: The Way of Water premiered in London on December 6, 2022, and was theatrically released in the United States on December 16, 2022. The film received positive reviews from critics, who praised its visual effects and technical achievements but criticized the plot and lengthy runtime. The film was a major box office success, breaking multiple records, and grossing about $2.310 billion worldwide, making it the highest-grossing film of 2022, the highest-grossing film of the COVID-19 pandemic era and the third-highest-grossing film of all time. Organizations like the National Board of Review and the American Film Institute named it as one of the top ten films of 2022. Among its many accolades, the film was nominated for four awards at the 95th Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and won for Best Visual Effects. Three further sequels are in production, with the next film set to be released on December 20, 2024.
In 2006, Cameron stated that if Avatar (2009) was successful, he would consider making two sequels. In 2010, he said the sequels would proceed as planned as a result of the film’s widespread success. The sequels were originally scheduled for release in December 2014 and 2015. He included certain scenes in the first film for future story follow-ups. Cameron planned to shoot the sequels back-to-back and to begin work “once the novel is nailed down”. He stated that the sequels would widen the universe while exploring other moons of Polyphemus. The first sequel would focus on the ocean of Pandora and also feature more of the rainforest. He intended to capture footage for the sequel at the bottom of the Mariana Trench using a deepwater submersible. In 2011, Cameron stated that he was just starting to design the ocean ecosystem of Pandora and the other worlds to be included in the story. The storyline, although continuing the environmental theme of the first film, would not be “strident” since the film will concentrate on entertainment. The sequels were confirmed as continuing to follow the characters of Jake and Neytiri in December 2009. Cameron implied that the humans would return as the antagonists of the story. In 2011, Cameron stated his intention to film the sequels at a higher frame rate than the industry standard 24 frames per second, to add a heightened sense of reality.
In 2013, Cameron announced that the sequels would be filmed in New Zealand, with performance capture to take place in 2014. An agreement with the New Zealand government required at least one world premiere to be held in Wellington and at least NZ$500 million (approximately US$410 million at December 2013 exchange rates) to be spent on production activity in New Zealand, including live-action filming and visual effects. The New Zealand government announced it would raise its baseline tax rebate for filmmaking from 15% to 20%, with 25% available to international productions in some cases and 40% for New Zealand productions (as defined by section 18 of the New Zealand Film Commission Act 1978).
Cameron mentioned a possible third sequel for the first time in 2012; and was officially confirmed the following year. Cameron was then looking to release Avatar 2 in 2015, but later that year, production was rescheduled for 2014, with the film to be released in December 2016, and to be followed by the two other sequels in 2017 and 2018. By 2015, the scheduled release dates for the sequels were each delayed by another year, with the first sequel expected to be released in December 2017; this was due to the writing process, which Cameron called “a complex job”. The following month, Fox announced a further release delay. In February 2016, production of the sequels was scheduled to begin in April 2016 in New Zealand. In April 2016, Cameron announced at CinemaCon that there will be four Avatar sequels, all of which will be filmed simultaneously. The four Avatar sequels share a $1 billion budget (e.g. $250 million each film).
New crew members include cinematographer Russell Carpenter, who worked with Cameron on True Lies (1994) and Titanic (1997), and Aashrita Kamath, who will act as art director on all four sequels. Kirk Krack, founder of Performance Freediving International, worked as a free-diving trainer for the cast and crew for the underwater scenes. Several creatures that were first introduced in the Walt Disney World theme park attraction Avatar Flight of Passage were featured in the film.
In 2019, after several media outlets shared rumors of potential titles for the Avatar sequels, including the name Avatar: The Way of Water, Cameron confirmed that the titles mentioned were “among titles that are in consideration” but had not been finalized at the time.
In 2022, Cameron said that about ten minutes of “gunplay action” were cut from the film as he was no longer inclined to “fetishize the gun”, although he is known as an “action filmmaker”.
- Sam Worthington as Jake Sully, a former human, who fell in love with Neytiri and befriended the Na’vi after becoming a member of the Avatar Program, eventually taking their side in their conflict with humans and leading them to victory. He left his human body to permanently become Na’vi and is now chief of the Omatikaya.
- Zoe Saldaña as Neytiri te Tskaha Mo’at’ite (Neytiri Sully), daughter of the previous clan chief, future Tsahìk of the clan, and Jake’s mate.
- Sigourney Weaver as Kiri te Suli Kireysi’ite (Kiri Sully), the 14-year-old daughter of Dr. Grace Augustine’s Na’vi avatar who was adopted by Jake and Neytiri. Weaver originally appeared in the first film as Dr. Grace Augustine, a human scientist who took the side of the Na’vi and died during the conflict; her Na’vi avatar is revealed to have birthed Kiri despite her death. Like most of the cast, she learned free-diving for the film and filmed scenes underwater.
- Weaver also reprises her role as Dr. Grace Augustine, despite Weaver stating in 2014 that she would not do so, though she and Cameron confirmed prior to then that she would return in the sequels: she appears in this film in a video recording and in a spiritual vision where she meets with Kiri.
- Stephen Lang as Colonel Miles Quaritch, a human military officer who led the paramilitary security division of the RDA in their conflict with the Na’vi. After being killed by Neytiri in 2154, he is revived as a recombinant and seeks revenge against Jake and his family. Cameron stated in 2010 that Lang would return in the first three sequels, stating, “I’m not going to say exactly how we’re bringing him back, but it’s a science fiction story, after all. His character will evolve into really unexpected places across the arc of our new three-film saga.” He later stated that Quaritch would act as the main antagonist once again, in all four sequels.
- Lang also reprises his role as the original human Quaritch of the first movie in a video recording made for his recombinant self.
- Kate Winslet as Ronal, a free diver of the Metkayina and Tonowari’s wife, who is pregnant. Winslet called Ronal “a pivotal character in the ongoing story” but also “relatively small comparative to the lengthy shoot” since shooting all her scenes only took a month. It marks her first time working with performance capture, and motion capture altogether. She, like most of the cast, also had to learn free diving for the film; while filming an underwater scene, she held her breath for over seven minutes, a new record for any film scene shot underwater.
- Cliff Curtis as Tonowari, the chief of the Metkayina clan and Ronal’s husband
- Joel David Moore as Dr. Norm Spellman, a former member of the Avatar Program who chose to side with the Na’vi in the first film.
- Moore also portrays Spellman while in his Na’vi Avatar.
- CCH Pounder as Mo’at, the Omatikaya’s Tsahìk, and Neytiri’s mother.
- Edie Falco as General Frances Ardmore, the commander in charge of the RDA’s interests.
- Brendan Cowell as Captain Mick Scoresby, the head of an RDA private sector marine hunting vessel on the planet of Pandora.
- Jemaine Clement as Dr. Ian Garvin, a marine biologist working for the RDA.
- Jamie Flatters as Neteyam te Suli Tsyeyk’itan (Neteyam Sully), Jake and Neytiri’s 16-year-old son and oldest child.
- Joel David Moore’s son, Oliver, cameos as an infant Neteyam.
- Britain Dalton as Lo’ak te Suli Tsyeyk’itan (Lo’ak Sully), Jake and Neytiri’s 14-year-old son.
- Chloe Coleman as young Lo’ak.
- Trinity Jo-Li Bliss as Tuktirey “Tuk” te Suli Neytiri’ite (Tuktirey “Tuk” Sully), Jake and Neytiri’s 8-year-old daughter and their youngest child.
- Jack Champion as Miles “Spider” Socorro, the 16-year-old son of Quaritch born in Hell’s Gate (the human base on Pandora in the first film) who was raised by scientists who stayed back on Pandora. He is inseparable from Jake and Neytiri’s children.
- Bailey Bass as Tsireya (“Reya”), a graceful and strong free diver of the Metkayina and Tonowari and Ronal’s daughter
- Filip Geljo as Aonung, a young male hunter, a free diver of the Metkayina, and Tonowari and Ronal’s son
- Duane Evans, Jr. as Rotxo, a young male hunter and free diver of the Metkayina
- Giovanni Ribisi as Parker Selfridge, the former corporate administrator for the RDA mining operation, who appears in a recording made for Quaritch’s Recombinant.
- Dileep Rao as Dr. Max Patel, a scientist who worked in the Avatar Program and came to support Jake’s rebellion against the RDA in the first film.
- Matt Gerald as Corporal Lyle Wainfleet, a human mercenary who fought and died in the RDA’s battle against the Na’vi in 2154. Following the RDA’s return to Pandora, he is revived as a recombinant and placed under Quaritch’s command. Gerald was announced to reprise his role in August 2017.
- Gerald also reprises his role as the original human Wainfleet from the first film shown in Quaritch’s video recording.
Additionally, Alicia Vela-Bailey appears, uncredited, as Zdinarsk, a recombinant and member of the 1st Recom Squadron. Vela-Bailey previously portrayed Ikeyni, Saeyla, and a blonde woman in a bar in the original Avatar. She is also featured as a stunt performer in both films. CJ Jones appears, also uncredited, as a Metkayina interpreter of the Na’vi sign language he created.
December 16, 2022
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