Review- Avatar: The Way of Water is the visual successor, but that's all there is to it

Review- Avatar: The Way of Water is the visual successor, but that's all there is to it ...

Contains spoilers for "Avatar: The Way of Water."

After almost a decade of development, James Cameron takes to the alien worlds in "Avatar: The Way of Water." It's no surprise that it's already one of the best sequels ever made.

How does Cameron's new film "Avatar: The Way of Water" compare to what was previously? After all, time heals all wounds, even the CGI ones. In the end, the choice between Cameron's excessively aqua-tinted franchise installments is clear as a cup of water, but much harder to swallow.

Avatar: The Way of Water is the visual sequel — but that's not the point.

"Avatar: The Way of Water" is visually 20,000 leagues ahead of Cameron's first chapter of the Pandora-set narrative he's so keen on portraying. Just like "The Hobbit" and "Gemini Man" did, the screen becomes more of a window.

When Jake and his family dip in the Pacific, you'll find yourself holding your breath or leaning back from the screen as the local marine life swims by. Every splash and sprinkle of wet stuff on the Na'vi, good or bad, adds a layer of stunning authenticity that is unsurpassed in any sequel.

Avatar does not bog itself down with plot holes and loose threads.

"Avatar" may be akin to "Dances with Wolves," but there were still segments in the space Smurf film that attempted to put a fresh perspective on a familiar story. Locals laugh at the outsiders who have no clues, even down to similar dialogue (Cliff Curtis' Tonowari compares them to being babies in the first film).

"The Way of Water" leaves us with more questions than answers, whereas its predecessor, while imitating previous films, manages to stand on its own. Kind of.

The Way of Water's biggest actors are drowned.

The other advantage Cameron's first Na'vi-infested film has over its follow-up is a balanced attention to its characters. The 2009 film isn't spread so thin that heroes or villains are totally erased, but "The Way of Water" fails with this in a rather jarring manner. Rivals or losses are often unearned or grossly underplayed.

This is yet another clue that Cameron's latest film is under pressure to become a larger franchise, while "Avatar," for all its flaws, is a film that stands alone. It never held its cards to its chest, awaiting subsequent installments to reveal what was in its hands, as is so annoyingly teased here. But in the end, adding water is simply ineffective.