James Cameron’s “Avatar: The Way of Water” is a return to the blue-skinned Na’vi to check on the hybrid Jake Sully (Australian actor Sam Worthington) and the family he has made with Na’vi wife Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña). The Sky Invaders return under the command of Jake’s nemesis Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) as a lab-created Na’vi. The CGI and layered imagined world is wondrous, but the plotting water-logged and over long. Pursued by Quaritch and his band of blue baddies, Jake’s family find sanctuary amongst the Na’vi water tribes and must learn “The Way of Water,” a culture which draws heavily from Pacific Islander tradition and includes actors from the Maori cultures.
The 2009 “Avatar” begins in 2154. Pandora is a moon in the Alpha Centauri star system which has a gaseous atmosphere, threatening to human life after more than a few minutes, but the planet has a valuable mineral, unobtanium, which is of high value (“20 million a kilo”). The Resources Development Administration is mining for the mineral in a brutal forest and fauna obliterating operation. Unfortunately, the 10-foot-tall Na’vi we meet have their main settlement, the giant Hometree, over a particularly large deposit. The title draws from the special Avatar Project headed by exobiologist Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver). In this project, Na’vi-human hybrid bodies are genetically matched to a human operator. The human operator is held in stasis during the time they take control of the Na’vi avatar. The avatar body must sleep while the human operator is awake and able to get out of the stasis chamber to eat, shower and vlog.
Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is a former marine, whose Phd. scientist brother had been in training for three-years for this project, but died. Jake had in a separate incident suffered catastrophic injuries that left him a paraplegic and unable to afford treatment to restore mobility to his legs on Veterans benefits. Jake replaces his brother since they share identical DNA. Once on the surface of Pandora, through a chance meeting with a female Na’vi, Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña), and what may be blessings from the principle Na’vi diety Eywa, Jake is allowed into the Na’vi Omaticaya clan. The Na’vi who initially saved his life, Neytiri, is charged by her father, the leader of the clan leader Eytukan (Wes Studi), to teach Jake the ways of the Na’vi and its language.
Neytiri’s mother, Mo’at (CCH Pounder) is the clan’s spiritual leader.
Jake learns the culture and language and passes all of the warrior tests. Although he was recruited by Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), head of the mining operations security department to infiltrate and basically be a mole for fellow former US Marines instead of supporting the Avatar Project research team, he finds life in his avatar more freeing. He eventually turns against the mining mission and joins forces with the clan along with the rest of the Avatar Project team, but not only do the clans all join in, but the animals of the planet join forces and drive away most of the Earthlings.
As one might expect, there is a battle between Jake and Quaritch, but ultimately Neytiri kills Quaritch to save Jake.
Jake, who had tamed and ridden the most fierce flying predator, the Toruk, is joined to his avatar via the power of the Tree of Souls. Jake says, “The time of great sorrow was ending. The Toruk Makto was no longer needed.” While most of the Sky People are forced to return to their dying planet Earth, a few were chosen to stay: Dr. Max Patel (Dileep Rao) and xenoanthropologist Dr. Norm Spellman (Joel David Moore).
Avatar: The Way of Water
I went into the Monday evening 3D press screening without reviewing the 2009 film. My initial reaction was there were problems of logic and lechery here.
The Omatikaya clan has led a peaceful existence for about a decade. Jake is not the head of the Omatikaya clan and has three kids–Neteyam (Jamie Flatters), Lo’ak (Britain Dalton) and Tut (Trinity Jo-Li Bliss). In addition, they have an adopted teenage daughter, Kiri (Sigourney Weaver). An orphaned human child, Spider (Jack Champion) hangs around to round out the brood to five.
The Sky People return–still under the RDA, but this time, instead of a rare mineral, they have other goals. One is to colonize the entire moon of Pandora. Earth is dying. The RDA erects the walled city of Bridgehead. Under the command of General Francis Ardmore (Edie Falco), their mission is subjugation. New technology has allowed the creation of hybrid Na’vi-humans that have the memories of human whose DNA was used to create them.There are called recombinants or recoms and the secret weapon is ready by a Recom with the memories of Miles Quaritch.
Quaritch is obsessed with finding and killing Jake, making Jake realize that he and his family must leave and go to other areas of Pandora. Landing before a gathering of reef people, the family ends up invoking Uturu, a Na’vi tradition that any refugee seeking sanctuary must be granted protection, with the Metkayina clan led by Ronal (Kate Winslet) and Tonowari (Māori Te Arawa and Ngāti Hauitit actor Cliff Curtis).
Tonowari tells his kids, Tsireya (Bailey Bass) and Aonung (Canadian Filipino actor Filip Geljo) to help the kids learn the water clan’s customs. The Metkayina are more green than blue and they have thicker arms and tails that are more adapted to swimming. The Metkayina had tattoo patterns that tell their family story; these tattoos resemble Maori and other Pacific Islander designs. The Metkayina also have a spiritual relationship that joins them with one individual of a whale-like creature, the tulkun.
Curtis was in the 1994 “Once Were Warriors” and the 2002 “Whale Rider.” The references to Māori culture that was presented in those films are evident in the depiction of the reef people. The moments between the Metkayina and the Omatikaya kids parallel Jake’s initial acculturation, yet visually, these are bigger and aided by the advances in technology. The imagined world is detailed and lush. I loved these lyrical scenes of water.
But we also get a hint of danger when Aonung and his best friends play a mean trick on Lo’ak.
If the first movie took on environmental travesty of deforestation and strip mining with all the subtly of a dam breaking down and sweeping towns into the ocean, this one takes on the slaughter of whales. Yet with whales, it’s hard not to think of Quaritch as a Captain Ahab figure, focused on revenge against Jake in a manner that makes one wonder who is behind the RDA and why can’t they rein this blue man in.
If you had any doubts on which side to align with despite the Semper Fi, then remember that the Sky People are okay with torturing human kids and holding young Na’vi as hostages.
Since there are sequels already scheduled, you can guess that some of the leading characters will be coming back and after the death and rebirth of Quaritch, no one has to stay dead, do they? So let’s go on to the problems of logic and lechery. The Na’vi, both male and female are all slender and tall. None of them seem to be old or overweight. None of them are disabled despite having waged wars and been hunters.
First, the issue of armor carries over from the first film. Why did the Na’vi not develop or wear armor that could at least withstand the arrows they themselves use? You might think these tribes were based on Native American or rain forest peoples. Native American, rain forest and Pacific Islander peoples did have breast plates that were meant to cover and protect their chest and abdomen. Sure they couldn’t withstand bullets, but we’re talking about bow and arrow technology. We never see the Na’vi decide to utilize the metal scraps from the Sky People as armor either, despite being led by a former military man (Jake Sully). This lack of logical wartime defensive strategies may be rooted in something else and for that we can go directly to writer, director, producer and editor James Cameron.
- “She’s got to have tits.” – Anti-Objectification Activist James Cameron about Female Characters
- James Cameron Explains Why The Na’vi Have Breasts (26 April 2010; updated 25 May 2011)
- Patty Jenkins Defends ‘Wonder Woman’ Against James Cameron’s Criticism as Sexist Interview Reemerges‘ (25 August 2017)
- Top 15 Neytiri Nip Slips
Even without reviewing these issues (and I did have issues with Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman), I was uncomfortable with the representation of female Na’vi, particularly of the younger ones. It is weird that the nearly nude Na’vi had no genitals, but it is creepy that the underboob and sideboob of female Na’vi are so prominently displayed. The body type of the female Na’vi in general (with the exception of the pregnant Na’vi) seems to be modeled on early pubescent girls.
After my initial reaction to “The Way of Water,” I sat down and viewed the 2009 film, “Avatar” and even before I learned about a certain scene, I did see there was a specific scene which was meant to show the nipple of Neytiri. And yet James Cameron went for the PG-13 rating.
The reef Na’vi who follow the Way of Water, are obviously influenced by Pacific Islander cultures. That’s plainly seen in the skin coloration. The original Na’vi we knew had stripes, crudely resembling tigers. These Na’ve have markings that resemble the tattoo designs of Pacific Islanders and the whale-like creatures do as well.
The sexualization of the female Na’vi then would seem to draw on the hyper sexualization of Pacific Islanders for “The Way of Water” and of Native Americans for the first film. Think of Paul Gauguin. Think of sex trips by Americans to the Philippines. Think of the term LBFM. In this case, B doesn’t stand for Brown.
Beyond these problems, at 192 minutes or three hours and 20 minutes, it is bloated. When the film took a turn into an overturned watery hallways, I remembered how I hated the convoluted what-next-can-we-throw-in type of mentality of the James Cameron’s “Titanic.” At one point, I wondered where the reef people had gone. I suppose since there are more female Na’vi with tits, I am not the audience James Cameron is aiming for, but my husband also was not impressed with the story by committee (written by Cameron, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Josh Friedman and Shane Salemo). Then there’s that problem of racism.
“Avatar: The Way of Water” premiered in London on 6 December 2022 and will be released on 16 December 2022 in the United States.