Despite the fact James Cameron’s original Avatar is the highest-grossing film of all time, there’s a good chance you haven’t seen it in a while. It’s a film many, many of us saw upon release, and even a good amount of people saw earlier this year for the re-release, but it’s not on TV all that much and, as a result, isn’t some kind of perennial experience for the majority of filmgoers.
And yet, its long-awaited sequel, Avatar: The Way of Water, finally hits theaters today. The film arrives with a lot of buzz but there’s a chance you might need a refresher. If so, the best bet is to rewatch the original Avatar. It’s on Disney+ and holds up incredibly well. However, if you don’t have the time, we’ve boiled down the crucial facts you need to remember to truly appreciate the new movie.
Pandora is an alien planet that takes several years of space travel for humans to get to. It’s the home of the Na’vi, a species of lanky, 10-foot-tall blue creatures who worship nature on their planet, which is filled with unique creatures, plant life, and mountains that float in the sky. The Na’vi even use their tails to bond with some of the creatures and share a consciousness.
Though humans can’t breathe the air on Pandora, a group called the RDA—Resources Development Administration—is there to mine the planet for a super-valuable mineral called unobtanium, most of which is buried under the Na’vi homeland. The RDA makes up the majority of humans on Pandora, though a smaller group is there to simply study and learn from the Na’vi.
Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is a Marine who lost the ability to use his legs. He had an identical twin brother who was a brilliant scientist and was scheduled to go to Pandora to study the Na’vi, but he died. So Jake goes in his place.
The reason Jake can go in place of his brother is that the lead scientist on Pandora, Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), developed a system where a human’s consciousness can transfer into a Na’vi-like body, called an avatar. Avatars are made from the DNA of their subjects, so since she made one for Jake’s identical twin brother, he’s able to use it.
Jake takes to his new avatar body quickly. However, while Grace wants him to use it to learn more about the Na’vi culture and its connection to Pandora, the head of RDA’s security, Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), asks Jake to undermine that. He wants him to infiltrate the Na’vi to learn what it will take to make them leave their home so the RDA can mine the unobtanium.
The Omaticaya are Na’vi who live and worship in the forests of Pandora. It’s their leader’s daughter, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), who first encounters Jake’s avatar and despite everyone’s misgivings, she’s entrusted with teaching him their customs. Things like how to hunt, how to fly on the back of creatures, and more. It takes time but Jake ends up becoming excellent at it and an official part of the tribe. Eventually, the two fall in love and choose to be together, which poses a problem since Jake isn’t actually Na’vi. He’s a human consciousness in a Na’vi body.
After inventing the avatar system, Grace learns more about the Na’vi than anyone before her. From her studies, she believes that Pandora is more than a planet, it’s a living organism, and the Na’vi diety, Eywa, is a representation of that. When Grace’s human body is injured in a fight between the humans and Na’vi, the Na’vi attempt to pass Grace’s consciousness through Eywa into her avatar to save her life. Grace says she can see Eywa but, it does not work. Grace dies.
Eventually, Jake tells Quaritch that the Na’vi will never leave their home but Quaritch uses the intel Jake gives him anyway. The resulting attack destroys the Omaticaya’s home and kills Neytiri’s father, the head of the clan. Many twists and turns then occur—which are great in the movie but not all that important to remember for the sequel—but ultimately, Jake is seen as a traitor by the Na’vi and becomes an outcast. He must do something big to prove his worthiness to the Na’vi and regain their trust.
So Jake tames and bonds with Toruk, the largest and most feared of all the animals in the area, and thereby becomes “Toruk Macto,” a legendary status among the Na’vi people. The move instantly shows how much he loves and respects the Na’vi, which helps him unite all the local tribes so that they can fight against the RDA, which the Na’vi call “The Sky People.”
With the help of all the tribes, as well as all the creatures of Pandora, the Na’vi defeat the Sky People, punctuated by Jake’s avatar fighting Quaritch (in a mech suit) with Neytiri ultimately landing the killing blow.
With the Na’vi victorious, the majority of the humans are sent back to Earth. A few remain though, including scientists Dr. Max Patel (Dileep Rao) and Dr. Norm Spellman (Joel David Moore); they worked with Grace, helped Jake throughout his journey, and are considered friends of the Na’vi. With most of the humans gone or dead, the Na’vi permanently transfer Jake’s consciousness to his avatar, making him an official Na’vi.
So there you have it. Jake Sully, once a human, is now a Na’vi leader along with his mate, princess Neytiri. Humans have left Pandora and all seems well... until it’s not. Avatar: The Way of Water is now in theaters; we’ll have more soon.
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