If there’s anything you should know about me, it’s that I’m a spiteful little thing. If you tell me not to do something, it’ll only make me want to do it even harder. One year, when I was making my birthday list, my mother thought I was putting on too many things. “You’d ask for a fence around the world,” she said. I had no idea what that meant, but I did immediately add it to the list, because I knew she didn’t want me to do that. Predictably, she was not amused.
So when I saw [this line] from James Cameron, well…what else was I supposed to do?
I guarantee you, you won’t be able to predict it. What people hate the most is to go and see a movie and say ‘oh… predictable.’ This is not predictable, I don’t think. I defy anybody to predict where this story goes.
I love the craft of storytelling, I love looking at what you’re presented with and trying to figure out where the story will go next. I’ve also loved Avatar since it came out, even though I knew the post wasn’t all that original. But that’s okay, because there’s no such thing as an original plot! Everything’s been done at this point!
So, let’s try to figure out the plot of The Way of Water.
What We Already Know
Ideally, all literary analysis works under the premise of “death of the author,” where the artist’s own views and the time/place they live aren’t taken into account. The work should stand on its own, and we only use what is presented in the text itself to base our analysis.
But…that’s not really possible here. We’re not looking at themes presented within the text, we’re examining the plot, which tends to be much more “mechanical” and objective (while themes are entirely subjective and can end up being not what the creator intended at all). Also, as a writer, you put in plot elements that you like, and you ignore tropes you don’t like. You think the ocean is really cool so you make a whole movie about the ocean. And et cetera.
We also have different marketing materials that give us some clues as to what’s happening, so we aren’t approaching this totally blind. So, to list the things we know:
- Everything that happened in the first Avatar film. I’m sorta considering the deleted scenes (like the schoolhouse), but not any of the comics, the not-published graphic novels, or the video games. Or Pandora land at Disney. Since most people aren’t and they aren’t considered “essential reading.” Cameron says you don’t even need to have watched the first Avatar to get the second, but it would be silly to not look at the first movie when piecing together the plot of the second.
- [The trailer], which is only considered a “teaser” since there is so little plot. But you do see various things!
- All the various “exclusive images” from Empire Magazine
- Endless factoids that I have picked up from interviews, featurettes, and the wiki over the years
- The sneak peek scene shown after the Avatar re-master that just came out
- Facts about the making of the movie itself, like how Sigourney Weaver is in it
- …and everything about the craft of storytelling, from consuming way too much media
- Plus how the world has changed since 2009 (you’ll see what I mean later)
I know I’m not going to be able to predict this beat-for-beat (no one can predict a story that well), but I am going to go for broad strokes. Antagonists, motivations, stakes, etc. When the movie comes out, I’ll revisit this and see how well I did!
The Na’vi Have Forgiven, but not Forgotten
Jake came to Pandora with selfish motivations. Up until the moment home tree was destroyed, he was all for RDA’s plan. Because of the information he gave Quaritch, a lot of na’vi were killed. And, yes, he became toruk makto and fight back, but he did cause a lot of na’vi to die in that military maneuver. The horse clans, especially, I have no idea what the ground units were supposed to do besides getting mowed down (since the big threat was the aerial units).
The Way of Water takes place not in the jungles of the Omaticaya clan, but on the coast, with a different clan of na’vi. These ocean na’vi are greenish, have different markings, and have webbing for their more ocean-going lifestyle. Plus all the actors had to learn freediving. And they invented underwater mocap. This is an entirely different biome and way of life from before.
And why’s that? Probably because a lot of na’vi (especially Omaticaya) are not big fans of Jake. They wouldn’t need saving if he didn’t come along and ruin so much in the first place. Jake and his family move to another clan to get a new start, perhaps where people might not know who he is (and be unfamiliar with avatars in general). He was reborn in his avatar body at the end of the first film, and he wants to leave his old life behind. All it ever accomplished was pain, and it has no place on Pandora.
Of course, a 5 fingered eyebrow-having guy is going to stick out…
The RDA (and their Stockholders) Haven’t Forgotten, Either
I don’t even want to know how much the RDA has invested in Pandora. Not only was all of Hell’s Gate built, and that looping cycle of interstellar vehicles to transport supplies/bring back refined unobtanium put together, and the avatar program developed (did you know each one costs $5 B?), Earth is reliant on unobtanium in a way that really isn’t discussed in the first film.
In Dune, the entirety of civilization is built around spice. Spice is required for FTL travel, as “thinking machines” are banned. There’s only one place in the universe that makes spice, and it’s very dangerous to do so, because of the natives. But the David Lynch film really did impress upon you just how critical spice is for everything.
So! Unobtanium! It’s really cool because it’s a semiconductor at room temperature, but also keeps these properties at either extreme end of temperatures. It also does some really funky stuff with magnetic fields (that’s why there are the flying mountains and such), and it was probably formed when some astral body hit the young moon and fused metal together to make this unique molecule (unobtanium isn’t an element). Also, the RDA goes out of its way to forbid study for synthesis of it on Earth, so the ONLY source is Pandora. But you can synthesize all the biological molecules you want!
This is a long way of saying that unobtanium has unique properties and can’t be found elsewhere. The earth has a global network of high-speed maglev trains, which are made with unobtanium. Computer hyperchips are made with unobtanium, and you need those to make avatars (you gotta take the human DNA and the analogue of a na’vi and transcode the two, which takes a lot of computing power). You need unobtanium to make the matter/anti-matter engines for the interstellar vehicles to travel to Pandora, which have a top speed of 0.7c.
Now, think of all the things in the past few years you had a hard time getting because of the computer chip shortages. Sure, not having USB ports in your Tesla sucks! But you can deal with that. Same deal with a PS5, or a new GPU. But as we automate more and more, we’re going to need better computers, better chips. What critical infrastructure is going to rely on these chips? What medical treatments? How much unobtanium do they have in reserve to fix/replace the maglev trains that go out of service?
Ignoring the profit-seeking nature of a huge company such as the RDA, earth needs unobtanium, it’s entrenched so deeply in our supply chain that we’d be absolutely screwed without it. The higher demand means that, when the RDA eventually gets it, they can charge even more for it. They can take even more extreme measures to get it, people can forgive a little bit more child murder, because kids here are dying without it!
Yes, this all sounds very familiar, since we’re going through all this ourselves. Earth has a long history of colonialism we can draw upon for a conflict like this but, rarely, have the exports been this critical to modern society (you can live perfectly fine without tea, spices, or gold). The closest thing we have is petroleum, but that can be found in all sorts of places. There are a couple of rare earths that have only one or two mines, but you don’t need a microchip to make a train go just yet.
So the RDA, of course, is coming back as the baddies! Countless people will die if they don’t! And their stockholders will get really mad, too! [This article] has some bits about what the RDA is up to. Specifically:
- There is a new “city” on the ocean, to get all those yummy ocean minerals
- There are now “recoms,” which are avatars with soldiers in ’em
- Quaritch is back, baby!
He’s one of two returning actors whose characters died in the first one. To be honest, I totally missed this article when this first came out, so when I was writing the outline to this after seeing the re-release, I put down “Quartich upload,” because I thought making him a clone would perhaps be too predictable. But I guess I’m 100% right on this one, because of language such as “his consciousness having been added to an avatar body.” And the recoms are “embedded with the memories of human soldiers.”
Which, to me, sounds like there isn’t a guy hanging out in a device being psionically linked and driving the avatar. There is someone permanently in there, there is no downtime for a pilot needing to rest, there is no risk the avatar will go “out of range” of the device, etc.
So Miles Quaritch, at some point, got his brain and or memories uploaded to a computer, which has now been put into an avatar. There’s lots of ways to get DNA, so they could have taken samples from his toothbrush or something to grow the avatar. I highly doubt that his natal body is alive, somehow, between the two arrows to the chest and being exposed to the Pandoran air for well over a minute. Because of the atmosphere composition, his brain would be too damaged to “fix” in any form (and I doubt Hell’s Gate had the facilities to do that)(or that the na’vi/their allies would have allowed that to happen).
He’s the antagonist, obviously! Or is he…?
Maybe the Real Antagonists are the Friends we Made Along the Way
Jake fucked up big time with that stunt he pulled in the first movie. But also, he can never truly belong among the na’vi. He grew up in a world made of nonrenewable resources, with wheels, he’s a Marine! He even said that that never leaves you. So, to him, solving problems with aggression is something that’s deeply ingrained in him. The na’vi are much more pacifistic (Cameron has said as much), so these conflicting points of view are going to lead to rifts in raising those kids.
There’s going to be a secondary antagonist, a na’vi. This is either going to be someone who hasn’t forgiven Jake for the first movie, or one of his kids. Either way, they’re going to be told about the RDA, which will be framed as they’re the good guys, actually. All this mining is for helping kids just like them back on Earth! Just let us do a little bit of mining, okay?
This will mirror how Jake “betrayed” the Omaticaya in the first film, but this will be ironic-y-er and more hurtful.
Oh Yeah, Let’s Talk About them Kids
There are 5! But only 3 are bio kids. And only 3 of the kids I know anything about at this point (and are also worth talking about). Plus 5 is a lot of characters, so they’re not all going to get equal screen time/importance.
Of the three bio children, there’s the son that hangs out with the whale in the sneak peek. He knows how to undo the harpoon thingie that pierced its fin. He speaks both English and underwater sign. He seems to be in-between worlds, of earth and Pandora, the Omaticaya and the ocean clan.
For the next two kids I’ll be pulling a lot of info from [this article].
Spider is a “human orphan stranded on Pandora.” Which, interesting. Why would a child be shipped out to Pandora? Obviously, they weren’t, so he was born there. The only time that would have happened would be from the “good” humans that were allowed to stay on Pandora after the first film. But now he doesn’t have parents? Hrmmm.
My prediction: the good humans were living in Hell’s Gate, because where else could they stay? But when the RDA inevitably return, they take it over, by force, hence the orphaning. But none of the na’vi want to raise a human kid, because of All Of That from the first film. Jake and Neytiri take him in. But he never feels like he fits in, due to his size, diet, and he has to always wear that air mask. He can’t do the same things as the other kids, and people treat him differently. Sounds like something an antagonist could take advantage of…
Now, onto Kiri. Finding out about her made me lose it. See, Sigourney Weaver is old. And James Cameron made her learn how to free drive and hold her breath for minutes at a time to act underwater. That sure is a weird thing to do for a character that died! But the Empire article reveals that she’s actually playing a na’vi named Kiri, who is the adopted daughter of Jake and Neytiri.
Note her photo. She sure does have eyebrows! And five fingers! Na’vi are hairless (besides the scalp/tail tuft) and have 4 fingers per hand/foot. And bigger eyes, flatter noses, and sharper teeth. Kiri sue does have some avatar features! What could that possibly mean?
Clearly, she’s Dr. Grace Augustine’s kid. I am entirely unsure, though, of who the father is, or how Grace(‘s avatar) had this kid and hid it from everyone. Honestly, I feel this is a detail that was added in after the fact and wasn’t planned when the first film was made. Someone will probably throw in a line like “oh yeah she was off doing fieldwork for a year” to explain how this happened.
It’s also possible that Eywa re-birthed her into some random Omaticaya kid but…I don’t think that’s going to explain why she has avatar features. DNA doesn’t work that way.
Either way, this means Kiri has a unique connection to humans and the RDA, which is something that antagonist(s) are going to take advantage of. Maybe she’ll want to follow in her mother’s footsteps and further scientific advancement to help others out and increase understanding between the species, so she’ll help the RDA out.
Global Warming is a Thing Now
A lot has changed since 2009. One of the things that is much, much more present is global warming, aka climate change. It’s a thing that we’ve known about in some capacity for a while, but the effects are unmistakable.
Cameron is an environmentalist, and he loves the ocean, there’s no way this isn’t going to make it into The Way of Water. Part of this movie is going to be “wake up, people!!! We gotta save our oceans!!!” and drive humans to go out and save the whales or whatever.
I might scream if I see a plastic straw being eaten by a sea turtle. Like there’s at least a 50% chance we’re going to see a plastic straw or water bottle or 6 pack of beer plastic rings thingie as ocean litter.
So Here’s a Synopsis…
Jake and Neytiri have settled down with one of the ocean clans. After the plot of the first film, he’s desperate to start a new life and forget the one he had back on earth. He’s still attached to the humans that have stayed on Pandora, though, who now live at Hell’s Gate. They’ve eeked out a way to live on this hostile planet while doing minimal damage to the land.
The RDA, of course, isn’t going to give up that easily. They reappear and retake Hell’s Gate in a flurry of shock and awe. Many of the “good” humans are killed in the conflict (r.i.p. Norm), along with much of the mining/refinery equipment. One of the survivors is a human child, Spider. None of the na’vi want to adopt/raise him, so Jake and Neytiri take him in.
The RDA builds a new city, this time, on the ocean (fewer trees to mow down, plus we can do oil platforms and such). They also discover that the local life forms, like the big whales, have unique compounds in them that have medical benefits for humans. Because of the unobtanium shortage on earth, the RDA has even more power than before, so they’ve forbidden the synthesizing of all Pandoran molecules, so now they’re hunting the whales along with mining. How evil!
But one of the local na’vi learns who Jake is. Perhaps they had a loved one who was killed in the battle in the first film, or they’re pissed on the Omaticaya’s behalf. They develop a relationship with one of Jake’s kids (probably one of the adopted ones, treating them like anyone else and not a weirdo) and convince them to speak to the RDA. The kid then learns that the RDA is good, actually! So they help them out, unintentionally setting up their family for great peril…
Quaritch, of course, is running around and causing problems, about 2-3 conflicts throughout the film. He’s the bigger, more obvious threat, which Jake is putting all of his energy towards stopping, but the true danger is even closer to home…
Kiri finds out she’s Dr. Grace Augustine’s kid and confronts her parents about it. This causes a rift within the family (perhaps a “you’re not my real mom!” moment), and maybe this is when she goes full villain and leaves them for the RDA.
For the climax of the film, we shall have to undergo a daring rescue, because one of the kids was kidnapped! But not actually, they willingly joined the RDA, as they want to stop Jake and Neytiri. I mean, look at all the cool things the RDA has. Like wheels! And iPads! And everything they’re doing is to help kids on earth, don’t you care about all those kids dying of future cancer? They want our cool na’vi medicine to help them!
The film has a fight, but it’s a firefight as much as it is an emotional one. The kid realizes that the RDA is actually evil and maybe they shouldn’t betray their parents. Quaritch escapes (or, if his avatar dies, we know that’s not the end of him, they got extras backed up) and the RDA is chased off…but they have other cities…other mines…and they’re already doing something Even Worse…but that is a problem for another film. We have our happily ever after (for now), so please see film 3 in 2024.
[I don’t think one of the kids is going to get killed, people generally don’t like seeing children die in movies, especially on-screen, so I’m going to say there’s like a 10% chance a kid will die on screen].