It’s been 13 years since James Cameron introduced the world of Pandora to the audiences of Earth with “Avatar.” With its sequel, “Avatar: The Way of Water,” finally set to debut on Dec. 16, it’s understandable that some people may not quite remember some, or maybe all, of the details from the first film.
For the record, “Avatar” is available to stream on Disney+, but if you don’t have the time (or, perhaps, the patience) to watch it again, Variety is here to fill in all the gaps before you return to Pandora, starting with its lead character, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington).
Who is Jake Sully?
He’s an ex-Marine who lost the use of his legs in combat on Earth. When his twin brother, Tommy, a scientist, dies unexpectedly, Jake is recruited by the Resources Development Administration (or RDA) to take Tommy’s place on Pandora, a lush alien moon in the Alpha Centauri system inhabited by the Na’vi: Those are the 10-foot tall, blue aliens with cat-like ears and tails.
Jake is needed on Pandora because he’s a DNA match for Tommy’s avatar, a human-Na’vi hybrid that only Jake can inhabit remotely. The experience of using his legs again is exhilarating, but on Jake’s first mission in his Na’vi body, he gets separated from his group, and that’s when he meets his first actual Na’vi, Neytiri.
Neytiri’s the Zoe Saldaña character, right?
Yup. She’s the daughter of the heads of the Omaticaya tribe of Na’vi, and an agile hunter and warrior. Her first instinct is to kill Jake when she sees him, but a sign from Eywa leads her instead to bring Jake to her people, where she’s instructed to teach him their ways. Inevitably, they fall in love.
Wait, who is Eywa again?
Eywa is the name for the Na’vi deity, the spirit of all life on Pandora — quite literally, as the entire moon has developed a biological capacity to connect with all other life. For the Na’vi, this is done through a special braid with nerve-like tendrils that allow them to bond with similar tendrils on other animals and even plants. The Na’vi/animal bond is best represented by their link to the banshees, a flying species that live in the floating mountains of Pandora.
Meanwhile, all of the plants, especially the trees, appear to be interconnected, almost like synapses in a giant brain — at least, that’s the hypothesis posited by one of Jake’s superiors on Pandora, Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver).
And Grace dies, right? I remember her dying?
Yes, the film’s third act starts after Grace is shot trying to escape the RDA. In desperation, Jake takes Grace to the Omaticaya for help. Neytiri’s mother, Mo’at (CCH Pounder), takes them to the Home Tree, the spiritual center for the tribe and the main access point to Eywa. They lay both Grace’s human body and her Na’vi avatar at the base of the tree, and attempt to use its ability for profound biological connection to download Grace’s mind and soul into her avatar.
The effort fails — Mo’at says Grace’s human body is too weak — but before she dies, Grace tells Jake that she’s with Eywa.
Why are you dwelling on this point so much?
Listen, James Cameron loves a gonzo sci-fi big swing, and in “The Way of Water,” Weaver plays Grace’s teenage Na’vi daughter.
Re-reading that sentence won’t allow it to make any more sense, but please trust that you’ll just go with it in “The Way of Water.”
OK! Isn’t there also a big villain in the first “Avatar”?
Indeed! Col. Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) hates Pandora and the Na’vi, and uses Jake to infiltrate them to gather intel on their home. When Jake switches sides and joins the Na’vi, Quaritch destroys their home. (It’s on top of a giant deposit of an outrageously valuable mineral called Unobtanium, which is the whole reason why the RDA is on Pandora in the first place, and what allows some of Pandora’s mountains to float in the air.)
Quaritch dies too, though?
Yes, in the final battle, Quaritch tries to bomb home tree. But Jake tames the mighty flying animal the Toruk and becomes the Toruk Makto — effectively, a legendary warrior — which allows him to rally all the local Na’vi clans together and even convince Eywa to allow all the animals of Pandora to fight back as well. Jake succeeds, and the RDA is defeated. In a last-ditch effort, Quaritch — wearing a giant mechanical suit — attempts to destroy the trailer that’s housing Jake’s human body. But Neytiri kills him with her bow and arrow.
Is Jake still human in “The Way of Water”?
Nope. In the final scene of “Avatar” — after the RDA has been ordered to leave, save for a few of the human scientists who worked with Grace — Mo’at leads the Omaticaya at Home Tree in the same ritual they used to try to save Grace, this time to put Jake’s mind and soul inside his Na’vi body. They succeed!