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If You Forgot What Happened in Avatar, We Have Good News for You

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2009 was a long time ago, OK?

Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by 20th Century Studios.

It’s been 13 years since James Cameron’s magnum opus Avatar was released in theaters. Currently the highest-grossing film of all time, Avatar was a massively hyped critical success that pioneered new visual effects techniques and even inspired a brief fervor for 3D televisions. The film was a game-changer, until everyone decided it wasn’t. Avatar, despite the excitement around it at the time it premiered, was subsequently dubbed one of the most overrated and forgettable films in recent memory (or lack thereof).

Even with that mixed reception of the first film, James Cameron, never one to take the public’s judgment to heart, has decided he has a few opuses left in the motion-capture water tank, starting with the second film in this series, Avatar: The Way of Water. If you forgot 2009’s Avatar because it’s the most forgettable film of all time, or if you (like me) happened to forget simply because it’s … been 13 years, then you’ll likely have some questions after viewing the 3 hour, 10 minute sequel. Don’t worry, I did the research, so you don’t have to.

Remind me, what exactly is an “avatar,” in this world?

An avatar is a biological shell or clone of a Na’vi-human hybrid, crafted with the combined DNA of a Na’vi and specific human volunteer. Avatars are used to help humans explore Pandora (a moon in the Alpha Centauri star system) without breathing equipment, as the atmosphere on Pandora is toxic to humans. Humans are able to remotely control their avatar vessels, while their human bodies are stored elsewhere in pods called “link units,” which allow humans to form a sort of telepathic connection to their avatar selves.

So, where is the body of the hero, human-turned-Na’vi-ally Jake Sully (Sam Worthington)? Has it just been chilling in a pod for the past 14 years?

Though avatars are remotely controlled by humans, it is possible—with the help of the Na’vi who can channel their deity, Eywa, through the Tree of Souls—for a human to transfer their consciousness permanently into an avatar body. This move was attempted as a last-ditch effort to save the life of the lead scientist, Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), in the first film, but it was unsuccessful, as her human body was too weak for the transfer. At the end of Avatar 1, Sully decides he wants to remain with the Na’vi, and successfully undergoes the transfer. It’s never stated in the films what happened to his body, but in the comic Avatar: The Next Shadow, it’s revealed that the Na’vi buried his human form.

Speaking of Sully, what did he do that was so bad? Why does Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang), the big bad of Avatar 2, practically have a hard-on for destroying him?

In the first movie, Jake Sully was a paraplegic former Marine who agreed to join the Avatar Program, part of the Resources Development Administration (RDA), an incredibly powerful non-governmental human organization that wanted to mine Pandora for “unobtanium”—an energy-conducting mineral that had become highly valuable, given the depletion of Earth’s natural resources. Sully’s mission was to convince the Na’vi, indigenous to Pandora, to evacuate so the RDA, whose military arm was led by the incredibly harsh Colonel Miles Quaritch, could pilfer Pandora for all that it’s worth. However, Sully falls in love with Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) and the Na’vi community, so he defects from the RDA and helps defend the Na’vi against colonization. This led to Quaritch’s death and a successful Na’vi rebellion.

Wait, if Quaritch died, then how exactly is he back?

Somehow, his memories from his previous avatar template were recovered, stored, and then replaced in a newly cloned avatar. Perfect for vengeance, colonization, and general villainy!

And … the unobtanium? That’s not in Avatar 2, is it, or did I miss something?

No, you didn’t! They totally dropped that desirable resource as a plot point, in favor of the eternal-youth-space-whale-brain-juice we see in Avatar 2 being farmed via an established whaling operation. When was the eternal youth whale serum discovered, and how long did it take to prove its effects, sell it to potential buyers, and establish the infrastructure to effectively farm it in the Pandoran ocean-wilds? Not clear!

Did Sigourney Weaver’s character die at the end of the first one, or was she just put in a coma, or what? And if she died, how did the circumstances allow her to give birth to her 14-year-old daughter, Kiri (also played by Sigourney Weaver), in Avatar 2? 

To answer your first question, Augustine’s human body perished, but her avatar body is only brain-dead. That’s why her avatar body is comatose in a pod on Pandora. As for the second: your guess is as good as mine. We don’t know how Augustine had Kiri, or who Kiri’s biological father is (even Kiri doesn’t know). However, the movie suggests that Kiri, who was adopted by Sully and Neytiri, has a deep connection to both her mother and Eywa, which keeps Kiri connected to her mother’s spirit. It’s likely that the true story of Kiri’s background will be explained in future films, revealing Augustine’s baby-daddy and explaining Kiri’s special nature-controlling abilities. (There were no signs that Grace’s avatar body was pregnant at the time that she “died,” but she must’ve been, or else she would have gotten pregnant while comatose, which would be a whole new kind of a plot. Though there’s also the possibility that some spiritual hanky panky was involved, making Kiri a result of immaculate conception. It’s a pretty believable theory, given Kiri and Grace’s innate connection to Eywa, and it’s supported by some small details from Avatar 1.)

Speaking of mystery children that pop up randomly and are mostly unaccounted for, what is the deal with Quaritch’s son, Spider? And why is his last name Socorro? Where did Quaritch find the time to get a girlfriend and father a child amidst his colonizing?

If you’re confused by the sudden appearance of a young, human white boy wearing dreadlocks and a breathing mask, who is allied with the Na’vi, you’re not alone. Miles “Spider” Socorro (Jack Champion) is a retconned character who was first seen in the comic Avatar: The High Ground. Though he wasn’t in the first film, the comic explains that Spider was born on the RDA colony base to Quaritch and Paz Socorro, an RDA pilot who never appears in Avatar 1. In the comic, Socorro dies during battle and, after the Na’vi defeat the humans, Miles is too small to return to earth in a cryopod, so he is left behind and raised alongside the few human stragglers and the Na’vi on Pandora.

Does that explain why he wears dreadlocks?

Dear reader, it may explain, but it does not excuse.

So, Spider is essentially Tarzan?

You said it, not me.

What about Edie Falco? It was nice to see Carmela Soprano in the movie, but I don’t remember her in the first one. What am I forgetting? 

Absolutely nothing! Edie Falco, who plays General Frances Ardmore, was not in the first film, but was introduced in the comics. In The Way of Water, she oversees RDA activity on Pandora, activity she blames Sully for hindering; it’s she who calls for his execution.

What about the other familiar faces in this film? 

Joel David Moore reprises his role as Norm Spellman, the scientist who studied under Dr.  Augustine and aided the Na’vi in their rebellion. Dileep Rao returns as Max Patel, another scientist who aided Grace, Norm, and Jake in their fight against the RDA. Giovanni Ribisi portrays Parker Selfridge, the lead administrator of the RDA who was sent back to Earth in the first film. And CCH Pounder dons motion-cap again to return as Mo’at, Neytiri’s mother.

That was very helpful, thank you. Given your experience watching this movie, and subsequently Googling up all these answers, would you recommend people see Avatar 1 again, before diving in? Or is reading this explainer sufficient? 

It’s hard to say! Avatar 2 is perfectly enjoyable without the context of the first film, and there are clearly, as you can see above, some questions you might have that even the first film doesn’t answer. I guess the answer depends on whether or not you’re a completist, or just along for the ride. And, of course, whether you can fit an additional 2 hours and 41 minutes of movie watching into your holiday schedule.


Source : Slate News

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