Did Zoe Saldana’s Neytiri Get Sidelined in Avatar: The Way of Water?

The warrior princess returns, at least a little bit.

by J.R. Waugh
Image: 20th Century Studios

Avatar: The Way of Water is out now, and fans are coming in droves to see the long-awaited second chapter in James Cameron’s epic series. While it still takes place on Pandora like the first story did, it expands the world as we know it, showing us the different cultures and traits of the Na’vi who inhabit the moon. As the story expands though, some characters felt a bit sidelined, and with it, one of the best characters from the original film got less attention. Did Neytiri receive a similar treatment in Avatar: The Way of Water, and why?

Benched and Blue | Neytiri Was Sidelined in Avatar: The Way of Water

Neytiri was the best-acted of any of the Na’vi characters from Avatar, hands down, and while the incredible Zoë Saldaña has returned to portray her here, she receives far less screen-time. This is due to the focus being shifted to her children she has with Jake Sully, along with greater focus on Stephen Lang’s recom Miles Quaritch, who is definitively the ultimate nemesis of the franchise. Despite this lowered focus, Neytiri’s presence is felt, and more importantly, when she appears, her presence is undeniable.

The narrative choice to focus on her children was a tough but likely calculated decision. The runtime of the film would be far greater if her and Jake had more focus like in the first film, but their personality, influence, and presence are felt. You can see her spirituality and respect for Eywa inherited in her adopted daughter, Kiri, and her love for her people is a source of conflict between herself and Jake. Neytiri’s dedication to her family is also on ferocious, violent display when she takes the fight to the RDA in the final act.

While it was noted in our review that this decision ultimately felt disappointing, it’s understandable, and Neytiri surely feature more in later Avatar films beyond The Way of Water.

Avatar: The Way of Water released in theaters worldwide on December 16, 2022.

- This article was updated on December 19th, 2022

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