We Watched Avatar Again So You Don’t Have to

We all know what James Cameron would say.

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

Avatar: The Way of Water is quickly approaching theaters, and early impressions are strong for what’s likely to be 2022’s biggest blockbuster event. The sequel to 2009’s groundbreaking Avatar is rapidly picking up steam, making prospective viewers guess just how much of an improvement James Cameron’s follow-up could be. While it’s hard to fathom a film being as successful as the first Avatar, it’s also important to remember the details if you watched the first film before going to see The Way of Water. Since it’s been 13 years, we’re happy to give you a refresher.

Do You Have to Watch Avatar Before Seeing The Way of Water?

The short answer is yes, you should see Avatar before seeing The Way of Water, and you can even stream it on the Disney Plus app. But for those either in a rush, or want a crash course on the film before picking up their 3D glasses and some Gravol for the HFR screening of The Way of Water, the summary of the first Avatar goes as follows:

Image: 20th Century Studios

Jake Sully, a paralyzed former marine, sees opportunity and freedom in Pandora, as an escape from the disastrous economic inflation and living conditions on Earth. He joins the Avatar Program, is given the ability to control a body matching that of the indigenous humanoid population called the Na’vi, and demonstrates an aptitude for fitting in with them, much to the initial dismay of his fellow Avatar Program teammates.

Jake quickly bonds with the Na’vi locals, namely Neytiri, the princess of their Omaticaya clan, and demonstrates an innate connection to Eywa, their deity. Despite this, Earth’s Resources Development Administration (RDA) sees Jake as a means to infiltrate the Na’vi ranks and convince them to move away from their ancestral Hometree domain, under which lies precious Unobtainium. While Jake is initially trusting of their Security Ops (SecOps) leader Col. Miles Quaritch and his Semper Fidelis appeal to Jake as a fellow soldier, Jake can’t help but fall in deeper with the Na’vi, eventually falling in love with Neytiri.

Image: 20th Century Studios

The RDA sees Jake’s embracing of his new community as an act of treason and moves in to attack the Na’vi at their home. They even capture Jake, however, sympathizers ally with Jake and help mount a rebellion, but not without casualties for both the humans and the Na’vi. Chief among those losses include that of Grace Augustine, who mentored Jake while he adapted to his Avatar, and Trudy, a pilot who was instrumental in Jake’s rescue. But Jake successfully regains the trust of the Na’vi while making a plea to Eywa herself for victory against the deadly SecOps aggressors.

Jake, the Na’vi, and his fellow humans fight to the best of their ability against Quaritch’s forces, and while they are moderately successful, the SecOps and their might prove to be overwhelming. But in what seems like their final moments, the wildlife and seemingly everything connected to Eywa stampede in against Quaritch’s forces, toppling their offense and leading to an epic showdown between Jake and Quaritch, where he is eventually finished off by Neytiri.

For saving the Na’vi and leading the Omaticaya clan to victory, Jake is given the chance to transfer his human mind permanently to his Avatar, effectively transcending his humanity to become something new. The RDA is exiled and sent back to their dying Earth, and select allies of Jake’s are allowed to stay on Pandora. Jake has won and achieved true freedom, and a new lease on life.

How Does The Way of Water Connect to Avatar?

Image: 20th Century Studios

Taking place more than a decade after the events of 2009’s Avatar, Jake now has a family with Neytiri. While he has biological children with her, he also has adopted a human orphan named Miles “Spider” Socorro, and Kiri, a Na’vi born from Grace Augustine’s avatar before she died. The RDA is back and making an aggressive push for Pandora, with Miles Quaritch and his lackey Lyle Wainfleet brought back as Na’vi Recombinants. Quaritch now has a greater personal vendetta against Sully than ever, seeking vengeance for his initial death and humiliating defeat.

While you can reasonably watch The Way of Water without having seen Avatar, there’s no reason not to still watch it. Avatar pioneered much of modern cinema’s 3D and VFX and has aged quite well. But more importantly, it establishes the origins of Jake Sully, why he’s different and unique among the Na’vi, and the lasting legacy of his rebellion against the RDA, the heroic sacrifice of human sympathizers like Grace, and the deadly blood feud he awakens with Quaritch. Rewatching also reminds viewers that they may have missed details or key components of Avatar lore for the second film.


Avatar alone might be a visually stunning blockbuster, but now as part of a series, it’s the beginning of the myth of Jake Sully.

Avatar: The Way of Water will release worldwide exclusively in theaters on December 16, 2022.

- This article was updated on December 15th, 2022

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