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Avatar: The Way Of Water Completely Whiffed On Neytiri's Arc, And We're Honestly Not Surprised

The following contains spoilers for "Avatar: The Way of Water."

In terms of its visuals, 2009's "Avatar" remains in a class all its own. It revolutionized 3D in Hollywood for several years, to the point where you practically couldn't see any movie in a theater without it getting a rushed 3D treatment. When it comes to criticizing "Avatar," most people take umbrage with the story itself.

Drawing comparisons to "FernGully: The Last Rainforest" and "Pocahontas," "Avatar" has your typical white savior story of a marine, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), who's given a new body via an avatar. He then assimilates into Na'vi culture, and while he was initially on the side of humanity, he soon switches over to the indigenous Na'vi, realizing they shouldn't have their way of life upended due to colonization. And who helps him along that journey but his soon-to-be wife, Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña).

Neytiri may be a secondary protagonist, but in "Avatar," she has a worthwhile arc all her own. She brings Jake into her tribe but turns her back on him once she realizes he was acting as a spy the whole time. After he proves his intentions are pure, she comes back around and falls in love with him all over again. Her character arc is one of acceptance and willingness to trust. It's just a shame she isn't given more to do in the latest installment of the franchise — "Avatar: The Way of Water."

Neytiri lacks growth

Neytiri is a fierce warrior; that much is evident from the film's opening sequences. Whether hunting for food for her family or taking down a supply chain from the Sky People, Neytiri has the skill and bravery to get the job done. It's just a shame we never really get a chance to see her put her skills in action more in "Avatar: The Way of Water." 

After Jake and Neytiri's children are put in harm's way by the resurrected avatar body of Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang), Jake realizes that he can't endanger his loved ones over this war. As a result, they decide to move away to be with another clan while someone else takes Jake's place. Neytiri's against it, but eventually, she relents and agrees to go for the betterment of her family. 

From that point forward, Neytiri remains stagnant. She loves her family; it's clear she would do anything to keep them safe. She also wants to be a warrior, but there's too much story going on for everyone else, where it feels like Neytiri gets pushed to the side to do anything interesting with either of those ideas. In "The Way of Water," Neytiri pretty much exists to react to her kids in peril, forfeiting any potential for growth and instead being relegated to a series of reactions.

Neytiri goes from secondary protagonist to a side character

One reason why it feels Neytiri is so thinly written could probably be attributed to there being an abundance of characters for "The Way of Water" to focus on. In addition to bringing back Jake and Neytiri, they now have four children to care for. This is in addition to Spider (Jack Champion), who has a tendency to follow the family around in whatever they do. And that's not even getting into the new members of the Metkayina clan. 

There's simply too much going on, and other new characters get a chance at the limelight, forcing Neytiri into the shadows. It's a shame because there's something potentially interesting about Neytiri wanting to juggle her desire to be a warrior while protecting her family. Based on recent reports, James Cameron has an entire script of Jake and Neytiri's time as warriors, which at least sounds like something that would give Neytiri the development she so desperately deserves. But the movie we got completely sidelines her, to the point where we don't even see her for vast stretches of time.

By the end of the film, we know just as much about Neytiri as at the beginning of the film. She loves her family; she'll kill to protect them. But there's no forward growth. Then again, it may not make sense to complain. If Cameron manages to get up to "Avatar 7," there will be ample opportunities to give Neytiri the character arc to make her another outstanding figure in cinema.