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Every Way That Avatar: The Way Of Water Calls Back To The Original

Contains spoilers for "Avatar: The Way of Water."

"Avatar: The Way of Water" is finally here and, as expected, it's another game-changingly impressive visual spectacle, 13 years in the making. The sequel, which takes place approximately 13 years after the original "Avatar" (so about 2167), had a bigger budget, has a longer runtime, and utilizes new variable frame rate technology (per CNBC). Narratively, it expands the world of Pandora's lore by taking us to the Metkayina reef and introducing us to a whole population of new characters and creatures. Jake (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) have also expanded their family to include three biological children, one adopted daughter, and one stray human who's usually close by. Put simply, there's a lot of new stuff to keep track of in "Avatar 2."

But while "Avatar: The Way of Water" is even more ambitious than its predecessor, its themes are largely the same, as are many of its individual story beats and subplots. The sequel opens and closes with Jake Sully's narration again, and in between, audiences might experience a sense of Pandoran déjà vu. The parallels are so obvious at points that culture writer and podcaster David Chen compared it to "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" in the way it moves the story forward while retreading familiar ground, leading to a sequel that's seen as something of a soft reboot. Let's take a look at the scenes and moments in "The Way of Water" that mirror the original "Avatar."

Quaritch wreaks havoc in the lab

When Jake and Neytiri realize the sky people are returning after a decade of relative Pandoran peace, we flash forward a year. The Na'vi are successfully staging counter-offensives, led by the former Toruk Makto. We watch them bomb and loot a supply train and we hear from General Ardmore (Edie Falco) that they've defended their new High Camp so well, her people can't breach their perimeter. That's where Quaritch (Stephen Lang) and his fellow Recombinants come in. In a turn of events that's explained via clear tablet screen, we learn that the military uploaded human Quaritch's memories and personality into a lab-grown Na'vi body. 

When Recombinant Quaritch awakens, he's disoriented and panicked. The ten-foot-tall humanoid immediately begins ripping off the medical equipment he's hooked up to and fighting with the scientists who are trying to help him acclimate to his new body. He flails and thrashes around the lab, knocking things and people about, until he can be restrained. This brief scene, which introduces us to Na'vi Quaritch, calls back to the first time a paralyzed-from-the-waist-down Jake Sully got to inhabit his Avatar. In Jake's case, he was mildly disoriented but excited to try out his new legs, and the staff is unable to contain him. But this version of Quaritch is extremely confused and aggressive. He's basically waking up for the first time with memories he can't understand from 13 years ago. 

The Recombinants encounter viperwolves

The team of Recombinants, headed up by a confident and revenge-fuelled Quaritch, assure General Ardmore they'll get the job done. She drops them into the Pandoran wilderness dressed in fatigues and field gear, and they set about looking for native Na'vi — in particular, Jake Sully. Previously when these soldiers traversed the bioluminescent forests, they did so in mech suits with breathing apparatuses (except for Quaritch's first day on the moon, when he was attacked by a viperwolf and sustained the injury that gave him those scars he loves so much). 

Just as they're getting used to their Na'vi bodies, they encounter a small pack of viperwolves. Quaritch surely knows what these things are already and fully comprehends the threat they face, but still, his first mission as a Na'vi mirrors Jake's first day on the job. In "Avatar" Jake gets separated from the group after he encroaches on the territory of a hammerhead titanothere and a great leonopteryx. Just when he thinks he's gotten away, he disrupts a pack of viperwolves. He manages to fight them off for a while with a quickly-rigged torch, but Neytiri ultimately has to kill the animals to save him. It's not really that much of a coincidence — viperwolves are native to Pandora, after all. But both films take a moment to give the alpha viperwolf its nearly identical spotlight in the center of the frame, to snarl and show the invaders who's boss. 

Quaritch watches his own death

In this scene, Quaritch literally watches a scene from the first "Avatar" within the second "Avatar." He realizes that his squad has wandered to the ruins of the mobile link site that Grace and her team used to pilot their Avatars without military interference so that they could stage a revolt. They tour the interior of the narrow lab, which has begun to be reclaimed by nature. Everything is in disarray from back when Quaritch ransacked the place to stop Jake. Outside, Recombintant Quaritch spots the wreckage of a mech suit with greenery beginning to grow all around it. 

There's a skeleton still inside the mech. He doesn't have access to these memories, but he fishes around and finds a dog tag, and it turns out to be his own. Quaritch is able to play the video the suit captured before his demise, showing his final confrontation with Jake from his own perspective, then we see Neytiri's arrow land its blow. This second incarnation of Quaritch had assumed Jake was his killer, but the video evidence proves it was Neytiri. This information doesn't do anything to quench his thirst for revenge against Jake Sully, who he considers to be a traitor. He also isn't very sentimental about his remains. When another Recombinant asks if he wants them collected and sent back to base, he crushes his own skull. 

Ronal puts Tsireya in charge of the outsiders

In "Avatar," Neytiri and the Na'vi warriors she encounters in the woods — including her bethrothed, Tsu'tey (Laz Alonso) — take Jake Sully back to the Omaticaya clan. They want to kill him on sight, and Neytiri's father, Eytukan (Wes Studi), is inclined to agree. He believes it would be a mistake to let a "dreamwalker" into their inner circle. It would endanger the Omaticaya and Hometree (spoiler alert: he was right). Neytiri is, at this point, more or less ambivalent, but her mother and the clan's spiritual leader, Mo'at (CCH Pounder) steps in and says she will interpret Eywa's will on this matter. After Jake answers Mo'at's questions to her liking, she tells her daughter that she will teach Jake Sully to talk and walk like the Omaticaya. "Why me? That's not fair!" an annoyed Neytiri responds. This scene sets up "Avatar's" middle act, in which Jake learns the ways of the Na'vi. 

Though the variables are slightly different, a similar scene unfolds to kick off the second hour of "Avatar: The Way of Water." Jake and his family travel to the reef that the Metkayina people call home. This time, it's the wife and medicine woman, Ronal (Kate Winslet), who's skeptical about their ability to learn and worried about the danger they pose. She even says they'll be "like babies," a line Neytiri used on Jake in "Avatar." It's the chieftain, Tonowari (Cliff Curtis), who sees good and potential in the one-time Toruk Makto and his Omaticayan brood. He grants them refuge, and Ronal puts a much less annoyed Tsireya (Bailey Bass) in charge of educating the forest Na'vi about Metkayina culture.

The Sullys make the bond with sea creatures

After Jake begins to make progress on the language and hunting practices of the Omaticaya, Neytiri realizes he is ready for the next big step: bonding with a banshee. Jake's already seen Neytiri call and jump on the back of her banshee. Now it's his turn to claim his mount. Curiously, his coach doesn't give him much advice prior to game time. Just as Jake's climbing horizontally across Pandora's precarious floating rocky mountains to the popular roosting spot of the banshee colony, she tells him that the banshee must choose its rider and he'll only have one shot. When Jake asks how he'll know if he's been chosen, Neytiri answers that it'll try to kill him. As he struggles to intertwine his ponytail with banshee's, she whispers hopefully, "Make the bond." 

At the reef, Tonowari helps a more confident Jake learn how to bond and ride with a skimwing (the Metkayina's equivalent of the banshee, with both underwater and airborne capabilities), while Tsireya teaches the Sully kids to bond and ride with ilu (a seahorse-like version of a direhorse). It's no surprise that we see Na'vi bonding with Pandoran wildlife in "Avatar: The Way of Water." The ability to do so is a major part of the lore. But, while this sequence is far less tense than its counterpart in "Avatar" — it doesn't seem like anyone's about to die — it still follows the familiar trajectory of Jake trying and appearing to fail before mastering the task completely.

Quaritch is challenged to claim a banshee

Intercut with a montage of the Sully family learning to properly mount and steer skimwings and ilus is a scene that's even more of a carbon copy of one in the original. Spider (Jack Champion), skilled at skipping across logs and climbing rock faces, leads the Recombinants to the roosting spot of the mountain banshees. He makes Quaritch feel inferior by telling him Jake tamed a banshee the hard way. The only difference between Jake's attempt to make the bond and Na'vi Quaritch's is that Spider gives his (sort of) father even less direction. He neglects to mention that it's easier once their mouths have been muzzled. Also, Quaritch's fellow Recombinants are gathered around, pumped up with adrenaline, and rooting for him to succeed, while the real Na'vi warriors were taunting Jake Sully and rooting for the banshee to kill him. 

In both cases, Jake and Quaritch lock eyes with a particular banshee and hold on for dear life. Jake struggles a little longer but does a little better overall. He nearly makes the bond before being thrown off and has to start over again. At least Jake has established a connection with his banshee when it nosedives from the ledge. Quaritch hasn't yet made the bond with his banshee when they both tumble from the cliff face. However, it's early on enough in the film's runtime for audiences to guess what happens next. Moments later, with Spider and the Recombinants staring in shock at the leader's supposed demise, Quaritch reappears, hovering in the air, victorious and in full control of his very own banshee.

A valuable new resource is funding scientific research

In "Avatar," the RDA (Resources Development Administration) in conjunction with the United States military has invaded Pandora because of an extremely precious mineral called unobtainium. Dr. Grace Augustine, an exobiologist, is using the opportunity to study Pandora's peculiar flora and fauna. She correctly deduces that everything is connected by an intelligent energy network, natural but far more advanced than anything on Earth. She's especially interested in getting samples from the Tree of Souls, but she respects the Omaticaya people and only treads where they let her. However altruistic Grace is, her research is still funded by RDA, the administrators of which will gladly blow the moon to smithereens if it makes it easier for them to mine unobtainium. Grace does eventually choose a side, but too late. Hometree is destroyed and many Na'vi perish. 

In "Avatar: The Way of Water," we learn that the RDA and the military's main reason for returning to Pandora is to prepare it for human colonization as Earth is dying. However, in the meantime, there's priceless brain matter to be harvested from whale-like creatures called tulkun. Dr. Ian Garvin (Jemaine Clement) is a marine biologist who is studying the tulkun the same way Grace was studying the plant life. He's just as enthusiastic about his findings (they're smarter and more emotional than us), but he, too, has signed a deal with the devil to conduct his research. Ian's paired up with tulkun hunter Captain Mick (Brendan Cowell), and has to watch the superior beings he loves die just so their life-extending cerebral fluids can be sold for $80 million a jar on the free market. Unlike Grace, Ian never really goes rogue. 

There's an underwater Tree of Souls

While the Na'vi practically worshipped Hometree, the center of life for the Omaticaya, they actually worshipped the Tree of Souls, the closest thing they have to a living embodiment of their deity, Eywa. Mo'at attempts to save an injured Grace by transferring her human consciousness into her Avatar at the tree, but the doctor is already too far gone, and her essense is absorbed into the tree and into Eywa. In "Avatar's" final scene, Jake's frail human body is laid next to his Avatar, and this time, Eywa does give him a second life as a Na'vi as the Omaticaya chant and pray all around him. Before she dies, Grace explains to Jake that the Tree of Souls is like a living memory bank of their ancestors and a way for the Na'vi to access their deceased loved ones and their goddess.

It turns out, the Metkayina have their own Tree of Souls, deep under the water. As one might expect, it's more like a giant plume of seaweed, but it shares the Tree of Life's vibrant colors and reverent vibes. The first time we see it, Kiri (Sigourney Weaver) instinctively connects to it and has a vision of her mother, Grace, but this causes her to seize up and pass out, and Norm (Joel David Moore) advises Jake and Neytiri to keep her away from such powerful plant life in the future. Later, after the Sullys lose their son Neteyam (James Flatters) to a gunshot wound, they connect to the underwater Tree of Souls to remember his birth and his youth before giving Eywa back his energy and making it his final resting place. 

Ocean sprites single out the chosen one

When Neytiri first meets Jake, she's seconds away from shooting him through with her bow and arrow, but she reconsiders when dozens of woodsprites land on Jake, marking him as having been chosen by Eywa for some special purpose. It's this strange sign from their higher power that Neytiri shares with Mo'at, who decides to not only spare his life but welcome him into their clan. The Na'vi call the woodsprites "seeds" and "sacred spirits," and that they have singled out Jake is our first clue that he's an archetypal "chosen one" character.  

Among the many marine-based Pandoran plants and animals is an aquatic take on a sprite (it doesn't appear to have a name yet in the canon). They not only congregate around Kiri, the daughter of Dr. Grace Augustine, she seems to be able to control them and other creatures with her mind. What's more, this doesn't appear to be an aggressive, involuntary type of control. The sprites are happy to abide and dance in schools along with her hand movements. One of the subplots in "Avatar: The Way of Water" has to do with the fact that Kiri — who has an extra finger, doesn't know who her father is or how she came to be born, and experiences visions — feels like a freak. It doesn't help that others berate her for her eccentricities, too. The way the sprites flock to and interact with Kiri strongly suggests she's the new chosen one character going forward. 

It ends on another close-up of Jake's face

After nearly three hours, 2009's "Avatar" ends decisively when now permanently Na'vi Jake Sully opens his eyes. The extreme close up cuts to black as the score, with tribal-sounding vocalizations and drumming, reaches its crescendo. It's a perfect ending that tells us all we need to know with maximum drama and efficiency. Jake's transition from human to Na'vi worked, and presumably he'll go on to live a happy life with Neytiri and the Omaticaya now that the RDA has been driven away. 

We get confirmation of what happened in the interim in the opening segment of "Avatar: The Way of Water." Jake and Neytiri did live in harmony with each other, their clan, and their moon for more than a decade. The sequel begins in earnest when their family and their way of life are threatened a second time. After another three-plus hours, "Avatar: The Way of Water" concludes on another extreme close up of Jake Sully's face. There's no mystery as to whether Jake will continue to live as a Na'vi. The choice that will propel the Sullys into "Avatar 3" is the choice to stay with the Metkayina and to fight back against the RDA. Jake spends the whole movie telling Neytiri that they should hide and or run to avoid conflict with Quaritch and the humans and to protect their "fortress" of a family. When the camera pushes in on Jake's face this time, he defers to her wisdom and promises they'll stay and fight.