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The Untold Truth Of Jake Sully From Avatar

The biggest threat to the Avengers isn't Thanos; it's Jake Sully. When "Avengers: Endgame" dethroned box-office champion "Avatar" in 2019 as the highest-grossing movie of all time, a 2021 reissue in China put "Avatar" back on top. Now, with four more "Avatar" films in the works, Marvel and James Cameron seem positioned for a friendly rivalry that could well last until the end of the decade.

At the center of the "Avatar" films is protagonist Sully, portrayed by Sam Worthington. There's more to Jake than meets the eye, and his courage changes the future of interplanetary relationships in the "Avatar" universe. Jake has a complicated history with the avatar program he eventually joins, and an exciting future on Pandora that moviegoers will get to see for themselves soon enough. So, let's learn more about the hero at the center of the "Avatar" franchise; the good news is, it won't require a five-year flight.

James Cameron offered the role to Matt Damon

In casting Sully, Cameron had two very specific, very different visions in mind. 

Plan A? Matt Damon. "The Bourne Identity" star told GQ in 2019, "When he offered it to me, he goes, 'Now, listen. I don't need anybody. I don't need a name for this, a named actor. If you don't take this, I'm going to find an unknown actor and give it to him, because the movie doesn't really need you." Cameron also offered Damon 10 percent of whatever "Avatar" would end up making at the box office — which would have been, according to unofficial calculations, enough money to buy a small country (or about $250 million). Damon ultimately declined, citing prior commitments to the "Bourne" franchise. "I realized in having to say no that I was probably passing on the chance to ever work with him," he added. "So that sucked and that's still brutal. But my kids are all eating. I'm doing ok."

True to his word, Cameron proceeded to cast an unknown actor as Jake Sully. He eventually hired Sam Worthington, who had acting experience but wasn't a household name. Worthington recalled the audition process took over a year. Reflecting a decade later, he said, "I didn't look at them as auditions. I looked at the process as, 'Well, if I don't get it, at least I got to work with Jim Cameron in some respect.'" Worthington's screen tests were "very collaborative and really quite painless."

Jake is a former Marine

Prior to the events of "Avatar," Sully served in the United States armed forces as a Marine, including a tour in Venezuela. The specifics of Jake's Marine experience are left to the imagination. With the story taking place in the 22nd century, we have yet to live through whatever international conflict Jake took part in.

The one incident the audiences knows about Jake's time in the Marines becomes a motivator for his participation in Dr. Grace Augustine's avatar program. It was during his time in the military that Sully became paralyzed from the waist down. When he inhabits the body of his Na'vi avatar on Pandora, Jake is fully capable of walking, running, jumping, and other mobility he no longer has in his human body. He's elated to have a second chance, in more ways than one. The military presence on Pandora will eventually breed division, which Jake plays a key role in navigating from both the perspectives of his fellow former Marines and newfound Na'vi companions.

Sam Worthington based his performance on his nephew

Art imitates life, and in portraying the hero of "Avatar," Worthington looked to an unexpected source of inspiration for Sully. In 2021 he told the official "Avatar" YouTube channel: "I based him on my nephew, Ridley, who at the time was nine years old. To me, that was a better way in than thinking of him as a tough Marine." Worthington noted that his nephew was particularly curious. "I thought, 'If you're going to another planet, that curiosity really helps,'" Worthington reflected. "There was a playful aspect to Jake that I wanted to bring across, not just this hardened soldier."

This foundation for the character shines through in the journey Jake pursues over the course of the film. As he acclimates to Pandora, Jake's initial stubbornness gives way to the visceral curiosity of a traveler visiting an unknown, exciting place for the first time. Jake is open to embracing the Na'vi culture in a way his other former Marine peers aren't, all thanks to little Ridley.

Jake is a twin

While Jake winds up being a fortuitous choice for the avatar program as he leads the charge for peace on Pandora, the job was initially supposed to go to another Sully. Jake's twin brother, Dr. Tom Sully, passed away prior to the events of the film. Tom was a scientist with years of education and training under his belt as he prepared to participate in the avatar program with Dr. Grace.

Because Jake shares the same DNA as his twin brother, he's able to seamlessly take Tom's place and operate the avatar intended for Tom. This saves the Resources Development Administration a great deal of time and money, since they don't have to start over with a different person and avatar. While Grace understands that Jake could never be as fully prepared as Tom would have been for the mission, she's still aghast to learn, just moments before Jake "tries on" his avatar for the first time, that he has zero hours of experience with the program. He's a fast learner, bolting from the lab straight into the Pandoran fresh air.

Jake is a banshee whisperer

Pandora is home to many creatures, including Ikrans, or as humans might know them, banshees. Inhabiting his Na'vi avatar, Jake befriends Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña), a native Na'vi who teaches him the ways of Pandoran culture. Neytiri shares with Jake that the bond between a Na'vi and Ikran is very powerful. Ikrans choose the Na'vi, and it's important to decipher which creature has chosen you as its companion.

Jake quickly matches with an Ikran despite having very little training, and takes a breathtaking flight over the Valley of Mo'ara (if you've ever watched this scene and want to ride on a banshee just like Jake, you can). Under the continued direction of Neytiri, Jake becomes so accustomed to the ways of the Na'vi that they perform a traditional ceremony during which he is officially considered one of their own, part of "The People."

Jake isn't a fan of vlogging

Being selected for the avatar program is a tremendous honor. While Jake may have found himself on Pandora through a more extraneous set of circumstances than most participants, there are nonetheless so few humans who have the experience of interacting with the Na'vi so closely. As such, Dr. Augustine insists on the importance of Jake documenting his journey along the way by recording video logs. It will aid further research of the program as it develops, and will hopefully help inform decisions about the future of humans on Pandora.

In the story, Jake considers the vlogs a hassle, but director James Cameron uses them as a storytelling device to hear more vulnerability from Jake throughout the movie. He shares how he feels, what seems to be working and not working, and provides a fuller view of his character's experience than would otherwise be available to the viewer. Jake's vlogs are often used as narration over sweeping viewers of Pandora's vistas and as interlude during important moments in Jake's acclimation to Na'vi culture. He may not like vlogging, but he's pretty good at it. So smash that like button and be sure to subscribe.

After a while, Jake's memories start to blur

The longer Jake goes back and forth between his human body and Na'vi avatar, the more things blur. What starts as a job taken for a sense of duty to honor his late brother gradually becomes an experience about which Jake is very passionate. He desires to spend as much time as possible in his Na'vi avatar form. The only time he spends doing anything in his actual body is the minimum required to maintain his strength, and even then it's limited to vlogging and rushed meals that Dr. Augustine has to beg him to eat.

As time progresses, Jake admits that navigating everyday life between his two forms is starting to get confusing. While this particular side effect of the experiment doesn't ever take a serious toll on Jake other than mild grogginess and the aforementioned lack of discernment, it's undoubtedly an important finding for Dr. Augustine and her team, as they discover and hopefully improve upon their research while additional humans participate in the avatar program.

Jake finds love on Pandora

Neytiri is the Na'vi who trains Jake in the ways of Pandora. Initially reluctant when her father assigned her the task of being Jake's instructor, she became impressed with not only how quickly Jake learned things, but also how he respected and embraced her culture. Eventually the two would fall in love and become each other's soulmates — not just romantically, but in accordance with Pandoran tradition of choosing one mate for life.

Neytiri ultimately becomes conflicted when Quaritch enacts his plan and begins destroying Pandora's natural wonders. She knows Jake comes from Quaritch's world, but she already forged her lifelong bond with him. What does her future look like if the person she committed to being with is actively trying to steal from her home? Thankfully, Neytiri doesn't have to seriously consider her grim options for very long, because Jake shows his allegiance to the Na'vi despite only being a Na'vi avatar. Neytiri is ultimately the one to kill Quaritch and save Jake's life in the process. The couple remains together, excited to live out the rest of their days on Pandora.

Jake is a double agent for a hot minute

While Jake is under the supervision of Dr. Augustine and her efforts to advance scientific research, he also briefly holds allegiance to someone else. Like Jake, Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) is a former Marine. Quaritch leads a cover operation under the nose of Dr. Augustine (though Jake suspects she's aware) to secretly learn more about Pandora from the Na'vi — not to protect the land and the culture, but to destroy it, harvesting valuable materials the land sits upon.

Quaritch enlists Jake as a liaison in his nefarious efforts, encouraging Jake to play it cool and follow Dr. Augustine's orders, but to go about his Na'vi journey in such a way that ultimately aids Quaritch's double-cross. Quaritch promises that if Jake complies, he'll be able to arrange an operation for Jake to be able to walk again in his human body.

When the time comes for Quaritch to act, he sends in powerful machinery to decimate Pandoran land, including the sacred Omaticaya Hometree. Despite the incentive of resumed perambulation, Jake doesn't follow through with the plan to betray the Na'vi. Instead, he defends his new family and damages Quaritch's machines. This action ultimately leads to an all-out war between the Na'vi and the human visitors, with Jake and his avatar colleagues firmly on the side of the Na'vi.

Jake permanently takes on his avatar's form

Once the dust settles following Quaritch's attempt to take control of Pandora, Jake makes a huge decision: he wants to stay on Pandora permanently as a Na'vi. And not just as a Na'vi avatar being operated by a human, but as a full, actual Na'vi, able to breathe the Pandoran air that's toxic to humanity and walk about freely in a way his human form cannot. The process of converting one's full self from a human body to a Na'vi body has been attempted once before, on Dr. Grace Augustine, whose life was waning quickly during the procedure. Dr. Augustine didn't survive, making Jake's attempt quite risky.

Thankfully, all goes well. We see this in the final shot of the film, as during the procedure the camera slowly moves in from a wide shot of Neytiri comforting both Jakes, then pushes in closer to Na'vi Jake's face, whose eyes are closed as the switch happens. By the time the camera is at an extreme close-up and only Jake's brow fills the entire frame, his eyes dramatically open wide in beat with the score. Jake officially becomes the first homo sapien to permanently forego his human body and embrace a Na'vi alternative.

Jake becomes a family man in the Avatar sequels

20th Century Fox has four "Avatar" sequels in its pipeline, with James Cameron returning to direct them all. The first is "Avatar: The Way of Water," debuting December 16, 2022, eight years after its first announced 2014 release date. As seen in the teaser trailer for "The Way of Water," the sequels will focus on Jake and Neytiri's family, including their Na'vi children and adopted human son named Spider.

In a 2020 interview with Entertainment Weekly, producer Jon Landau elaborated on what to expect from Jake and Neytiri's offspring. "We never had this youthful element before, and that brings a different kind of energy to the film. They represent the future generation of Pandora and play a very significant role — not just in this movie, but throughout all the movies."

"The Way of Water" picks up over a decade after the first movie, and by now, Jake and Neytiri are long past the honeymoon phase of their marriage. Cameron told ScienceFiction.com in 2019 that the story includes moments of vulnerability and realness in Jake and Neytiri's relationship, notably featuring a serious argument as seen through the spying eyes of one of their children peering in on the dispute.

You can visit Pandora thanks to Jake

As a result of Jake's efforts to save Pandora during the events of "Avatar," in the future humans will have the opportunity to visit Pandora as tourists and peacefully learn about Na'vi culture. "Pandora: The World of Avatar" at Disney's Animal Kingdom takes place decades after the final "Avatar" sequel and sets into motion a new story starring a new character — you.

The 12-acre area, filled with giant floating mountains, doesn't retell Jake's story, but rather focuses on Pandora itself as the main character. Enlisting the services of the fictional travel agency Alpha Centauri Expeditions, you voyage to a peaceful, post-war Pandora, where Walt Disney Imagineer Joe Rohde says, "We see nature resurging, coming back everywhere" on manmade structures erected by the former military presence on Pandora. "You'll see a building that's obviously a human building ... but wait a minute. The jungle's reclaiming it. The roots are breaking through the concrete. It's all going back." The visual detail provides a subtle metaphor for the conservation message encouraged by attractions throughout the area.

And what are those attractions? "Avatar Flight of Passage" is a thrilling simulator ride in which guests are scanned to inhabit their very own avatars and fly on the back of an Ikran. Meanwhile, "Na'vi River Journey" is a slow-moving boat ride through the bioluminescent beauty of Pandora at nighttime.

Sam Worthington hopes Jake inspires people to find their place

The actor who plays Jake views the role as more than just an acting gig. "I always thought of 'Avatar' as a movie about finding your place in the world," Sam Worthington said in a 2021 interview to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the film. Jake certainly finds his place in a setting he'd never expect to — a different planet that requires a 5-year voyage.

Jake, perhaps not finding true fulfillment on Earth, is able to be his fullest self on Pandora. He meets the love of his life, discovers new purpose, and protects a place he now calls home, in doing so finding his true identity. Worthington continued, "I think that's the main message ... that it doesn't matter if you're seven or 70, it's about the journey of trying to figure out what your place is and how you fit in and how you can help others."