13 years of waiting has been rewarded with a first look at James Cameron's AVATAR 2, officially titled "AVATAR: The Way of Water"! The minute and a half stinger quickly garnered over 50 million views across all the various media outlets hosting it as eager fans got their first glimpse of Pandora in more than a decade.
The teaser is a master class in show, don't tell. It is perfectly constructed to convey the mood and state of Pandora ten years after the events of the first film without telling too much about the plot of the sequel. Simon Franglen stepped up to the plate in a big way, delivering a haunting score that accompanies the visual imagery with an uncanny appropriateness. Though the teaser may be all vibes, no plot, the vibes have a lot to say. Here's our analysis.
The establishing shot is familiar- the vines of Iknimaya, the Stairway to Heaven. As one of the most iconic setpieces in the original "AVATAR", opening with this scene immediately reminds audiences what they're looking at. However, a closer look reveals that this isn't the same Pandora we remember from the first film. There is a human amongst the young Na'vi hunters leaping across the vines.
Three of these four are the Sully kids, including human Javier/Miles "Spider" Socorro. With ten years passed since the events of "AVATAR", Jake and Neytiri have started a family. We know from official synopsis' that this family includes 3 Na'vi children, Neteyam, Lo'ak and Tuktirey, but that they also took in Spider who was born on Pandora but too young to return to Earth at the end of "AVATAR". Spider, Lo'ak and Tuktirey are visible in this scene, but who is the fourth Na'vi? We're being told her name is Kiri, and she appears to be a focal point of the film.
Kiri is already a very complex character, and the tinfoil hats are on in earnest trying to figure out details about this mysterious arrival. For a detailed breakdown and theories about Kiri, we recommend EanaUnil's article.
They are likely training for the Iknimaya trial since Jake or Neytiri don't appear to be present in this shot, with Spider accompanying his Na'vi siblings despite being unable to tame or fly a Banshee of his own. This separation is likely to play a crucial role in the plot of "The Way of Water", as Spider grapples with what it means to be a part of Na'vi culture without truly being Na'vi.
The next shot is another familiar one, a close up on Neytiri that echoes a similar shot from the first film. She is noticeably older, with smile lines taking shape around the corners of her mouth.
As a close up, this shot doesn't say much. However, what it shows is a dramatic increase in quality in the CGI from "AVATAR" to "The Way of Water". The pores, the reflections in her eyes, the ambient occlusion on the shadows on her face. It is very difficult to tell that this is a completely computer generated image and not a practical effects character with hair and makeup, and it's not the only shot in the trailer like this.
After establishing the "familiar-but-different" with the first two shots, we get our first transition shot which changes both direction and pacing of the teaser. Instead of moving left to right like the first two shots, this scene breaks the rhythm and moves right to left. It is anchored by the familiar Ikran, or Banshees, but otherwise gives us our first glimpse of the breathtaking oceans of Pandora. The clear blue water teems with life and accurately captures Cameron's fascination and love for the ocean.
Thanks to insanely thorough analysis from members of our community, we know that the lead Ikran is flown by Jake, flanked left and right by Neteyam and Lo'ak respectively. Kiri is closest to the center of the flight pattern, while Neytiri brings up the rear.
Next up is our first look at Jake who, like Neytiri, is also looking older and more concerned (and sporting a new hairstyle!) He has a gun slung over his back, as well as an impressive collection of apparent human equipment in the saddlebags behind him. That likely puts this shot sometime after the Omatikaya are displaced by a re-invigorated RDA.
The staging of the 5 riders in this next shot leads us to believe that they are part of the same sequence. If you look closely among the mangrove roots, you can see signs of Na'vi civilization. Thanks to concept art (and other shots from this trailer) it's safe to assume we're looking at the Omatikaya's new home after their displacement, with Jake, Neytiri and the kids returning home after some excursion.
Here we have another Ikran flight shot, however this one may come from a separate sequence entirely. The staging of the riders is different in this shot, with Neytiri and Tuktirey now leading the formation. Additionally, the reefs and barrier islands appear to be too close to shore to not have been in the previous shots, though that remains a possibility.
Also notable about this shot is a 6th character, riding in front of Neytiri. Based on the information available to us in this teaser this is likely Tuktirey, the youngest Sully child, though it could also be Spider. If it is Tuktirey and not Spider, this raises questions about Spider's whereabouts in this section of the film. Is he back with the Omatikaya, already with the Metkayina, or somewhere else? We have our theories, but nothing conclusive yet!
Here's the first money shot in the teaser! We finally get our first glimpse of the Metkayina tribe, which have long been speculated to have evolutionary differences from the Omatikaya. Clearly on display in this still is a pronounced rudder tail, larger feet and hands, as well as forearm fins. These traits have helped the Metkayina better adapt to ocean life, as opposed to their jungle-dwelling brethren from the Omatikaya.
We also get our first hint of the Māori-influenced culture of the Metkayina, with prominent and intricate tattooing visible on the leg of the featured Na'vi. We expect much more of this in the future, as "The Way of Water" was filmed in New Zealand and heavily influenced by local culture.
Later in this same sequence, you can see Jake raise his arm- either in greeting or in a call to action. We also get a better glimpse of what appears to be Tuktirey riding with Neytiri, pointing at something off in the distance. This gives more credit to it being Tuk riding with Neytiri in the previous shot as well, rather than Spider.
This next shot is the reason why "Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom" moved from its December release timeline. Here is our first true look at the advancements made in underwater motion capture by Cameron in the last decade. The caustics and facial detail, hair, and detail on the seabed all scream "real".
This appears to be Kiri, who we now can tell is either an AVATAR or of AVATAR descent from her eyebrows and 5 fingers. However, the most interesting thing of note in this frame is that she appears to be wearing the necklace that Grace Augustine wore in "AVATAR". Nothing is coincidental in Cameron films, so we can't ignore the main question that this raises: What is Kiri's connection to Grace? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Boy are there a few major reveals in this shot, the biggest of which being that Miles Quaritch, the villain from the first film, has returned in AVATAR form. How? Why? We have absolutely no idea. Make no mistake, though- he's back and it's going to mean bad things for the Sully family.
We also get our first glimpse of the expanded RDA operation on Pandora. They've either semi or fully automated their construction process, evident from the spider bots that are all over this frame. They've also developed an AMP-lite, putting humans on the same eye level as AVATAR drivers which alludes to what we know to be true from AVATAR: Reckoning: AVATARs are vastly more common now than they were ten years ago, and the RDA appears to have militarized the tech.
Oh yeah, and the AVATAR driver with the drip in the back? That's Lyle Wainfleet, who was crushed to death in the first film. More on him later.
Did somebody say expanded RDA operations? Because between the hundreds of Scorpions and new, unnamed light craft, let alone the three Dragon gunships in this clip, it's clear that the RDA are back and they're not interested in being friendly. The scorpion in center frame is also sporting a newly reinforced cockpit canopy, so it's safe to assume they learned from their defeat at the Tree of Souls.
Quaritch and Wainfleet are also present in this shot, which likely puts it in the same tour of duty sequence as the previous shot. The large black tattoo on Quaritch's left arm is the tell.
Back to the jungle for a tracking shot, following Spider and Britain Dalton's Lo'ak as they're observing a squad of 4 AVATAR drivers from the brush. Again we get hints of Spider's longing to belong to the culture he's been raised in. He has blue striping that matches his Na'vi brother, either painted or tattooed onto his skin. It is also interesting that he appears to be leading this effort, as he's the one in front of Lo'ak and not the other way around.
This shot also likely follows the flight sequence from the previous shot, though it's not immediately apparent if Wainfleet and Quaritch are present among the 4 AVATAR drivers. Whatever they're looking for, it has something to do with a mobile link unit similar to the one Jake was using to fight Quaritch and the RDA at the end of the first film. Perhaps they're tracking Spider, or looking for something else entirely.
The camera pivots to give us an up close look at Lo'ak and newcomer Kiri. This may be from the same sequence as the previous shot, or it may not. The one point of detail we can pull from this frame is that Lo'ak is wearing a throat microphone similar to what Jake used to communicate with his allies at the end of the first film. It seems the Sullys are mixing human and Na'vi culture like a true blended family.
Flipping back, we get our first true look at Quaritch and Wainfleet in their new AVATAR bodies. They're tracking someone or something, and while the teaser wants us to assume it's the Sully kids by juxtaposing this shot with the next one, there's no certain proof of that at this moment.
If they are tracking the Sully kids, it's safe to say they find them in this next scene because Lo'ak and Spider go full defense mode to protect Kiri from whatever is threatening them. This level of protection of Kiri who a) we know is an AVATAR or descended from one and b) isn't a Sully continues to reinforce the idea that Kiri is going to be central to the plot of "The Way of Water". In what capacity, we don't yet know.
We get a break from the dramatic tension as the trailer cuts to another underwater shot of Kiri riding an Ilu, an apparent aquatic cousin of the Banshee with an adorable smile. At this point, Cameron is just showing off, and we can't blame him.
See what we mean? Interestingly enough, this scene comes directly from a concept art piece we've seen from Dylan Cole, with the shape and positioning of the arches exactly matching the aforementioned piece. Compare for yourself!
As far as details, we're likely looking at our one and only glimpse of Neteyam in this teaser, at the back of the group. On the right are Kiri and Tuktirey, and on the left are newcomer Tsireya (portrayed by Bailey Bass) and another unknown Metkayina youth. This area is referred to as the Cove of the Ancestors, a sacred site to the Metkayina clan- though to what extent remains unknown.
Are you ready for drama? Because here it comes! The teaser really starts to dig into the Sully family from here on forward. This scene screams "mistake", both from Lo'ak's expression and from Jake and Neytiri's body language. The Na'vi say "the ears and tail also speak", and whatever they're saying here is not a joyous moment.
There is some speculation that whatever is going on has to do with some forbidden romance between Lo'ak and Tsireya, who we gather is of some importance in the Metkayina clan. Her presence in this shot reinforces this theory, and Jake is not happy about it.
But hey, cyan skin!
It would seem that Ronal, portrayed by Kate Winslet, isn't happy about whatever's going on between Lo'ak and Tsireya either. Between this shot and the previous one, it appears that Tsireya may be Ronal's daughter and tsahìk, clan shaman/princess, in training. It would then make sense that she does not approve of an outsider, and son of a human no less, fraternizing with her daughter.
Plot aside, we get our first close up of a Metkayina Na'vi and immediately some additional features are made clear. The Metkayina have blue or cyan eyes to the Omatikaya's yellow. Ronal is also sporting facial tattoos reminiscent of the Māori Tā Moko, which may befit her station as the Metkayina spiritual leader.
Back again to a concerned Tsireya, speaking to an unknown Na'vi. The hint of cyan in the skin pigmenting on the unknown Na'vi's shoulder may mean it's a fellow Metkayina, or may be one of the Sully's. Evidence inconclusive!
This whale-like creature is called a Tulkun, which will be a familiar name to those aware of the leaked AVATAR titles from a few years back. Lo'ak seems to be making friends, could he perhaps be The Tulkun Rider?
Speaking of making friends, here we have a Metkayina ceremony with some degree of formality and a very pregnant Ronal! We know from previous press that Ronal's character will orchestrate a birthing ritual at some point, though it's unclear if this is that scene. We also have our first glimpse of Cliff Curtis' Tonowari, presumed olo'eyktan (clan leader) of the Metkayina. Look at that beautiful man.
The pacing of the teaser increases significantly from this point forward. While it helps to build the tension, the shots they used also significantly decreases the amount of information that can be gathered from them.
With that said, someone with Stormtrooper aim is shooting at Spider and either Lo'ak or Neteyam as they're fleeing a human structure. Visible in the background of this shot may be one of the RDA's crab mechs or another submersible vehicle of some kind. This setpiece is likely part of the RDA's CET-OPS, which we speculate to mean Cetaceous Operations.
A snarling Quaritch whirls around to face the camera in the wreckage of some RDA vessel or structure. A quick flash may come indicate gunshots or explosions from ongoing conflict nearby.
Lo'ak mourns a loss, with what we believe to be Neytiri's head visible in the bottom right corner of the frame based on the hair and headband. At this point, the prevailing theory is that this may signal the loss of a child. We can tell you now, we're not ready for that heartbreak.
A bloodied, post-battle Jake comforts Lo'ak and Spider, with Tuktirey or Kiri visible in front of them. Whatever has happened here, they might all have survived but it doesn't feel like a win.
IT'S THE BABY. Tuktirey, portrayed by Trinity Bliss, and Neytiri are almost certainly in danger in this moment, but Tuk is radiating her dad's chaotic energy here. A terrifying, watery death might be chasing them down but dammit she's gonna have fun.
As a note, Tuk only has four fingers, which brings her more in line with her mother's physical appearance than her father's. From other shots in this trailer, it's clear that they're close. Mama bear Neytiri isn't going to mess around when it comes to this little one, you can count on that.
Lo'ak takes a ride with his new friend in the most realistic water you've ever seen. Admit it.
The Metkayina are preparing for an amphibious conflict of some kind in this shot, including Ronal. Also, Tonowari doesn't smile, confirmed.
Okay, we lied. This is the most realistic water you've ever seen. Everything in this shot is so hyper-realistic that fans have taken to Twitter questioning whether or not this is, in fact, a practical shot. Though we won't know for certain until we get behind the scenes details, if this is a fully CGI shot it raises the question: When the CGI is indistinguishable from practical effects, how much further can the bar be raised?
Climax! New scary flying fish thing! Jake with a war hatchet! Wherever this film is leading, it's leading to this conflict and we're here for it. Toruk Makto has a brand new ride, bitches.
What a shot to end on. Remember when we asked if you were ready for drama? This teaser leans into a much more dramatic side of AVATAR than the first film did. There is weight to each scene, emotion in each actor's performance. For better or for worse, AVATAR appears to be taking itself much more seriously than it did in 2009.
Cameron and Jon Landau have promised a family-centered story for the sequel film(s) and this may have been the wisest choice they could make to recapture an audience that has been sleeping for 13 years. In that time, a fair few have likely grown up, gotten married and started a family of their own. To reconnect with characters you may or may not remember, but that have undergone the same experiences as you have, is certain to provide an emotional latchpoint for an audience to connect to.
This teaser is perfectly crafted to give us a taste of what's to come without spoiling substance. Some critics are calling it all vibe and no plot, but we see this as a benefit and not a detriment to the teaser and the film itself. Cameron films are crafted to be an experience, and sometimes the best way to experience them is to go in with as little expectations as possible.
Was there anything else you noticed in the teaser that we missed? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter! The hype train is just beginning at Kelutral.org, so don't miss out by following our socials and joining the conversation on Discord.
Prepare for a return to Pandora on December 16th, 2022 when "AVATAR: The Way of Water" releases!
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