Avatar: The Way of Water has unfurled its latest trailer and it looks like a feast for the senses.
James Cameron's level of ambition steps up as he introduces us to the previously unseen underwater environments of Pandora. As Cameron paints with light, shade and colour, we're also poised to learn more about the returning characters from the first Avatar, which currently sits pretty as the highest-grossing movie of all time.
Here's what we learned from the trailer.
1. Jake and Neytiri are now parents to several children
The first Avatar explored the tentative relationship between colonial marine Jake Sully and his Na'Vi love interest Neytiri. They sealed their bond by connecting ponytails during the pivotal Tree of Voices scene, which secured Jake's loyalty towards the Na'vi as the invading military forces threatened everything the tribe stood for.
The first Avatar movie culminated with Jake leaving his human body forever, permanently transferring his soul into his avatar body via the power of Pandora's sacred tree. More than 10 years after the events of the first film, Jake and Neytiri have become parents to several children: Neteyam (Jamie Flatters), Lo’ak (Britain Dalton), Tuktirey (Trinity Bliss) and Kiri (Sigourney Weaver).
Weaver told Variety that The Way of Water stems from James Cameron's well-spring of joy around his own family, and the narrative exposes how people become more emotionally vulnerable once they bring children into the world. The trailer certainly bears this out as Jake and Neytiri's way of life is threatened once again.
2. Their child Kiri is central to the plot
Sigourney Weaver's presence in the story is more than welcome, if a little baffling. Her character, scientist Grace Augustine, evidently died in the first movie despite the attempt to transfer her soul permanently into an Avatar body.
Weaver lends her voice and physical performance to the role of Jake and Neytiri's daughter Kiri. (Such is the brilliance of the motion capture CGI that one can clearly see Weaver's facial expressions mapped onto the younger character.)
There has clearly been some kind of cosmic or spiritual transference via the fact that Kiri appears to be speaking with Grace's voice. But it appears to be deeper than that.
Kiri claims to share an awareness of Eywa that is deeper than anything we've seen in the Avatar universe so far. It's also telling that, in her final moments, Grace Augustine was awed by the beauty and radiance of Pandora's deity Eywa before passing away.
Are we, therefore, seeing an extension of Grace's soul carried across species boundaries, generations and timelines? It indicates the secretive corners of the Avatar mythology that are yet to fully expose themselves, and with three more movies coming after this one, there are bound to be even more surprises.
3. The 'I See You' motif from the first Avatar appears here
The power of emotional recognition fuelled the events of the first Avatar movie. Despite Jake being a human in an avatar Na'vi body, he was able to cross the divide and form a deep-seated connection with a member of a completely different species.
At the end of the first Avatar, after the defeat of the military forces, Neytiri bears witness to Jake's human form, uttering, "I see you." It's not just a literal statement; she is effectively saying that she can witness the purity of Jake's soul, one that has helped to save her people. This culminates in Jake's fully-fledged transformation into a Na'vi tribal member during the movie's final moments.
It indicated that the power of connection isn't relative to one's race, species or body type. The theme was further reinforced by the late James Horner's lushly romantic score, which humanised the union between two unlikely partners, and was translated into the 'I See You' song performed by Leona Lewis over the end credits.
Horner's orchestrator Simon Franglen takes on compositional duties for The Way of Water, so we imagine that the familiar musical refrain will play another important role. (It's already been heard in the trailers as an echo of the earlier movie's romantic spirit.)
The repetition of this motif emerges when Neteyam, Jake and Neytiri's oldest son, pours out his heart to a member of the aquatic Metkayina tribe (more on whom momentarily).
Because a lot of the characters look similar, it's hard to identify who exactly he's speaking to (we think it's Kate Winslet's Ronal), but significantly she replies with "I see you."
Once again, the power of an intrinsic spiritual bond is at the heart of the story, and it's interesting to note how it isn't unique to just the Na'vi. Instead, all of Pandora's tribes appear to follow the same philosophy, bound as they are by the power of the mystical Eywa.
4. It's a story of fugitives on the run
One of Avatar's most harrowing scenes came in the destruction of Hometree, the Na'vi's sacred home. James Cameron clearly intended for such sequences to be an allegory for real-world concerns, including the rampant destruction of the Amazon rainforest and other extraordinary habitats.
That uncomfortable and pressing concern is at the fore once again when Jake and Neytiri witness the Pandoran landscape on fire. It appears to incentivise them to leave, forcing them to take refuge with the aforementioned Metkayina clan who dwell beneath Pandora's oceans.
The Metkayina are represented by leaders Ronal (as mentioned, she's played by Kate Winslet) and Tonowari (Cliff Curtis). As Jake and Neytiri vow to keep their family together, their children evidently bond with Pandora's aquatic inhabitants.
In fact, there's an edit that appears to suggest Kiri's latent abilities, as she appears to summon a mighty beast to emerge from the water and launch itself over a military transport. (Again, that might be a trailer trick to create an impression that isn't in the finished film.)
The motif of water is stated via the trailer's voiceover, reiterating the importance of harmonious flow and balance (clearly a bit of a metaphor for Jake and Neytiri's family). The relationship between water and birth is also clearly stated with what appears to be a Metkayina infant floating on the surface.
However, one reads it, the sequences look visually astounding, and much has been made about the actors learning to free-dive for the movie's challenging underwater sequences. Kate Winslet has said that she managed to hold her breath for five minutes (and we thought she'd had enough of James Cameron's aquatic drama following her star-making role in the director's Titanic).
5. The vengeful Quaritch has upped his game
How is Quaritch back from the dead, exactly? If Sigourney Weaver's presence in the movie is confusing, then Stephen Lang's is no less so. The latter returns to his scenery-chewing role as Quaritch, once Jake's military commander, and now his sworn enemy.
At the end of Avatar, Neytiri conclusively killed Quaritch by shooting him with a poison-tipped arrow that immediately stopped his heart. How he's come back is a mystery, although we imagine vengeance is the reason why.
Certainly, the shot of him crushing a human skull says everything you need to know. What if that same skull once belonged to Quaritch's human body? Its destruction may cement his permanent allegiance to his deadly avatar alter-ego.
At the end of Avatar, the colonial marines and the greedy mining corporation seeking the priceless 'unobtanium' were banished from Pandora. What's the betting that they had a sample of Quaritch's DNA as a backup option?
Here's our theory. Back to Earth, both the army and the company could have grown a new avatar body for Quaritch. Upon returning to Pandora more than 10 years later, they can now finish what they started, and in the process, Quaritch gets to enact his cathartic path of vengeance.
Speculation aside, Quaritch is evidently more dangerous than ever. His military might now extends to underwater fighting units, but even before we get to that stage, he's clearly willing to burn down even more of the Pandoran rainforest to get back at Jake and Neytiri. (We're assuming he's responsible for that.)
6. Jake takes on Neytiri's mantle
At the end of this new trailer, Neytiri appears to have lost hope following the destruction of her home. However, it is Jake who reminds Neytiri of Na'vi strength she once instilled in him, another extension of their bond.
It reinforces the emotional dynamic between the two central characters and how this is set to fuel the events of The Way of Water.