Avatar: The Way Of Water Made A Major Change For Jake Sully That Really Worked

Sam Worthington in Avatar: The Way of Water
(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

Warning! The following contains SPOILERS for Avatar: The Way Of Water. Read at your own risk!

Avatar: The Way Of Water is out in theaters and transports audiences back to a franchise that hasn't released a new movie in over a decade. Many audiences returned to Pandora after having been away for a long time and may not remember a lot about the original movie beyond a few key details. One thing that definitely stuck out to me is that Jake Sully changed entirely personality-wise, and for some, that was a small problem in an otherwise great movie. I was confused by this decision at first, but having taken in the sequel after re-watching of the original, I think it was a change that really worked for a few reasons. 

The Jake Sully of Avatar is completely different from the Jake Sully of Avatar: The Way Of Water. The new Sully is tough, emotional and even somewhat harsh at times to his children. He’s far from the perfect father, but I think it’s a character development that makes total sense when considering the events of the first movie and what’s happening in the sequel. 

Sam Worthington and Sigourney Weaver delivering a warning in their Na'vi forms in Avatar.

(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

Jake Is No Longer The “Baby”

It’s worth noting that Jake Sully spent the vast majority of Avatar (which is currently available on Disney+) relatively unaware of the wonder of Pandora and what it meant to be Na’vi. It’s only because of Neytiri that he even managed to survive long enough to ingratiate himself with her people and survive that fight with Colonel Quaritch. As Neytiri very bluntly noted in the first movie, he had a strong heart, but he was basically a baby because of his ignorance of the world. 

Avatar: The Way Of Water takes place roughly a decade and a half later. Jake Sully is not the baby he once was, but he’s the father to many children who are. That’s even more true with the return of Colonel Quaritch and the Marines, something his children hadn’t faced before. They are the babies in this instance, but one might think that would make him more understanding.

Perhaps in other circumstances that would be the case, but not with what’s happening in Avatar: The Way Of Water. Jake may come off like an asshole with his reaction to both of his sons, but it’s only because he knows that the Marines and even Pandora are far more dangerous than they can imagine. He’s not tough because he doesn’t care. He’s tough because he needs to be to protect them as best he can.

Jake rides a winged creature over the ocean in Avatar: The Way of Water.

(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

Jake Is Stressed About The Re-Emergence Of The Marines 

I think it’s interesting there’s an acknowledgment by some that Jake Sully is different in Avatar: The Way Of Water, but not a lot of understanding as to why that is. Jake rejected his human body to remain Na’vi, but he sacrificed his morals as a Marine and turned his back on humanity to do so. Sure, in the context of Avatar, humans are the bad guys, but that doesn’t make it any less painful. 

When Jake and Neytiri’s family exiled themselves from the Omaticaya, it was painful. Jake is leaving the Na’vi he gave up his past life for, and Neytiri is leaving the only world she’s ever known. This is where they’re stories intertwined, where they raised children and where they fell in love. To leave all that behind would be tough enough, and it’s even more so with a team of soldiers looking to kill you and your family. 

I’m not excusing Jake Sully’s behavior in Avatar: The Way Of Water, but I think context is important to note here. I think under normal circumstances, like what we see early in the movie, Jake would be in better spirits and less on edge. He’s operating through most of the sequel in survival mode and doing whatever he can to navigate safety for his family, as well as himself. That’s a lot of pressure to take on and wasn’t easy to pull off. 

Jake and Neytyri stand in the water with other Na'vi in Avatar: The Way of Water.

(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

Jake’s Harsh Attitude Toward His Children Gives Depth To The Story

One important disconnect between Jake and his children in Avatar: The Way Of Water is their status as outsiders. Jake Sully used to be human and only came to Pandora after his brother died. He had a completely human life before transitioning into his Na’vi vessel permanently, and he’s perfectly aware that he’s an outsider and what that means to other Na’vi who may not know him as well. 

That experience is entirely different than what’s experienced by his children when they seek refuge with the reef people, the Metkayina. They’ve grown up their whole lives with “demon blood,” but because they were with the Omaticaya, everyone knew their story. Sure, there may have been some teasing growing up, but given that Jake was instrumental in saving their people way back when, I doubt they really ever experienced a ton of criticism until their exile. 

Jake’s advice to his children is to keep their heads down and learn fast so they’re not “useless.” While that’s generally good advice given the Metkayina’s terms, he lacks the empathy to understand the weight of this struggle for them. 

Jake willingly gave up his past to become Na'vi and did so well into adulthood. That is quite effectively an entirely different thing than being forced out of your homeland as a child and being tasked with acclimating to an entirely different way of life. Jake takes the same attitude as Neytiri does when they first met in Avatar in dealing with his kids’ various issues, but as we saw, this didn’t really help at all. 

Jake might not make the best calls when it comes to being a dad in Avatar: The Way Of Water,  but I think that really works in the context of the movie. Just because he’s a bad dad in this specific circumstance, I think it’s more than fair to assume he wouldn’t be like this in other circumstances. As for his brash and standoffish nature, it certainly helps propel the film along and makes that tragic death towards the end that much more impactful.

I tried to think of how this movie would’ve been had Jake been the supportive and understanding father the whole way through, and I think Avatar: The Way Of Water would’ve suffered for it. He’s a mild antagonist for his sons for the bits in the film where it’s slowed down, and without that, we’d just be watching them swim in water for the second part of the movie. Given that alternative, I’m ultimately ok with Jake being harsher than he was in the original Avatar

Avatar: The Way Of Water is currently in theaters, so it’ll be a minute before fans can stream it with their Disney+ subscription. As for how long that’ll take, that could depend on whether or not the box office numbers continue to perform.

Mick Joest
Content Producer

Mick Joest is a Content Producer for CinemaBlend with his hand in an eclectic mix of television goodness. Star Trek is his main jam, but he also regularly reports on happenings in the world of Star Trek, WWE, Doctor Who, 90 Day Fiancé, Quantum Leap, and Big Brother. He graduated from the University of Southern Indiana with a degree in Journalism and a minor in Radio and Television. He's great at hosting panels and appearing on podcasts if given the chance as well.