The Way of Water’ Has a Major Problem With Teens Lo’ak and Spider

Avatar: The Way of Water isn’t a movie meant to be watched so much as experienced. You have to kick back in one of those massive reclining theater seats, bolt 3D glasses to your face, and stare at the oversized screen straight-on, shoving popcorn into your mouth to remind yourself that you don’t actually live on Pandora.

Which is both too bad and a very good thing, actually. Pandora, the alien world that Avatar takes us to, is composed of an array of gorgeous vistas. The first film (so I’m told; I never saw it; I’ve got too much life to live) is set in a lush woodland area, where our heroes settle down.

This sequel forces Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña), and their family to abandon the forest for the sea, where they take refuge from the humans hunting them down. These Pandoran waters are an otherworldly blue, home to extraterrestrial whales and jellyfish; the sea in Pandora is an excellent place to think of the future, one where the humans haven’t destroyed everything in an effort to revive Earth.

But nothing can make up for the worst part of Pandora, no matter how beautiful it looks. (And it looks very, very beautiful; James Cameron, your 12 years of work wasn’t wasted!) On Pandora, much like on Earth, the teen boys are little shits.

This is a movie full of shitty little teen boys fighting with each other, fighting with their dads, fighting with themselves, and fighting against all the emotional upheaval of puberty. Even if you’re only half-human, like Jake and Neytiri’s kids are, you are apparently still liable to experience the horrific awkwardness of being an adolescent. Their sons may not have terrible mustaches or acne, but they have a predilection for stressing everyone out and doing the opposite of what they’re told.

Lo’ak (Britain Dalton), the problem child, keeps getting into trouble with the other members of the sea tribe. He’s horny for the princess, but her brother and his friends are also teen boy assholes. And like any classic teen boy, Lo’ak tries to prove that he’s a strong, cool guy to them—by instigating a fight that leads to him nearly getting killed.

Courtesy of 20th Century Studios

What really gets me about this scene isn’t that this is peak dumb-kid behavior. It’s that Avatar makes these guys sound exactly like Earthlings.

You’d hope on Pandora, boys wouldn’t be calling each other “shits” and flipping each other off. Surely 100-plus years from now, we’ll have progressed from these meaningless gestures of anger! But no, Lo’ak flips the bird at the sea tribe teens, after they call him a loser for not knowing how to swim as well as them, for having five fingers instead of the customary four, and for having an embarrassing, overbearing dad. They immediately know that this is one of the most insulting things a teenager can do to another, and they start pounding on little Lo’ak.

It’s a jarring moment, because it’s so human—perhaps too human. I watch movies like Avatar for an escape from the doldrums of the modern world. When these very familiar dudes keep shouting “bro” and “cuz” at each other, it kind of infringes upon the fantasy.

Courtesy of 20th Century Studios

It doesn’t help that one of the boys that Lo’ak is constantly calling “bro” and “cuz” is literally a human: Spider, a.k.a. Miles (Jack Champion), the son of the bad guy from the first movie. (He’s back this time too, for convoluted reasons.) Spider runs around in a loin cloth and with an oxygen mask on, because he’s a Na’vi in spirit if not biology. Even when Spider is captured by the humans and forced to help them locate Jake and his family, after they escape the forest, he’s wearing his Pandoran tighty-whities while rolling his eyes at and calling his captors “losers.”

There’s remarkable dissonance between how Lo’ak, Spider, and their bros talk to each other and how well-articulated the rest of the film is. Cameron has spent decades establishing the rules of Pandora: its spiritual traditions, its social structures, and the specific shades of blue skin each tribe possesses. Even if the blue people look kind of silly, they, and everything else, make sense within the confines of Pandora. For all the specificity and ambition at work in The Way of Water, that the same care wasn’t applied to how its main characters talk isn’t just strange—it’s also kind of lazy.

As I listened to these kids shout stock phrases at each other, I grew confused about the film’s tone: Was I watching a live-action movie about pubescent guys getting into oceanic misadventures, culminating in a giant spear fight on a sinking ship? Or was this a mostly computer-generated picture that just so happens to have a couple real people in it, who have influenced the unreal people to talk like they do? Was this Jake’s fault, because he was a human American man once? Or maybe this was just Cameron’s attempt at making this highly artificial movie feel a little more grounded.

Either way, Avatar hit its “bro” quota very fast,—and then continues to overuse the word for its 192-minute runtime. If we’re going to return to Pandora, please leave the boys at home.

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