Imagine betting against James Cameron. The director redefined how audiences view big franchise sequels in Terminator 2 and Aliens, while standalone offerings like True Lies and Titanic cemented him as one of cinema’s finest crafters of blockbuster entertainment. Yet, there was doubt when Cameron debuted the original Avatar in 2009, a staggering 13 years ago. Despite the skepticism around 3D at the time and its cost ($237 million for production, plus another $150 million for promotion, The Wrap reported at the time), Avatar became the then-highest-grossing movie of all time at the global box office. A lot can change in a few years, let alone over a decade, so the world in which Cameron’s anticipated sequel arrives is vastly different now.
Doubt is understandable—and perhaps even warranted—but save your jokes, assuage your fears, and remove your suspicions: Avatar: The Way of Water is the real deal. Picking up about a decade after the events of the first movie, jarhead-turned-native Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) are now happily surrounded by four Na’vi/human hybrid children of their own. But it’s Kiri, the child of the late Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver, who also plays Kiri), whose birth takes on a biblical air of mystery.
Weaver isn’t the only face coming back from the dead, as it’s quickly revealed in Water’s opening prologue that Quaritch (Stephen Lang) is back, thanks to a handy bit of narrative retconning that saw the space marine’s consciousness backed up to a Na’vi avatar of his own. Without a human body to return to, the hunter becomes what he once hunted as the “sky people”—the humans and their militants—return to Pandora still hell-bent on colonizing the planet.