By digitally uploading their consciousnesses to a veritable cloud, they can reunite with their dead son like Rose does with Jack, but still gracefully exit the organic matrix in order to carry on for the sequels. They never will have to let go.
The reason Jake and Neytiri, and for that matter the remainder of their biological children, are alive at the very end though is more of a nod to another movie: The Abyss (1989). In the one box office disappointment in Cameron’s career, a group of civilian scientists are enlisted by the military to search for a nuclear submarine. However, what they find at the bottom of the ocean is something altogether more powerful: a sentient godlike race of aliens that the film’s scientists call NTIs (non-terrestrial intelligence). They can control the water and seas of the deep and share a collective memory of everything their alien species has experienced.
The concept of Pandora seems itself an extension of this, with now an entire planet’s ecology sharing a near-hive mind collective memory. The NTIs of The Abyss also glow with translucent bioluminescence.
Weaver’s Kiri also steals a line from the NTIs’ playbook when she taps into Pandora’s collective consciousness at the bottom of the sea to save the day in Avatar: The Way of Water. When the rest of the Sullys go down with the ship, with the parents resigning themselves to a watery grave just as Ed Harris did in The Abyss, an almost otherworldly force of nature is summoned and a glowing sentience is manifested by Kiri. The love of a family member, now a child instead of a wife, inspires higher aquatic power to aid the protagonists at the last minute. The sea life, and perhaps water itself, seems to come alive and rescue Jake, Neytiri, and all the rest from a darker fate.
Even Cameron’s most lighthearted and silly movie, the action/comedy/romance hybrid, True Lies (1994), is referenced in Avatar: The Way of Water—or at least repeated. For in both True Lies and Avatar 2, it all comes down to the baddie kidnapping the hero’s little girl.
In True Lies, this occurs when sweet little Dana (Eliza Dushku) is abducted by the cruel terrorist Aziz (Art Malik) and dangled from a crane above a skyscraper. In Avatar: The Way of Water, Weaver’s innocent Kiri is likewise hostaged by Col. Quaritch to lure Sully into a showdown. Yet times have changed since the ’90s. Back in the heyday of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who plays True Lies’ unlikely everyman suburban husband/dad, one-liners were king. And few were as good as the sendoff Schwarzenegger’s Harry gives the supervillain Aziz. He looks the fiend dead in the eye, all as Aziz dangles from a missile on the wing of the AV-8B Harrier jet that Harry showed up to work in, and smirks, “You’re fired.”