The Much Better Buddy Comedy Hiding Within James Cameron's 'Avatar'
James Cameron has re-released the original Avatar to theaters in an effort to remind people that this movie exists before Avatar 2: This One Also Exists comes out. The downside for Cameron is that this is also reminding people of the many baffling moments within this movie -- like when the main character randomly calls a dude who's been nothing but a jerk to him his "brother."
That “brother” makes no sense, but it does offer a fascinating glimpse into what Avatar should have been: an intergalactic buddy comedy. Seriously, all the ingredients are already there.
As a refresher, in case you haven't re-watched this movie recently, or if you did but already forgot all about it, Tsu'tey is the big blue dick who immediately antagonizes Jake Sully when he first meets the Na'vi people. It doesn't help that Tsu'tey and Neytiri, Jake's love interest, are supposed to become "mates" (as in, sexual partners, not good British friends). Just when Jake has won over the Na'vi, his human bosses start bombing the crap out of his new friends and their sacred trees. Tsu'tey reacts by getting violent with Jake, and that's when our protagonist is (inexplicably) like, "brother, noooo."
Bear in mind that the closest thing these characters have gotten to a friendly moment so far is a brief scene where the entire village, including Tsu'tey, touches Jake as he's inducted into the tribe. The rest of their interactions have consisted of Tsu'tey being unnecessarily mean and scoffing at Jake's efforts to live like a Na'vi. There is a deleted scene where they have a drinking competition and a buzzed Tsu'tey admits Jake is surprisingly "brave" for a pansy-ass alien, but the camaraderie doesn't last long. By the end of that scene, Tsu'tey is giving Jake the stink eye again because he noticed he's getting closer to his designated lover.
Jake's use of the word "brother," while confusing from a story perspective, is interesting thematically because the only reason he's even running around with cat people in space is that he's filling in for his dead twin, Tommy. The movie never explores Jake and Tommy's relationship in any depth (admittedly, this would have been kinda hard since one of them only appears as a corpse), but it would make sense if there were unresolved issues between them. Maybe Jake calls Tsu'tey "brother" because he's so desperate for someone to fill in the sibling figure role that he'll even take some asshole he's barely spoken to? It doesn't really matter because the movie does nothing more with this idea.
But what if Jake and Tsu'tey did become brothers in a way? Remember the scene where Jake and Neytiri have to escape from a freaky dragon creature called Toruk? (Probably not, but we just described the gist of it anyway.) Since the two lovebirds already have plenty of scenes together, what if that was Jake and Tsu'tey instead? Let's say the Toruk interrupts one of their petty arguments, and they're suddenly forced to stop squabbling and work together to survive. Once they're safe, it's Tsu'tey, not Neytiri, who tells Jake about the legendary ancient Na'vi who once tamed a Toruk, thus setting up what comes later while also giving them a nice moment to stop and shoot the s**t.
So Jake and Tsu'tey (or "Tsu," as he starts calling him) become hunting bros and start learning about each other's customs -- you know, like they were supposed to do in the actual movie. The whole reason Jake was allowed to hang out with the Na'vi was so they could learn more about human warriors ... but then they just sorta forgot about that part and started telling Jake all of their secrets while getting absolutely nothing in return. Anyway, the first setback in the bromance happens when Tsu learns that Jake and Neytiri are a thing, leading to a big argument; this is the "Seth Rogen tells James Franco to #@$% off" moment in every buddy comedy.
But then, Jake is inducted into the tribe, and Tsu shows up at the last minute to join the big ceremony and support him. Now the moment when Tsu touches him along with the rest of the village is actually meaningful. Similarly, when Jake is exposed for "betraying" the tribe, and Tsu punches him, the "brother, noooo" is more than just a throwaway.
In the actual movie, Jake wins back the tribe by taming the big dragon, which is a little cheap. He's basically just exploiting their religious superstitions. But if Jake and Tsu have a backstory with the dragon, the redemption makes more dramatic sense. Now Jake wins them back through Tsu, and him being allowed back into the tribe also symbolizes the bromance being restored. Tsu's sacrifice at the end of the movie would hit harder (or hit at all) now that both Jake and the viewer know the guy better. Cameron could have even used the emotional death scene he shot and cut from the movie, presumably because he realized no one had any reason to care about this character.
The final piece of evidence that this movie would have been far superior if Jake and Tsu were friends is the fact that the latter is played by Laz Alonso, M.M. from The Boys, a badass and charismatic actor who was totally wasted playing Generic Asshole Romantic Rival (But Big And Blue). Something to think about when you inevitably start George Lucas'ing these movies, Mr. Cameron.
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