I went to see the new Avatar movie last week and although it was an absolutely stunning movie, I came away thinking that there was something missing, story wise… and I think the tulkun have a lot to do with it, and it starts with Payakan.
Lo’ak, Jake’s youngest son, is tricked into dangerous waters by the kids of the Metkayina Clan and is soon attacked by an akula. Lo’ak attempts to hide by swimming between the gaps of a large and root-like coral-reef system, much of which the akula destroys. When Lo’ak is forced to swim up for air, the akula attacks again, but is foiled at the last moment by a tulkun. My first thought was, “You go, Eywa!” thinking that She had intervened to protect the balance, to fend off the akula for destroying so much coral… but, uh, no, that turned out not to be the case.
Instead, we’re treated to a dizzying seque into an anti-whaling short-film where Lo’ak talks to his saviour whale and it talks back. At first, I thought Lo’ak was talking to it in that movie way where he’s communicating his thoughts out-loud to the viewer… but, uh, no. In a way, this sub-plot is sweet, and the whale hunt that happens later on is chilling and emotional, and I understand the message, but my goodness is it a tone and plot shift. This film started out with the arrival of an armada whose descent blasts are enough to annihilate city-sized chunks of the forest… and yet a significant portion of the film is that Lo’ak gets in trouble for befriending an outcast whale.
Eywa is, as Norm says in the first movie, “made up of all living things.” Neytiri likewise says that Eywa “does not take sides [but] protects only the balance of life.” Eywa intervened to prevent the Tree of Souls from being obliterated by the humans. What better cause for an Eywa-centric plot than a story where humans invade the planet like an infection of brain-eating amoebae? We get a hint of this with Kiri’s spiritual meeting with her mother, which goes wrong and gives Kiri a seizure, indicating that something is seriously wrong with Eywa… but mostly, Eywa’s part in this story is being little more than the source of Kiri’s newfound force powers.
This film focused waaaay too much on Lo’ak and way too little on Kiri, Eywa, and the invasion.