Essay: “Avatar: The Way of Water” – Kiri is a Blatant Mary Sue


Lea Vasquez, Staff Writer

In her debut article, Contributing A&E Writer Lea Vazquez gets into deep waters and takes a stand against the highest-grossing movie of 2022: “Avatar: The Way of Water,” finding a flaw in James Cameron’s work: a Mary Sue.

Editor’s Note: This essay contains spoilers for “Avatar: The Way of Water”

Growing up, I was really into fandoms. I was probably scrolling through Tumblr looking at “Star Wars,” “My Little Pony,” or Marvel fanart — you name it. My biggest weakness was fanfiction; I would spend hours a day reading on Archive of Our Own or about my favorite characters. Of course, many authors of these works took artistic liberties. Alternative universe, self-insert, and original character were key terms I learned in the realm of fanfics. This is also where I was first introduced to the character archetype of “Mary Sues.” If you weren’t an avid fanfiction consumer like my middle school self, you might wonder, “What’s a Mary Sue?” Well, I’m glad you asked. 

The term Mary Sue, or Gary Stu, if male, was coined in the 1970s from a satirical “Star Trek” fanfiction. The story featured an original character, Mary Sue, who at 15 and a half years old, was the youngest lieutenant in the fleet. Almost all the characters had a crush on her, and she never made any mistakes. Essentially, Mary Sue is an unrealistic character who is virtually flawless and lacks character development. Mary Sues are most commonly seen in fanfiction, but can be found in TV shows and movies, and, as I will be discussing in this article, “Avatar: The Way of Water.”

When I first watched “Avatar: The Way of Water,” I was constantly frustrated by Kiri’s (Sigourney Weaver) character. Anger flared throughout my whole body every time she came on the screen. Was it her obnoxious voice? Her uncanny face, perhaps? As the movie progressed, I had an epiphany. Kiri might be annoying and looks designed by someone who drew a Na’vi from memory, but that’s not the reason I found her so unlikeable. I found her so unbearable because I realized she was a Mary Sue. 

To begin, Kiri’s existence itself is a perfect example of a Mary Sue. She is magically conceived by Grace Augustine’s (also played by Sigourney Weaver) braindead avatar with an unknown father. She is taken in by Jake (Sam Worthington) and Netyiri (Zoe Saldana) and grows up in the Omatikaya clan. Early into the film, it is hinted that Kiri is supposed to be “the chosen one.” When a scene shows her napping in the forest, woodspirits lay on her. If you recall, the woodspirits were the same spirits that landed on Jake Sully in the first movie, convincing Neytiri to give him a chance. They are sacred spirits in the Pandora universe. Of course, Kiri being a character who is deeply connected to Pandora’s spiritual aspects wouldn’t be an issue if she wasn’t portrayed as perfect. 

When the Sully family seeks refuge by living with the Metkaynia clan, they struggle to adapt to their culture. Not only do the Metkaynia have a bigger lung capacity due to their aquatic lifestyle, but they also have more muscular forearms and thicker tails. The Sully family, of course, struggles to convert to this way of living. They cannot hold their breath as long as the Metkayina. When the Sully siblings are taught to free dive, they repeatedly return to the surface for air. Except for Kiri, who does not seem to struggle whatsoever. She majestically swims through the ocean, admiring the wildlife. For someone who lives in the forest and likely does not often swim due to her natural habitat, it makes no sense for her to be so quickly skilled in swimming. When it is time for the Sully clan to learn how to ride the Ilu, the creature throws them off multiple times. But not Kiri, who not only has the animal lovingly rub against her but also masters riding the animal without any errors.

On top of that, Kiri has what I like to call “saltwater superpowers.” Kiri does this odd thing where she guides a small school of fish with her hands like she’s fish-bending. This is weird, but since she’s a Disney princess, I guess it’s acceptable for all the creatures in Pandora to love her. Will the animals help her in a dire time of need, just moments before something terrible happens? They do! 

In the film’s final act, Quadtrich (Stephen Lang) finds Jake Sully’s hiding place and arrives on a big boat with his avatar army. As the scene progresses, we get a bunch of explosions and deaths, including Jake’s eldest child, Neteyam. Eventually, the whole family gets split up throughout the sinking boat. When all hope seems lost, the same school of fish reappears, only much bigger. Kiri starts glowing, and the school of fish magically guides her to save her drowning mother and younger sister, Tuk (Trinity Jo-Li Bliss). Conveniently, Kiri saves her family moments before they were going to drown. 

The only time the audience gets a glimmer of hope that Kiri is flawed is when she links to the Spirit Tree. She has a hallucination of Grace but starts to seize and falls unconscious. Because of this, she is advised not to link to the tree again. So finally, she can’t do the one thing that links Na’vis to their ancestors and entities. But, oh wait, she can. In the final battle scene, Kiri links to the Spirit Tree and controls it to destroy one of the submarines on Quadtrich’s team. All the issues that Kiri faces throughout the film are magically resolved by her special powers. Every time something suspenseful happens, it feels like Kiri can quickly come to the rescue.

I understand that Kiri is supposed to be gifted, having a special connection with the earth and Ewya. But, being skilled in every aspect is a lazy way of showing that. The only apparent flaw in her character is that she is moody. Yeah, she rolls her eyes and has an attitude at moments, but what teenage girl doesn’t? Her character should have had some struggles. And not just the struggle of not knowing her mother, because frankly, it doesn’t add much to her character. Trauma does not equal personality. To elaborate, I think trauma can add depth to a character, and explain their personality and decision-making. But a poorly delivered backstory does not add anything to Kiri. To give a new character such a huge role in the movie, they should have added more depth to her.. We can argue that she was not well-liked by the other teens in the tribe, but as the movie progresses, they come to hang out with her. Not only do I find her character unlikeable, I see her as unrealistic Yes, maybe a movie about 7-foot blue people who ride on dinosaur-like creatures is anything but that, but the original film had logic and creativity, both of which “Avatar: The Way of Water ” lacks, especially in the aspect of character design. For someone so pretentious about his work as a director and writer, James Cameron has managed to make one of the most stereotypical and uninteresting characters in a movie franchise to date. If this were Wattpad, I could’ve let this slide. However, for a movie that took 13 years to be released with a budget of about $250 million, I am disappointed by the lack of originality with Kiri. Maybe Avatar 3 will redeem her, or maybe she will become the perfect Messiah of the Na’vi. Either way, I encourage James Cameron to read Wikihow’s 2021 article “How to Avoid Making a Mary Sue”, because 45 years working in the film industry obviously couldn’t teach him.

Image courtesy of Italy 24 Press News