The following post contains major spoilers for "Avatar: The Way of Water."

Jake Sully was always a bad character, and maybe that's kind of the point. When the first "Avatar" came out, it was criticized for its derivative plot and thinly-written characters. Now, after 13 years, one box office record-breaking-run, many rewrites, a global pandemic, three U.S. presidents, and a whole studio acquisition, James Cameron is back on Pandora with "Avatar: The Way of Water," and he improves every aspect of the first film.

This is a sequel with a better and more focused story, one with a smaller scope that somehow feels bigger, a spectacular third-act fight that feels like the culmination of Cameron's entire career, and a more poignant and biting environmental message.

This is likely due to Camaron assembling a writers' room this time around to help break down the story and script. Where the first film had characters that felt more like stock archetypes, "The Way of Water" gives actual motivation and personality to its large ensemble of characters — particularly the younger characters, who are smarter and wiser than the returning players. Cameron places a big focus on the next generation, although some tough choices were made regarding the characters we already knew, namely Neytiri, who sadly gets sidetracked for most of the film.

Then there's Jake Sully, one of the blandest characters from the original movie. In "The Way of Water," Jake has grown into the role of husband, of father, and of leader of an entire clan, and Cameron, in turn, evolves the character by … making Jake Sully a terrible father, a terrible leader, and overall a terrible person. You know what, though? It's the best thing that could happen to the character.

The Journey Of Jake Sully

When we first met Jake Sully, he was but a simple marine drafted into a conflict he didn't ask to be involved in, all because he was the only person compatible with the avatar made for his late brother. He was manipulated with the promise of getting the use of his legs back when the healthcare available for veterans wasn't enough, all while he was slowly falling in love with the culture and world of Pandora.

Sully is quickly embraced by the Na'vi when he fulfills the prophecy of the Toruk Makto, uniting the clans and becoming their white savior, or blue Lisan al Gaib, and defeating the genocidal, imperialistic human forces. By the end of the movie, Jake had accomplished more than many protagonists do in the course of entire trilogies. Of course, this meant he needed to be taken down a peg or two — like Spider-Man in "Spider-Man 2," or Bruce Wayne at the end of "The Dark Knight."

Indeed, when we catch up to Jake Sully in "The Way of Water," he has more to lose than ever before. Sure, in the first one, his defeat would have meant the end of the entire Omaticaya clan, but now it's personal because he has a family to protect. As Cameron himself said, "Jake and Neytiri have taken it upon themselves to try to save their world from these hostile colonizers from Earth. But at what point do you have to lay down your guns?" For Jake, this means wanting to keep fighting the human invaders, but having to run away and protect his family from a resurrected Miles Quaritch, the coolest character in the film.

A Terrible Person

Jake is just kind of terrible. As a father, he treats his family like a military unit, acting like the Captain von Trapp of Pandora — harsh, demanding, but also untrusting of his kids to do anything by themselves. He forces his two sons to accompany him on dangerous missions, but he doesn't allow them to actually do anything helpful. They're still in harm's way, but they don't feel like they're helping.

At every turn, he treats his son Lo'ak like a liar and a failure every chance he gets, even if he is in the right — like with the tulkun, or when he defends his sister against bullies. Then there's Spider, Jake's semi-adopted human son, who he forgets about the second he is kidnapped and doesn't mention again until the very end of the film.

The thing is, it'd be easy to blame this on poor writing, but that'd be to forget that Jake Sully was never really written as a good person. In the first film, he was arrogant, he disobeyed and mocked everyone he worked with, and he was an opportunist. He wasn't a good friend, he wasn't really a good leader — beyond just taking an ancestral title and using it to add bodies to his army — and he wasn't very bright either, with Neytiri literally calling him baby and moron every five minutes.

That Jake turned out to be a terrible, uncaring father and a very stupid leader (Really? He didn't think that leaving the Omaticaya could still put them in danger by association?) makes sense, and adds to his character arc. That's because Cameron is looking beyond, to the next generation. By that metric, it makes sense that we consider Jake to be an idiot, because it will make it easier for the audience if and when he dies and one of his kids takes over.

He Is Bad, Your Honor, But I Love Him

Nowadays, it is common to criticize a piece of media for having "unlikable" characters or praise them when they give us likable ones. Having a protagonist who is competent isn't as important as having a protagonist you like and identify with.

But having a character who is messy is not a bug, it's a feature. Jake Sully is not fun to watch because he's good or competent or smart, or even a decent person, he is interesting to watch because he's the slate the rest of the characters can bounce off of. Jake Sully in the first "Avatar" is fun to watch because he is an absolute idiot who stumbles his way into leading a resistance against a mighty empire, and Jake Sully in "The Way of Water" is fun to watch because he hasn't learned much. He is still bad at his job, he is still incompetent, and stupid, and not very nice, but he is surrounded by people who are, and he is trying to be better.

We shouldn't want flawless movie characters, especially in blockbusters. We should want messy ones that struggle, that fail, that get back up again, and we should love them for their messiness. You're a terrible person, Jake Sully, and I love you for it.

Read this next: The Best Characters In Avatar: The Way Of Water, Ranked

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