Like Water For Old Franchises

The ‘Avatar 2’ trailer raises the question: does anyone actually care about Avatar?

“I’m in the Avatar business. Period. That’s it.” So said blockbuster auteur James Cameron to the New York Times. Ten years ago. The director of Titanic is not prone to small gestures. His budget-busting, water-logged romance came out in 1997 and became the highest-grossing film of its time, earning $2.2 billion worldwide. So he follows it up with a 3D sci-fi eco-screed that also became the highest-grossing film of its time, generating $2.84 billion. Due to re-releases during the pandemic, it now once again stands above Avengers: Endgame as the reigning b.o. champ. Suck it, Thanos!

Cameron is also not one for half-assed sequels. He’ll give you Aliens and Terminator 2: Judgment Day, not Alien: Covenant or Terminator Genisys. Dude knows how to dish out more of the same and make it feel even better than the original. But the King of the World has never written and directed more than one sequel to the same movie—let alone four.

In an eye-popping swing for the fences, Cameron is harnessing all his Big Dick Energy to make Avatar 2, 3, 4, and 5 between now and 2027. Vulture this week published a mind-bending timeline of the man’s Herculean hubris, starting with his January 2010 announcement that he would make more. No trilogy for him, though—he supersized it to a pentalogy. The cost? Ballpark estimate is $1 billion to produce them all. A bargain!

As with Peter Jackson’s original Lord of the Rings, or Amazon’s reboot of Lord of the Rings, Cameron is economizing by making his Avatars all at the same time and finishing them in staggered releases: Avatar 2 on December 17, Avatar 3 in 2023, Avatar 4 In 2025, Avatar 5 in 2027. There’s no reason why dates wouldn’t change, though, because they’ve kept changing over the past decade. Their proper names? The first sequel will be Avatar: The Way of Water. As for the others, they will reportedly have names like The Seed Bearer, The Tulkin Rider, and the Quest for Eywa. Or maybe not. Who knows? I personally would like to see Avatar: Electric Boogaloo. Or Avatar: Revenge of the Sith. Or Avatar: Endgame. A Marvel crossover, please!

Avatar
Look at all this water in ‘Avatar 2: The Way of Water.’

But that December 17 release date for Avatar: The Way of Water seems legit. Disney even showed a trailer for the film last week at CinemaCon, the stalwart showcase for seemingly-on-the-ropes theatrical exhibitors.  The trailer played well, by all reports, and is now hitched to the multiplex release of Dr. Strange: In the Multiverse of Madness. Disney even screened the new Avatar footage for critics—the first time in memory that I can think of a studio doing a press screening for a trailer. Even weirder: the projectionist showed it three times in a row. Talk about 3D.

So we all put on our polarized glasses and dutifully took our seats. And guess what? It looked like Avatar. We’re on Pandora. Again. Here’s the big twist, though. Avatar: The Way of Water takes place—brace yourself—in water. Is your mind blown yet? Neither is mine.

Most of the trailer is a music-driven montage that revels in all the expected computer-generated otherworldly flora and fauna. Floating islands in the sky. Exotic plants and flowers, The blue Slenderman-shaped, feline-eyed, mouse-eared Na’vi leaping and running and riding fantastic winged beasts. Plus: some Tahitian-looking beaches and lots of underwater snorkeling, with tiny fishes and whale-sized creatures. One of the Na’vi even shakes a flipper.

All that militaristic heavy machinery is back as well, so it’s safe to assume that the universe’s ever-so-precious metal unobtanium is still a plot point. There’s also a quick shot of two Na’vi running down a flooding machine room corridor, which definitely throws off Titanic vibes. Then we hear the only words in the trailer, presumably from our paraplegic human hero Jake Sully (Sam Worthington): “I know one thing. Wherever we go…this family is our fortress.” Family! No, it’s not Vin Diesel, but it does feel like Avatar is cribbing a bit from the Fast and Furious franchise.

Oddly for a Cameron sequel, Avatar: The Way of Water just felt like more of the same, without feeling better than the original. Is the action maestro, now pushing 70, losing his touch? Probably not—that man is about as unstoppable as a robot sent from the future—but I do wonder whether anyone even cares about more Avatar movies.

What’s always perplexed me about Avatar is that, despite generating the cash revenue of a small country, the technologically groundbreaking film hasn’t really been a buzzy touchstone since its release in 2009. No one really writes about the movie, or makes homages to it, or talks about its characters with the same fondness as Luke Skywalker or Iron Man. One of its very few penetrations into pop culture was Ben Stiller’s hilariously creepy cosplay at the Oscars in 2010. Saturday Night Live had a funny dig at some Avatar kink, but their really memorable skit was the one where Ryan Gosling plays a table-flipping man haunted by the Avatar graphic designer who chose its broke-ass font Papyrus. Maybe that’s really why Cameron wanted to do four sequels. Who doesn’t want more Papyrus?

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Stephen Garrett

Stephen Garrett is the former film editor of 'Time Out New York’ and has written about the movie industry for more than 20 years. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer, Garrett is also the founder of Jump Cut, a marketing company that creates trailers and posters for independent, foreign-language, and documentary films.

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