Is It Already Too Late for the ‘Avatar’ Sequels?

Avatar20th Century Fox via Everett Collection

It looks like you’ll have to wait even longer for your return trip to Pandora. In a recent Reddit AMA, director James Cameron revealed that the scripts for the three Avatar sequels will be completed within the next six weeks, and that all three films will go into production simultaneously. In the AMA, Cameron opened up about his creative process, saying, “The biggest pressure I feel right now is cutting out things I love to get the film down to a length that is affordable.” It’s admirable that Cameron is taking the time to perfect the Avatar sequels, projects that are clearly special to him, but has he already taken too long to create them? The first sequel to 2009’s Avatar is set to hit theaters in December of 2016, seven whole years after the first Avatar was released. Cameron may very well be crafting the next sci-fi masterpiece, but will people still care about the franchise two years from now?

Blockbuster filmmaking is often a game of timing; studios jostle each other for prime release date position from years out, and films are made at an assembly line pace. It’s all a necessary evil. The honest truth is that the average filmgoers are a fickle bunch, with memory leaking from their heads like a drippy faucet. Wait too long, and the next whiz-bang event movie can steal your thunder. Studios need to strike when the iron is hot, and Cameron has already waited five whole years to create the next Avatar film, a millennia in movie years. In contrast, it took less time for Sony to completely reboot the Spider-Man franchise. Unfortunately for Cameron, the iron might have already gone cold. We have our doubts that the sequels to the highest grossing film of all time will have the same game-changing affect as the first one.

The original Avatar was undiluted spectacle, a film that didn’t have many big ideas rattling around its head but sure delivered on the big moments. Beyond just being pretty to gawk at, Avatar was a runaway success because it was the first film to really utilize modern 3D technology in a way that didn’t feel like a gimmick. It was a new technology, and going to see that film felt like standing on the cutting edge of something new in cinema… at least for a time anyway. It used the 3D technology to draw viewers into its world, and give the film’s vibrant visuals depth. It was a cool parlor trick, but circa five years later, and everyone else already has that same trick up their own sleeves. Just about every blockbuster under the sun is in 3D, and just like that, one of Avatar’s greatest strengths feels already like old hat. Moviegoers are already tiring of 3D, with percentage of 3D ticket sales slipping with each coming year. An Avatar sequel simply wont have the same spellbinding affect the first one did in 2009.

It also doesn’t help that Avatar simply doesn’t hold up all that well story-wise. The plot of Avatar is relatively generic. It’s a sci-fi pastiche of other man vs. nature films, and it is often unfavorably compared to films like Dances with Wolves or Pocahontas. It’s been a long time since 2009 and the spectacle has worn off for most. Public opinion of the film has also soured considerably, and beyond it’s visual fidelity, it’s not really a great piece of storytelling. At this point, the film probably gets more love showing off new Blu-Ray players or HDTVs, than being genuinely enjoyed for it’s story. 

With all that said, we’re definitely not ringing the death knell for the Avatar franchise. James Cameron is a blockbuster mastermind, and when big even filmmaking can sometimes feel cynical and calculated, Cameron’s films always feel like they’re coming from a genuine and deeply felt desire to create something new. Each of his projects is full of ambition, so maybe the wait  for the next Avatar will be  well worth it. The coming sequels could very well rock the world the way Avatar did five years ago and Titanic did 12 years before that. Cameron is a man full of surprises, and maybe we shouldn’t be doubting the director who created the two highest grossing movies of all time. Maybe this will be added to the cannon of James Cameron proving snarky film writers wrong. We sincerely hope it is.