The bar could not be higher for Avatar: The Way of Water, but James Cameron has proved, more than once, that he knows how to deliver on a sequel. While the filmmaker has been involved in a few different projects over the last decade, such as Terminator: Dark Fate and Alita: Battle Angel, Avatar 2 will be the first feature film directed by James Cameron since 2009’s Avatar. That said, Cameron has not spent the last 13 making Avatar: The Way of Water only, as Avatar 3,4, and 5 are also in different stages of production, not to mention the many unmade James Cameron movies.
A long window between films is nothing new in James Cameron’s stellar career. After directing the all-time classic Titanic (1997), which currently ranks third in the highest-grossing movies of all time, James Cameron would only direct a feature film 12 years later, Avatar. Given how Avatar 3,4, and 5 are expected to come out in 2024, 2026, and 2028, the wait for other James Cameron movies after Avatar: The Way of Water will not be near as long. Still, the long windows between releases are a testimony to Cameron’s dedication to telling the story he has in mind, even if it takes more than a decade to make it happen.
As exciting as a James Cameron passion project can be, there are many who have been skeptical about Avatar 2 being a success, whether due to not liking the first Avatar as much or simply due to not believing that there is much else a sequel can add to it. However, even if all the reasons for the Avatar 2 skepticism do make sense on some level, James Cameron’s talent and proven record cannot be ignored – especially when it comes to sequels. Whether it is a followup to another filmmaker’s story or to his own, James Cameron has released two of Hollywood’s best sequels, Aliens (1986) and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). Both of those movies were follow-ups to films that could be considered perfect on their own with no need for a continuation, and yet Cameron made it work. Should the same happen with Avatar 2, then the Avatar sequel could prove all the concerns wrong.
Despite being the highest-grossing movie of all time – a record that not even Avengers: Endgame managed to break for too long – Avatar is not as well regarded today as other box office champions like Titanic. That seemly paradoxical scenario comes from the fact, among other things, that a lot of what made Avatar special was its unique theater experience, especially regarding the groundbreaking 3D technology, and not from its story. Avatar, as a movie, is not too different from lots of other works of fiction – drawing countless comparisons when it was released to other preexisting works that covered similar plots – as the conflict between humans and the Na’vi in Pandora is a story that has already been told. While those who managed to watch Avatar in theaters likely remember their experience fondly, the story of Jake Sully in Avatar does not make for a very rewatchable movie. As such, there is a collective sense, especially in younger audiences, that not a lot of people care for Avatar 2. While the reception of the Avatar 2 trailer suggests that this is wrong, only the movie itself can prove this perception incorrect.
James Cameron has worked on three sequels before Avatar 2. One is 1981’s Piranha II: The Spawning, the follow-up to 1978’s Piranha, which also happened to be Cameron’s first feature film and cannot really serve as a parameter for how the director deals with sequels like Avatar 2. The better examples are Aliens and Terminator 2, both sequels to landmarks of the sci-fi genre that managed to become classics of their own. While David Fincher’s Alien 3 and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Alien Resurrection felt like the Alien franchise was being stretched too much, not to mention the divisive Alien prequels Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, James Cameron’s Aliens was able to expand on the original movie without losing the essence of what made the Ridley Scott picture so good. Turning a slasher horror movie into an action-packed sci-fi is not an easy task, but Aliens delivered.
Likewise, Terminator (1985) seemed like it was the peak of what an action, sci-fi story with bits of horror could be, and yet Terminator 2: Judgment Day surpassed the original on every possible metric. Having Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 as a hero was a great twist, plus the aw-dropping visual effects of the T-1000. Director James Cameron’s movie feat with Terminator 2: Judgment Day becomes even more impressive when considering that no other Terminator sequel after it came close to being as well-received as the first two Terminator movies.
Given James Cameron’s track with sci-fi sequels, it is hard to imagine that Avatar will not exceed expectations. Following up the highest-grossing movie of all time 13 years later while also setting up three other Avatar movies is not easy, but so wasn’t continuing the stories of Alien and Terminator. The first Avatar 2 trailer, while short, already proved that the movie will display a leap in technology, especially in real-time rendered virtual reality. The CGI for Avatar 2 shows Pandora and the Na’vi as better than they ever looked before, while also feeling like the same world as the first Avatar, and the sequel is also adding a whole new underwater biome on the planet. Avatar: The Way of Water was made using an underwater motion capture technique, something that no other movie had done before.
At a time when visual effects in blockbuster productions like the MCU and DCEU movies are taken for granted, small details like the splash of water on the character’s hands in the Avatar: The Way of Water trailer is enough to prove that the 13 years of waiting were for a reason. The leap in technology is not the only thing that makes Avatar 2 exciting, as the sequel seems to be expanding the story way beyond the simple premise of the first Avatar movie. Avatar: The Way of Water does not seem like it will be a story about humans against Na’vi only, and there are hints of conflicts within the Pandora clans. The movie is also adding new characters, including Jake and Neytiri’s human son and Kate Winslet’s fearless leader. If Avatar: The Way of Water can beat Avatar or even Endgame is hard to know, but everything points to the December release being another successful James Cameron sequel that defies expectations both in terms of box office and overall reception.
Next: Avatar 2 Trailer Hints Jake Still Has A Na’vi/Human Problem To Overcome