The first sequel is in the can and the second is almost complete but the universe has changed in the 11 years since cinema’s biggest sci-fi blockbuster
Ben Child – The Guardian
Brave blue world … the original Avatar. Photograph: Sportsphoto/Allstar/20th Century Fox
If James Cameron’s Avatar were a pop song it would be Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen, an epic concoction that brings immense joy the first time it is experienced but eventually becomes nulled by its cultural ubiquity. Or perhaps Spaceman by Babylon Zoo, a startlingly popular effort that never got the follow-up it required to make its creator anything more than a cosmic one-hit wonder.
Or so we might have thought until this week, when Cameron emerged from the creeping cobwebs of time to announce (to Arnold Schwarzenegger, no less), that Avatar parts 2 and 3 are almost ready. Avatar 2, apparently, is done and dusted, while Avatar 3 is “sort of 95% complete”.
We have heard similar rumblings of activity many times over the past decade since the second-highest-grossing movie of all time hit cinemas. That was, of course, a different era: a time when cinema-goers were still excited by the prospect of watching a movie in 3D, and would happily pay through the teeth to do so. It was also before holes the size of the Grand Canyon were picked in Avatar’s plot and it was pointed out that its extraterrestrial setup was a thinly veiled white-saviour narrative and that Cameron had taken most of the story from Ferngully: The Last Rainforest – or was it Dances With Wolves?
Avatar has suffered since its 2009 debut because it became not just a successful Hollywood film but the future of Hollywood itself. Its grand scale and ambition meant that every other science fiction movie was judged against it, and often found wanting. Inevitably, this led to Cameron’s radical space adventure being held not just as a cheery two-hours-plus cosmic knockabout to keep the kids entertained, but as a hubristic sci-fi attempt to Answer All Mankind’s Problems.
The film-maker has not helped matters by going all Bono on us and trying to insist that the movie’s depiction of human exploitation of Pandora’s natural resources is a powerful commentary on Earth’s impending environmental apocalypse. Nothing wrong with that, you might say, except that David Attenborough does a much better job without employing a gaggle of giant blue space elves to get his message across.
Putting all this aside, Avatar remains very watchable. There are freaky yet relatively novel sci-fi concepts: the use of alien bodies that can somehow be inhabited and taken over by humans, even if the whole idea is a little bit icky. Cameron’s vision of Pandoran flora is like a Hawkwindesque fever dream: not since Silent Running (1972) has there been a science fiction movie so fascinated with cool alien plants. And that’s before we even start mentioning the far-out Na’avi themselves, or the many strange, six-legged beasties they interact with via those swishy, USB-optimised tails. Stephen Lang’s Colonel Miles Quaritch is a brilliant baddie, even if Cameron did plagiarise his own Aliens for Avatar’s climactic exo-suit battle.
The Canadian film-maker has confirmed the seemingly dead Quaritch will be back (somehow) in the sequels, which will see Sam Worthington’s Jake Sully and Zoe Saldana’s Neytiri travel to other regions of Pandora. Avatar 2 (now due on 16 December 2022) will have a special focus on water realms, with Kate Winslet set to play a free-diving member of a new reef-dwelling Na’avi tribe called the Metkayina.
It all sounds suitably intriguing, provided part deux turns out to be a cosmic take on The Abyss rather than Waterworld in space. And it remains to be seen if Avatar’s 11-year absence will inspire new fervour for its sequels, or whether all that time away means Cameron has rather missed the boat.