James Cameron's plans for Avatar are, it turns out, even more grand than it had first appeared, with the director announcing Thursday that his sci-fi movie will now get four sequels instead of the originally announced three.
For any franchise, announcing multiple sequels after just one installment — even one that remains the most successful movie of all time in terms of the worldwide box office — would be bold, but for Avatar in particular, it seems almost foolhardy.
After all, although Avatar was released less than a decade ago — it debuted on Dec. 18, 2009 — it is almost the product of a different era.
Avatar filled a gap for movie audiences that not only doesn't exist anymore, but is almost overstuffed these days with the prospect of a new Star Wars movie ever single year, in addition to the possibility of a Star Trek, or some other sci-fi property telling stories of intergalactic conflicts turning the human condition into colorful metaphor.
Stranger to consider: Avatar is essentially a product of a world before the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Sure, it was released after the first Iron Man, but before Iron Man 2, and any of the Captain Americas, Thors and Avengers that followed. Guardians of the Galaxy may not even have been a glint in the eye of Kevin Feige when Avatar was released, even though it was arguably the Marvel movie that continued what Cameron's movie had built in the most obvious fashion.
That alone makes Avatar feel like a relic of days of yore; with seemingly every studio planning its own "cinematic universe" in response to Marvel's success, the idea of a movie predating the Mighty Marvel Era seems positively archaic.
Even the idea that the Avatar movies will be full sequels to the original, and not a number of tangentially connected properties that are part of an expanded Avatar universe seems curiously old-fashioned and unambitious in a world where even Star Wars has Rogue One prepared for release this winter.
The final nail in a potential coffin for Avatar is the curious fact that, because it has been absent from pop culture since the original movie — unlike other blockbuster genre franchises, it took six years for the property to have a comic book spinoff announced, and even now, the actual comics have yet to be scheduled — it has almost entirely disappeared from the public consciousness.
Sure, people remember that a movie called Avatar existed and was a big smash, but the details of the story, or the larger mythology of the franchise …? Those details are far less likely to be remembered. (No, "It had that guy from the Terminator flop, no, the one before the one last year, and there were blue aliens or something" is not an accurate plot synopsis. How many people even remember Unobtainum?)
An argument in Avatar's defense — and it's a strong one — is Cameron himself. His passion for the project, and for the technological advances that it requires, was enough not only to make the original movie so successful, but to temporarily convince people that 3D movies were once again the future.
The conventional wisdom that suggests that Avatar's sequels might be arriving too late and feel out of time with the world as it exists is not too far removed from the one that suggested that Avatar shouldn't have become as big a hit as it was. Cameron managed to beat the odds once — is it really possible that he could do so again (and then again, and again, and again)?
Avatar 2 is now scheduled to be released in December 2018.