Back to Pandora — again. Before Avatar: The Way of Water hit theaters in December 2022, director James Cameron was already mostly done with the third film in the franchise.
The first Avatar movie premiered in December 2009 and quickly became the highest-grossing film of all time. Plenty of other major franchises have released highly anticipated films in the years since — Star Wars, Marvel and the Fast and the Furious — but none have dethroned Cameron’s sci-fi epic from the top spot.
Avatar follows human soldier Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) as he arrives on the foreign planet Pandora, which is populated by a race of 10-foot-tall blue aliens called the Na’vi. Jake and his colleagues at the Resources Development Administration (RDA) use hybrid human-Na’vi “avatars” to move around the planet, as humans can’t breathe Pandoran air on their own.
While spying for the RDA, Jake falls in love with a female Na’vi named Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) and decides to help them defeat the humans, known to the Na’vi as the “sky people.” The humans sustain casualties, including Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) and Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), the latter of whom eventually sides with the Na’vi.
When Avatar: The Way of Water begins, Jake has started a family with Neytiri, but Pandora is once again under attack by the sky people. This time, humans want to use the planet as a colony of Earth, which has become uninhabitable because of the climate crisis. Quaritch, whose memories have been implanted in a new avatar, is out for revenge on Jake, whose family must take refuge with the water-going people of the Metkayina clan.
Jake, Neytiri and their children are eventually welcomed to stay in the Metkayina village, but the movie ends with several loose ends. The new Quaritch is still alive, the humans are still attacking and the origin of Jake’s daughter Kiri (Weaver) remains unexplained. Plot details about Avatar 3 are scarce and top-secret, but it seems clear Jake’s kids will play a major role, as Cameron said they’re one of the main reasons he filmed the second and third movies simultaneously.
The Titanic director said that Jack Champion, who plays human teen Spider, is “growing like a weed” after being cast in the film at age 12. For that reason, the Oscar winner decided to shoot parts of Avatar 3 and Avatar 4 while filming The Way of Water.
“Otherwise, you get — and I love Stranger Things — but you get the Stranger Things effect where they’re supposed to still be in high school [but] they look like they’re 27,” Cameron quipped to Entertainment Weekly in December 2022. “You know, I love the show. It’s OK, we’ll suspend disbelief. We like the characters, but, you know.”
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