The Avatar Sequels: Not Touching Pandora's Box


Yet again the Avatar sequels have been pushed: this time, Disney has made space for additional Star Wars films (just after the same company promised to slow down on making them). In this brief article, the main question is: who are the Avatar sequels for anymore? At this point, the money-making purpose of capitalizing from the success of the original film just doesn't make sense anymore. Avatar is ten years old. Ten. Years. Old. Sure, we are bombarded with sequels and reboots to death currently, but that doesn't mean that James Camron's over-excessive blue passion project makes any sense. 

To add some context, Avengers:Endgame overthrew Titanic (the other financially powerful Cameron project) by surpassing two billion dollars made worldwide in just ten days (inflation not adjusted, so technically it didn’t, but that headline is still making waves). In ten days? Avatar may not have a chance (well, again with inflation, it technically never came close to Gone With the Wind, but let’s not be too picky). For Disney, that barely matters: one of its own children is now more successful than the other (big whoop). For Avatar, this is a big deal. Avatar did well off of Titanic's top level success. You had to see it, to understand where Cameron went next. The technology was the selling point: while the film is beyond subpar, you cannot deny the 3-D still being some of the finest in contemporary film. But that's all attraction-based minutiae. 

Part of  Avatar ’s success was the beautiful world of Pandora.

Part of Avatar’s success was the beautiful world of Pandora.

The thrill is gone. One sequel became two, which then became many. A few years later became five, and now well over ten years since the first film. For a bunch of sequels that almost nobody is feeling the hype for outside of James Cameron and Disney. It's ironic that Star Wars is the reason why for this latest push, because Cameron is clearly trying to out-Lucas George Lucas (without quite knowing how).

Timing is everything. Lucas knew that. Spielberg knew that. Cameron is trying to appease to cinephiles technologically, whilst securing the financial influx of the mainstream market. Avatar was successful once, because it was fresh (as fresh as a rehashed white-colonialist-turned-citizen-due-to-romance story can be). Of course the film had audiences championing its continuation shortly after its release: many people refused to leave Pandora. Now that the next train took forever to arrive, how many people honestly care about going back now?

The Avatar sequels will do well. Don't get me wrong. Disney will promote the bejeezus out of these films in due time, and the mass hysteria will ensue. However, they won't do nearly as well as they could have. The worst part is, that doesn't matter anymore. Disney may not care at all. A financial bomb for them means nothing, because they are breaking records elsewhere. 

The emotional thrills, thanks to the powerful 3-D and production design, were another major selling point for the film, including moments that replicated flight pretty well.

The emotional thrills, thanks to the powerful 3-D and production design, were another major selling point for the film, including moments that replicated flight pretty well.

Which brings me to this final point: it's obviously too late, but I feel like none of this is truly worth it for James Cameron. The filmmaker can do what he likes, but just think about how many steps back he has been set back (also by his own doing) with all of this Pandora chasing. He could have created a whole new technological achievement. His success would have been once again singular. No corporations were around to make Avatar or Titanic the box office behemoths that they were. No twenty two films. Just the one (for each). Whether the sequels do well or not is all but a blip in the greater picture now. That's kind of depressing when it comes to the career of a visionary. 

The motion capture capabilities were another innovational highlight for  Avatar .

The motion capture capabilities were another innovational highlight for Avatar.

The final gripe is that all of this could have been towards something unique, again from Cameron. Avatar is too similar to many films story-wise, but you can't deny that the actual experience was one of a kind for its time. Now, it's all part of the money making machine. You can argue it always would have been, since the original broke the best box office records (without inflation). This followup could have been something as inventive as the original Terminator, as imaginative as the sequel Aliens, or even something as camp as True Lies. Instead, the next project is a series of delayed sequels that will only clog up the box office along with other films of the same ilk, and whether they succeed or fail doesn't matter. Disney wins. Every other film those opening weekends fails. Cameron's Pandora is going to be every other film’s hell. For a film series that may only end up being half the potential Cameron believes, that isn’t a worthy sacrifice for the industry.

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Andreas Babiolakis has a Masters degree in Film and Photography Preservation and Collections management from Ryerson University, as well as a Bachelors degree in Cinema Studies from York University. His favourite times of year are the Criterion Collection flash sales and the annual Toronto International Film Festival.