Striking When the Iron is Cold
It's also justifiable to wonder just how much interest casual moviegoers would have in an Avatar 2 to begin with. The first film came and went without much fuss, even though it did make $2.7 billion. When compared to other Cameron projects, it didn't inspire a passionate, devout following. There were no characters that captured audiences' imaginations like the T-800, Sarah Connor, Ellen Ripley, or even Jack Dawson did. Avatar's lasting legacy on the film industry is that it was the movie that revitalized 3D, which studio executives saw as a means of jacking up ticket prices to make even more money on their blockbusters. And then there's the case of Avatar star Sam Worthington, who had a number of failed attempts to become a bona fide A-lister since playing Jake Sully.
So with each passing year, Avatar becomes more of a fading memory. Lucasfilm can get away with releasing a Return of the Jedi sequel 32 years after the fact because people love Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia - and the original Star Wars trilogy is a cinematic touchstone for generations of movie fans. Marvel and WB are constantly staying in the public eye with their yearly adaptations, many of which feature comic book icons that are finally getting their shot on the big screen. Avatar 2 will be hitting theaters at the minimum nine or 10 years after the first. "Delayed" sequels work from time to time (Cameron waited seven years to make Terminator 2), but it looks like Avatar is at a disadvantage. It's not a talking point in pop culture anymore, and arguably hasn't resonated the way other franchises have. The demand for it may not be there.
Reflecting back on Avatar's release, one of its biggest selling points was how it pushed the boundaries of moviemaking technology. It was the first big 3D release in some time, meaning that it was truly something new. Now, the novelty has worn off, especially in the States. People aren't as impressed with 3D anymore because it's so commonplace, and instances where it is used to maximum effect (Hugo, Gravity) are few and far between. The spectacle of Pandora isn't going to be enough, particularly in today's day and age with so many high profile film releases (and a rebirth for practical effects). Audiences need something more to keep coming back to a world, an emotional connection. "Chewie, we're home" made Star Wars fans cry tears of joy. Is there anything from Avatar that's going to reach that level?
Compared to its competition, Avatar also struggles in terms of visibility and awareness. When it was first released, there was a tie-in game and a toy line, but merchandise for the film has been difficult to find since. On the flip side, customers can't complete a shopping trip without seeing the Star Wars logo on something (even a case of bottled water), and many of Marvel's characters are extremely marketable (Guardians of the Galaxy). Not to mention, multi-media has become the name of the game. Both Marvel and DC have a large presence on television, and Lucasfilm is piecing together a full Star Wars canon via novels and other publications. These franchises are actively bringing attention to themselves through various products for fans, keeping them at the front of the public's collective mind. The same can't be said about Avatar, which hasn't spawned much in the past six years. Will youngsters who weren't born when the original was a thing care about "going back" to Pandora?
The counterargument here is that James Cameron is still one of the biggest directors out there, and his name alone can sell anything. People doubted Titanic and Avatar, thinking Cameron had bitten off more than he could chew, but he proved the naysayers wrong on both accounts. History's shown it's unwise to bet against Cameron, who has directed two out of the three biggest films ever made (unadjusted for inflation).
While nobody's thinking Avatar 2 will be an outright bomb, it's going to be hard for it to repeat the success of the original. Most people think of Avatar as a technical masterpiece that's dragged down by an uninspired story, and few walked out of the first one eagerly counting down the days to the sequel. If Avatar had more substance to go along with its impressive style, or was still a force in popular culture, it might be a different scenario. Instead, it's a franchise that faces an uphill battle against Earth's Mightiest, the Justice League, and Jedi Knights in training for the attention of audiences, nearly a decade after viewers saw it last.
The void that the first Avatar filled is no longer there. "Event" films come out all the time, giving movie fans no shortage of options. Some feel that the marketplace has too many of these kinds of projects already and would appreciate some breathing room between their blockbusters. Glancing at the Hollywood landscape, it's going to be difficult for Avatar to fit in. If Cameron had moved quicker on getting the sequels off the ground, he'd be the one in command. But so much time has passed, he seems to be fighting a battle he can't win. Has Avatar 2 missed the boat? It looks like it.
Avatar 2 is currently without a release date.