Avatar: The Way of the Water was a notoriously delayed project. Writer-director James Cameron first announced the sequel to his 2009 hit Avatar in 2010, with a goal of releasing it in 2014 and following up with a third Avatar film in 2015. But each time the release date approached, Cameron would announce another delay, pushing the releases back another year – or more. And all that jump in the release calendar was before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down production and made long film delays and schedule shuffling common.
The reasons for the delays have often been vague. Cameron has spoken of the “logistical and technical elements” involved in making multiple films back-to-back, particularly following the announcement that two more sequels would follow Avatar 3, for a total of five films. And the complexity of shooting Avatar: The Way of the Water, as seen in early behind-the-scenes footage, suggests unusual levels of production difficulty on the film.
But in a recent interview with Polygon, Avatar and Avatar: The Way of the Water Producer Jon Landau says the production and release delays were not primarily driven by the effort to bring the aquatic Na’vi and their detailed whale friends to life.
“We didn’t need to stop here for technology,” he said. “I think the first one Avatar proved to us that we could be the driving force to push the technology where we needed to go.”
Instead, he says, the delays came because the film crew was determined to get the script to all four scheduled Avatar sequels written and completed before shooting Avatar 2 even started.
“We felt this project was about getting the story right,” he said. “You would never build a house until you had a plan to build from. The scripts are that blueprint. So we wanted to wait until all four were there.”
That decision may have been related to the casting of the child actors who serve as the main characters in Avatar: The Way of the Water. The film continues the story of space explorer Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), who takes on the avatar body of a Na’vi, a 10-foot felinoid native to the planet Pandora, and eventually captures a local Na’vi woman, Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) as a friend. But i The way of the water, the focus shifts in part to their biological children, Neteyam (Jamie Flatters), Lo’ak (Britain Dalton) and Tuk (Trinity Jo-Li Bliss); their adopted teenage daughter, Kiri (Sigourney Weaver); and the children’s young human friend, Spider (Jack Champion).
It seems likely that Avatar 3 – who were shot back to back with The way of the water — will continue the story threads open at the end of Avatar 2and that Avatar 4 will first continue the children’s story, then jump forward in time to adulthood. Cameron has confirmed that the “first act” of Avatar 4 has already been filmed, although there is no guarantee that the story will continue after the third film. Landau teased the reasons:
“It turned out there were logistical reasons why we needed to shoot not only movie two and movie three, but the first act of part four now. We couldn’t wait to do it later,” he said. “So we wanted to get everything in place. And then we felt we could be the driving force again to push the technology to tell these stories.”
Landau confirms that “The Sully kids” will be the through line for the Avatar films, and the means to introduce new generations to new settings in Pandora, such as the coastal area where much of The way of the water takes place.
“They are in many ways our entrance into this new world of Pandora that we’re going to,” he said. “It’s a family story. But it is not only told from the parents’ perspective. It is also told from the children’s perspective – children struggling to find their place in life. One of them feels like an outcast. Another questions her origins, where she even comes from. These are things people struggle with today – that makes it relatable. It is the Sully kids that we go on our first swimming experience with, at the reef. We see it through their eyes. And now, when we’re done with the movies, we’re going to grow up with them as we continue in the saga.”
Avatar: The Way of the Water is at the cinema now. The third film is scheduled for release in December 2024, with films 4 and 5 scheduled for 2026 and 2028 respectively.