let's speculate wildly

So What’s Going to Happen in the Avatar Sequels After Way of Water?

Photo: 20th Century Studios

It’s taken 13 years to get a second Avatar movie, and it seems to have been worth the wait. However, if the plan for more sequels stays the course, we could be looking at Avatars 3, 4, and 5 every alternate December through 2028 — that’s three more movies in half the time — and, according to director James Cameron, sixth and seventh films, too, if demand stays strong. That’s a lot of plot to color in, but the sequels up until movie five have already been written, and the only source material is Cameron’s imagination. He can conjure pretty much anything he wants.

The shoreside setting of Avatar: The Way of Water is only a day’s journey from where the first film unfolded — we see Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña), and their family move in with a tribe of turquoise, reef-dwelling Na’vi, the Maōri-esque Metkayina — and it takes place a little over a decade later. But what can we divine about the third movie (and beyond) from the events of this one, and what hints have Cameron & Co. given us about where the series is headed next?

Other Worlds

When The Way of Water begins, peace has prevailed on Pandora ever since most of the humans (or “Sky People”) were sent back to Earth at the end of Avatar. But the former colonists are nothing if not persistent, and this time, the invaders’ mission extends far beyond just mining Unobtanium. As Edie Falco’s General Ardmore puts it, they’ve returned to “pacify the hostiles” (how very Manifest Destiny) and build a new home for humanity, since planet Earth is dying.

The Sky People’s plan is to prepare Pandora for a human exodus. And there may be a significantly larger demographic to cater to in the future. According to marine biologist Ian Garvin (Jemaine Clement), the expensive golden goop he extracts from the brains of the whale-like Tulkun stops humans from aging altogether. For those who can afford immortality back on Earth, future contingencies are likely a pressing concern.

What exactly has become of Earth? Our only glimpse so far of humanity’s home planet is one Blade Runner–esque deleted scene from the first film. But according to producer Jon Landau, we’ll visit our doomed world in the franchise’s fifth film — where Neytiri might also see the brighter side of humanity.

Back on Pandora, meanwhile, The Way of Water introduces us to the Metkayina, whose evolved fins and fishlike tails are as far removed from the first film’s catlike Na’vi as those Na’vi were from humans. We may be treated to even newer tribes as the series goes on, especially if the plan is to visit new Pandoran environments or nearby celestial bodies. We often think of Pandora as a planet, given its Earth-like biosphere. But it’s really a satellite moon of the nearby gas giant Polyphemus, which is just a hop and skip away in a decent spaceship. Who knows what biological secrets its fluid surface might conceal?

Parents and Children

To the Sully children, human kiddo Spider (Jack Champion) is part of the family. Jake and Neytiri’s sons, Neteyam (Jamie Flatters) and Lo’ak (Britain Dalton), call him “cuz,” and teen adopted sister Kiri (Sigourney Weaver) even has a bit of a romantic spark with him. This all becomes more complicated when you consider how The Way of Water ends.

See, Spider also happens to be Quaritch’s son — the original, human Quaritch, from whom his new Avatar was cloned. While the colonel claims not to care about Spider, he ultimately grows fond of him, and Spider seems to have some affinity for his warmongering father, too. Neytiri has always viewed Spider as an alien outsider, so when she is consumed by grief after Neteyam is killed, she does not hesitate to threaten Spider’s life to get Quaritch to free Kiri — an intense sequence of two parents holding each other’s kids at knifepoint.

This happens near the end of The Way of Water, so there’s little acknowledgment afterward of Neytiri’s actions, an emotional question that could be addressed in the next movie. More importantly, a conflicted Spider also rescues Quaritch from drowning, knowing full well that his father will never stop hunting the Sullys. There’s bound to be fallout from this decision, and while Spider ultimately abandons Quaritch to reunite with his Na’vi family, there are also lingering questions about their relationship. For now, the plan is for Quaritch to return in every subsequent entry, according to actor Stephen Lang. We can guess that his motivation in the next film might be informed by this complicated father-son dynamic.

Kiri’s Origins

On paper, 73-year-old Sigourney Weaver playing a teenager is silly enough without her also manifesting Jedi powers, but in execution, it’s all quite serene and wonderful. Kiri longs to know more about her parentage, since she was born to the dormant Avatar body of the deceased Grace Augustine (Weaver’s botanist character from the first film), in an apparent case of immaculate conception. Kiri is also in sync with Pandora’s living organisms, with whom she appears to wordlessly communicate in a way other Na’vi can’t. So what exactly is going on here?

In Star Wars parlance, she was probably created by the Midi-chlorians. But where explaining Jedi mysticism through science may have been a misstep, doing so in Avatar could only deepen Na’vi lore, which has always drawn heavily from both technology and spirituality. (Other Na’vi commune with nature through LAN cables in their ponytails, while Kiri uses Bluetooth.)

We don’t yet know what it all means, and Kiri’s powers are certainly convenient for the plot. But they also go hand in hand with Cameron’s sincere, tree-hugger manifesto. It was Grace, after all, who discovered that Pandora functioned as a singular, intelligent organism. (Perhaps this is the root of the deity Eywa?) It’s fitting that Pandora has seemingly manifested in Na’vi form using Grace’s Avatar as its Virgin Mary.

Are there more scientific and spiritual implications on the horizon? The Metkayina have certainly taken notice of Kiri’s abilities, and her adoptive parents are bound to at least question it. That means more drama and, if we’re lucky, more fun action set pieces involving underwater telekinesis.

Clues and Tidbits

While we’re likely to see new creatures and environments in each Avatar installment, what else we might see is anyone’s guess — though Cameron helpfully affirms that his sequels will “make you shit yourself with your mouth wide open.”

A significant chunk of Avatar 3 has already been filmed — it’s about 95 percent complete, by Cameron’s estimate, so we likely won’t have to wait another decade to see it. Cameron’s also already filmed the first “25 pages” of Avatar 4, or so he recently told Dune filmmaker Denis Villeneuve. The rest of that film takes place after a six-year time jump, and he wanted to capture the kids’ scenes before their actors aged. By that point, the story of Avatar will have spanned over 20 years.

Vin Diesel has also claimed that he’ll be part of these sequels (sorry, Fast fans, he isn’t in The Way of Water), but there’s a chance he’s just pulling some elaborate prank. We also know Harry Potter alum David Thewlis will play a Na’vi at some point, while Game of Thrones’ Oona Chaplin will play a character named Varang and the great Michelle Yeoh will play someone called Dr. Karina Mogue. But those are the only major casting details we know.

We also know that the sequels will all be in 3-D, though that’s a given. Sadly, Cameron’s planned movie Avatar: The Higher Ground, featuring bow-and-arrow battles in zero gravity, appears to have been scrapped. Beyond that, we can only speculate about the who, when, and where of it all — my money is on Jake joining an Indian-coded Na’vi tribe living inside a volcano on the dark side of Pandora — though the sequels’ leaked titles might also provide some insight.

Movies three, four, and five could be called The Seed Bearer, The Tulkun Rider, and The Quest for Eywa, and while Cameron wouldn’t confirm the news, he did say these titles were among several in consideration. (Notably, the leak was correct about The Way of Water.) Who is the seed bearer, and what is “the seed”? No such thing comes up in The Way of Water, but we do see multiple pregnant Na’vi women, so a story of motherhood may not be surprising.

“The Tulkun rider” could be a reference to Jake and Neytiri’s son Lo’ak, who befriends and rides an outcast Tulkun whale. As for “the quest for Eywa,” it seems like the nature of Pandora’s central deity may enter the spotlight, and who better to seek out answers than someone like Kiri, who has a special connection to the Great Mother? Ultimately, these movies are about our own connection to nature, and the more permutations in which Cameron explores this idea, the deeper and richer the series will likely become — making all that slack-jawed self-soiling all the more emotionally satisfying.

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