It’s fair to say that James Cameron probably expected a little more hype around the debut trailer for Avatar: The Way of Water, which finally dropped this week, more than 12 years after the first film opened in cinemas. The internet has reacted with a collective yawn, and there have been a fair few comment pieces wondering if anyone really cares about a return to the forests and oceans of Pandora.
It turns out they do. Or at least, enough to watch the trailer anyway. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the new promo was viewed 148.6m times on its first day of release, which is more than the trailers for the recent Star Wars movies, The Incredibles 2 or Black Widow got.
Nobody knows at this stage, of course, how many of those viewers will actually turn up to see the movie. But for the mealy-mouthed naysayers out there (myself included), this surely ought to be a wake-up call. People are interested in Pandora, the 3D revolution is still a thing, and Cameron’s plans to set 20 more movies in the same solar system over the next 400 years are in no way overambitious or likely to end in ruin.
The reason some of us grumpier fans are struggling to get excited about Cameron’s sequel is that it missed its chance to make a real cultural imprint by failing to materialise as promised in 2014, and subsequently when its release was pushed back a full half-dozen times. That’s if it was ever going to make much impact.
When I mention Avatar to my seven- and nine-year-old sons, they think I am talking about the similarly named but unrelated noughties animated series, which is ubiquitous on streaming channels and far easier to access than the movie. This is despite the fact that I have shown them the James Cameron movie at least twice.
Nevertheless, I think we may be underestimating the appeal of Avatar. In the wake of the first film’s release there were reports of fans getting seriously down because they did not live on Pandora and would never get to romance beautiful 12-foot-tall blue forest elves with USB-compatible tails. Even if Cameron stood accused of borrowing themes from various other movies (the legal department would like me to point out that he won several court cases accusing him of plagiarism in the wake of the film’s release) he also invented a world that had a deeply emotional effect on people. Has anyone ever experienced existential sadness about not living on Tatooine, on Vulcan or in Tony Stark’s Avengers tower?
The difference is that fans of Star Wars, Marvel and Star Trek get new content thrown at them at ever more frequent intervals, and so receive enough injections of high-end fantasy storytelling to keep their geeky dreams sparkling like sapphires through the night.
Yet people moan constantly about there being too many Star Wars movies, too much Marvel, too many superhero flicks. Cameron has spent more than a decade making sure that by the time Avatar 2 finally hits multiplexes, there is nothing for fans to moan about. Except, of course, that they will still find something.
Yes, the first teaser trailer for The Way of Water may have been underwhelming. No, we don’t know why that human kid running around with Jake and Neytiri isn’t dying from suffocation, given we’re told Pandora’s atmosphere is a poisonous mix of nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, xenon, methane, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide. And yes, Cameron is going to have to come up with a better storyline than mean old humans getting tonked by the natives all over again (except this time mostly in the water).
But this is the film-maker who gave us Aliens. He is nothing if not a perfectionist. Maybe all of us post-lockdown content-guzzling gutbuckets just need to chill and wait until we see the final movie before we pass judgment, rather than basing our opinions on some mildly disappointing early footage.
Come December we will all be back on Pandora, swishing our giant tails and enveloped in gorgeous stereoscope. And for as long as the movie is running at least, no one will have to feel distressed again that they actually live in Bracknell, occupy a perfectly nice ground-floor garden flat and work in mobile phone sales consultancy.