Avatar is perhaps the easiest thing in recent memory to make fun of. It's hard to even have a conversation about it without someone pointing out that "HA it's just blue cat people!" or "it's just a rip off of Dances With Wolves!" Even discussing the film's failings is difficult, because the general stigma towards it overrides any nuanced criticism. Yet, Avatar passed the 2 billion mark, and easily sailed into a public consciousness.
Regardless of how many make fun of it, it's difficult to escape Avatar as a cultural reference point. It's irritating that when I say I love Avatar, people assume I'm talking about James Cameron's blue aliens. "No!" I say. "I mean the last Airbender." To which they respond with "Oh you mean that M Night Shyamalan film?" NO DAMMIT!
Regardless of how much we mock Avatar as a product, that ten-figure return pretty much guarantees a sequel! With Avatar 2 pretty much an inevitability, what could James Cameron do to make something audiences will take a little more seriously?
Yes, this suggestion sounds a little worn at this point. There has emerged the idea that almost any film could be improved by relying on practical effects. That's basically grounded in the fact that we all liked Star Wars and ET and Indiana Jones as kids, but it also just isn't true. [Mad Max: Fury Road](tag:41445) proved recently that a very happy medium can be found between practical and digital effects, so why can't James Cameron take a leaf out of George Miller's book for Avatar 2?
The public image of Avatar is almost entirely defined by CGI. The first film goes for long swathes basically being an animated film, and any exhaustion in the audience is down to the sheer abundance of things on screen that just aren't there.
By introducing practical effects to Avatar 2 (perhaps for some of the alien creatures on Pandora), James Cameron could at once show good will to movie enthusiasts, and will give a sense of tangibility to a setting that sorely needs it. Don't think Cameron can bring himself to do it? Just look at Aliens! The Alien Queen is a creature with such weight and presence, I almost feel like she's still out there, floating in space now!
Ditch the old characters and story
I'm not suggesting that Avatar 2 retcon the events of the first film. That would achieve nothing. I'm simply pointing out that Avatar wrapped up pretty nicely, with almost no exterior conflicts or incomplete character arcs to provoke a sequel. I usually yawn at people claiming "there's still more story to be told!", but in the case of Avatar 2, there really isn't.
Apdopting the anthology format would also expand the Avatar universe, and not confine the audience to characters essentially created only for one film. If James Cameron himself is a trustworthy source, however, it seems everyone is coming back, and that means EVERYONE! Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana. Even characters who died in the first film like Sigourney Weaver's Dr Grace Augustine and Michelle Rodriguez's Vasquez I mean Chacón are returning. James Cameron must have really loved that original cast, because he seems to be breaking the internal logic of the story just to bring them back.
Swap nature for culture
Cultural imperialism is something the first Avatar shows a fervent interest in, yet demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of. To Cameron's credit, the entire subject of two races/cultures attempting cohabitation yet descending into hostility is a very tricky one to nail. Some recent movies like Dawn of the Planet of the Apes managed it well, so what tips could Avatar 2 take? Well, using pretty nature as a metaphor for an entire people's dignity and heritage is an oversimplification at best. A tree falling down just isn't good enough.
These kinds of situations are driven by the motivations and world views of individuals. Reducing the retaliation of a native people to "oh no you knocked down my sandcastle" just doesn't work. Taking a more measured stance in Avatar 2, perhaps humanising the humans (wow that says something) would let the audience make judgements for themselves, instead of feel like they're watching cartoons.
Let's get this straight. The ocean is incredible, and being in those depths is an experience unlike any other IF you're actually there. When put to screen, underwater stories just feel stagnant and slow. I find The Abyss to be James Cameron's least interesting film for this very reason. With his frankly incredibly intense interest in oceanography, there's always the risk that he will bring us more of his hobby on screen. So long as he avoids this in Avatar 2, we should be fine.