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Avatar: The Way of Water is an upcoming American epic science fiction film directed by James Cameron and produced by 20th Century Studios. It is the second film in Cameron's Avatar franchise, following Avatar (2009). Cameron is producing the film with Jon Landau, with Josh Friedman originally announced as Cameron's co-writer; it was later announced that Cameron, Friedman, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, and Shane Salerno took a part in the writing process of all sequels before being attributed separate scripts, making the eventual writing credits unclear. Cast members Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Giovanni Ribisi, Joel David Moore, Dileep Rao, CCH Pounder, and Matt Gerald are all reprising their roles from the original film, with Sigourney Weaver returning in a different role. New cast members include Kate Winslet, Cliff Curtis, Edie Falco, Brendan Cowell, Michelle Yeoh, Jemaine Clement, Oona Chaplin, Vin Diesel, and CJ Jones.

Cameron, who had stated in 2006 that he would like to make sequels to Avatar if it was successful, announced the first two sequels in 2010 following the widespread success of the first film, with Avatar 2 aiming for a 2014 release. However, the subsequent addition of three more sequels, and the necessity to develop new technology in order to film performance capture scenes underwater, a feat never accomplished before, led to significant delays to allow the crew more time to work on the writing, pre-production, and visual effects. The film's theatrical release has been subject to eight delays, with the latest occurring on July 23, 2020; it is currently planned for a release on December 16, 2022, with the following three sequels to be released, respectively, on December 20, 2024, December 18, 2026 and December 22, 2028.

Preliminary shooting for the film started in Manhattan Beach, California, on August 15, 2017, followed by principal photography simultaneously with Avatar 3 in New Zealand on September 25, 2017; filming concluded in late September 2020, after over three years of shooting.

Plot

Set more than a decade after the events of the first film, Avatar: The Way of Water begins to tell the story of the Sully family, the trouble that follows them, the lengths they go to keep each other safe, the battles they fight to stay alive, and the tragedies they endure.

Cast

Na'vi

  • Sam Worthington as Jake Sully, a former human who fell in love with Neytiri and befriended the Na'vi after becoming a part of the Avatar Program, eventually taking their side in their conflict with humans and leading them to victory; at the end of the first film, he becomes the new leader of the Omaticaya (the Na'vi clan central to the story) alongside Mo'at and transfers his mind into his avatar permanently.
  • Zoe Saldana as Neytiri, daughter to the previous clan chief, future Tsahìk of the clan, and mate to Jake Sully.
  • CCH Pounder as Mo'at, the Omaticaya's spiritual leader and Neytiri's mother.
  • Cliff Curtis as Tonowari, the leader of the reef people clan of Metkayina.
  • Jamie Flatters as Neteyam, Jake and Neytiri's first son and oldest child.
  • Britain Dalton as Lo'ak, Jake and Neytiri's second son.
  • Trinity Bliss as Tuktirey ("Tuk"), Jake and Neytiri's eight-year-old daughter and their youngest child.
  • Bailey Bass as Tsireya ("Reya"), a graceful and strong free-diver of the Metkayina.
  • Filip Geljo as Aonung, a young male hunter and free-diver of the Metkayina.
  • Duane Evans Jr. as Rotxo, a young male hunter and free-diver of the Metkayina.
  • Kate Winslet as Ronal, a free-diver of the Metkayina. Winslet called Ronal "a pivotal character in the ongoing story", but also "relatively small comparative to the lengthy shoot", as shooting all her scenes would only take a month. It marks her first time working with performance capture, or motion capture altogether; she, like most of the child cast, also had to learn free-diving for the film.

Humans

  • Giovanni Ribisi as Parker Selfridge, the corporate administrator for the RDA mining operation in the first film.
  • Joel David Moore as Dr. Norm Spellman, a former part of the Avatar Program who chose to side with the Na'vi in the first film.
  • Dileep Rao as Dr. Max Patel, a scientist who worked in the Avatar Program and came to support Jake's rebellion against the RDA in the first film.
  • Matt Gerald as Corporal Lyle Wainfleet, a mercenary who fought for the RDA against the Na'vi in the first film. Despite the death of his character in the previous installment, Gerald was announced to reprise his role in August 2017.
  • Jack Champion as Miles "Spider" Socorro, a teenager born on Hell's Gate (the human base on Pandora in the first film) but who was rescued and adopted by Jake and Neytiri and "prefers his time in the Pandoran rainforest".
  • Edie Falco as General Ardmore, the commander in charge of the RDA's interests.
  • Brendan Cowell as Captain Mick Scoresby, the head of a private sector marine hunting vessel on the planet of Pandora.
  • Michelle Yeoh as Dr. Karina Mogue
  • Jemaine Clement as Dr. Ian Garvin, a marine biologist

Unknown

  • Sigourney Weaver: Weaver originally appeared in the first film as Dr. Grace Augustine, a human who takes the side of the Na'vi and dies during the conflict. Although both Weaver and Cameron confirmed that she would return in the sequels, she stated in 2014 that she would not play the same character.
  • Stephen Lang as Colonel Miles Quaritch, who led the forces of the RDA, the human organization colonizing Pandora, in their conflict with the Na'vi in the first film. Although the character died at the end of Avatar, Cameron confirmed in 2010 that Lang would return in the first three sequels, stating, "I'm not going to say exactly how we're bringing him back, but it's a science fiction story, after all. His character will evolve into really unexpected places across the arc of our new three-film saga." He later stated that Quaritch would act as the main antagonist once again, in all four sequels. Lang's role will involve motion capture.
  • Oona Chaplin as Varang, a "strong and vibrant central character who spans the entire saga of the sequels".

Vin Diesel and CJ Jones have been cast in undisclosed roles.

Production

Development

In 2006, Cameron stated that if Avatar was successful, he hoped to make two sequels to the film. In 2010, he said the film's widespread success confirmed that he would do so. The sequels were originally scheduled for release in December 2014 and 2015. He included certain scenes in the first film for future story follow-ups. Cameron planned to shoot the sequels back-to-back and to begin work "once the novel is nailed down". He stated that the sequels would widen the universe while exploring other moons of Polyphemus. The first sequel would focus on the ocean of Pandora and also feature more of the rainforest. He intended to capture footage for this sequel at the bottom of the Mariana Trench using a deepwater submersible. In 2011, Cameron stated that he was just starting to design the ocean ecosystem of Pandora and the other worlds to be included in the story. The storyline, although continuing the environmental theme of the first film, would not be "strident" since the film will concentrate on entertainment.

The sequels were confirmed as continuing to follow the characters of Jake and Neytiri in December 2009. Cameron implied that the humans would return as the antagonists of the story. In 2011, Cameron stated his intention to film the sequels at a higher frame rate than the industry standard 24 frames per second, in order to add a heightened sense of reality. In 2013, Cameron announced that the sequels would be filmed in New Zealand, with performance capture to take place in 2014. An agreement with the New Zealand government required at least one world premiere to be held in Wellington and at least NZ$500 million (approximately US$410 million at December 2013 exchange rates) to be spent on production activity in New Zealand, including live-action filming and visual effects. The New Zealand government announced it would raise its baseline tax rebate for filmmaking from 15% to 20%, with 25% available to international productions in some cases and 40% for New Zealand productions (as defined by section 18 of the New Zealand Film Commission Act 1978).

In 2012, Cameron mentioned a possible third sequel for the first time; it was officially confirmed the following year. Cameron was then looking to release Avatar 2 in 2015, but later that year, production was rescheduled for 2014, with the film to be released in December 2016, and to be followed by the two other sequels in 2017 and 2018. By 2015, the scheduled release dates for the sequels were each delayed by another year, with the first sequel expected to be released in December 2017; this was due to the writing process, which Cameron called "a complex job". The following month, Fox announced a further release delay. In February 2016, production of the sequels was scheduled to begin in April 2016 in New Zealand.

In April 2016, Cameron announced at CinemaCon that there will be four Avatar sequels, all of which will be filmed simultaneously, with release dates in December 2018, 2020, 2022, and 2023, respectively. In late October 2016, it was reported that Cameron was going to push for "glasses-free 3D" with the sequels, but he later disagreed with these rumors and did not think the technology would be there yet. In March 2017, Cameron revealed that Avatar 2 would not be released in 2018, as previously believed. On April 27, 2017, new release dates for all four sequels were announced: December 18, 2020, for Avatar 2, December 17, 2021, for Avatar 3, December 20, 2024 for Avatar 4, and December 19, 2025, for Avatar 5. The films will be released in Dolby Vision.

New crew members include cinematographer Russell Carpenter, who worked with Cameron on True Lies and Titanic, and Aashrita Kamath, who will act as art director on all four sequels. Kirk Krack, founder of Performance Freediving International, worked as a free-diving trainer for the cast and crew for the underwater scenes.

Asked about the delays of the releases of the film and its sequels, Cameron stated:

He was optimistic that the delays would not harm the films' success, comparing it to his films Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Aliens, which were both commercially successful sequels released seven years after the original films. Several creatures introduced in Avatar Flight of Passage will be featured in the film.

In May 2019, it was reported that the sequel's release dates had been pushed back as much as two years, thus the release of Avatar 2 had been pushed back to December 2021 while the three other sequels are due to be released respectively in December 2023, December 2025 and December 2027 as a result of the announcement of the three upcoming Star Wars films due to be released respectively on December 16, 2022, December 20, 2024, and December 18, 2026. In August 2020, the release was pushed back again to December 16, 2022, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  In total there have been eight delays to the theatrical release.

Writing

In 2012, Cameron stated that the sequels were being written as "separate stories that have an overall arc inclusive of the first film", with the second having a clear conclusion instead of a cliffhanger to the next film. Screenwriters were also announced: Josh Friedman for the first, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver for the second, and Shane Salerno for the third. In April 2014, Cameron expected to finish the (then) three scripts within six weeks, stating that all three sequels would be in production simultaneously and were still slated for December 2016 to 2018 releases. He stated that although Friedman, Jaffa and Silver, and Salerno are each co-writing one sequel with him, they at first worked together on all three scripts: "I didn't assign each writer which film they were going to work on until the last day. I knew if I assigned them their scripts ahead of time, they'd tune out every time we were talking about the other movie." Cameron added that they had "worked out every beat of the story across all three films so it all connects as one, sort of, three-film saga", a creative process that was inspired by his experiences in the writing room of his television series Dark Angel.

The writing took longer than expected, forcing Cameron to delay the release of the films further in 2015. In December 2015, he stated that he was "in the process of doing another pass through all three scripts ... Just refining. That's in parallel with the design process. The design process is very mature at this point. We've been designing for about a year and a half. All the characters, settings and creatures are all pretty much [set]."

On February 11, 2017, Cameron announced that the writing of all four sequels was complete. In a November 26 interview the same year, he estimated that the scripts had taken four years to write overall.

Comparing the themes of the sequels to the original, Cameron stated that "It will be a natural extension of all the themes, and the characters, and the spiritual undercurrents. Basically, if you loved the first movie, you're gonna love these movies, and if you hated it, you're probably gonna hate these. If you loved it at the time, and you said later you hated it, you're probably gonna love these". He later compared the sequels to The Godfather franchise, calling it "a generational family saga [...] It's a continuation of the same characters and about what happens when warriors, willing to go on suicide charges and leap off cliffs on to the backs of big orange Toruks, grow up and have their own kids. Now the kids are the change makers. It's interesting."

Discussing the character of Tuk in a February 2019 interview, Cameron mentioned that she was eight years old, and that the film would feature a scene between Jake and Neytiri taking place from Tuk's perspective: "There's a three-page argument scene between Jake and Neytiri, a marital dispute, very, very critical to the storyline. I wound up shooting it all from the point of view of the 8-year-old hiding under the structure and peeking in. Having gone through the experience with [Sam Worthington] on Avatar, I now knew how to write the Jake character going forward across the emotional rollercoaster of the next four movies."

In a December 2019 interview, Lang stated that his character was always meant to return in the sequels, as Cameron had shared with him "that Quaritch had a future" while shooting the original film.

Casting

Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana were confirmed in January 2010 to have signed on to reprise their roles in the sequels. Later that year, Cameron confirmed that both Sigourney Weaver and Stephen Lang would return despite the demise of their characters. Cameron also stated that Weaver would be featured in all three sequels (the fourth one was not planned at the time) and that her character Grace Augustine would be alive. In March 2015, however, Weaver said that she will play a new character in the next film. In September 2015, Michelle Rodriguez stated that unlike Weaver and Lang, whose characters had also died in the first film, she would not return in Avatar 2.

Several new cast announcements were made in 2017, with Joel David Moore, CCH Pounder and Matt Gerald all confirmed to return from the first film. Announced newcomers included Oona Chaplin, whose character, Varang, was described as "a strong and vibrant central character who spans the entire saga of the sequels", and Cliff Curtis as Tonowari, the leader of the Na'vi reef people clan of Metkayina. Eiza González also auditioned for Chaplin's role.

On September 23, 2017, child actor Filip Geljo was revealed to have been signed in an undisclosed role. On September 27, seven child actors were confirmed as a part of the main cast including Geljo: Jamie Flatters, Britain Dalton and Trinity Bliss as the children of Jake and Neytiri, Geljo, Bailey Bass, and Duane Evans Jr. as members of the Metkayina (together with Curtis), and Jack Champion, the only one to perform in live action, as a human born on Pandora. Cameron later stated that the child cast had been trained for six months to prepare for the underwater scenes filmed in performance capture, and that they now could all hold their breath "in the two- to four-minute range", even then-seven-year-old Trinity Bliss, and were now "all perfectly capable of acting underwater, very calmly while holding their breath".

On October 3, 2017, it was reported that Kate Winslet, who starred in Cameron's Titanic (1997), had joined the cast of Avatar 2, and possibly its sequels. Cameron commented, "Kate and I had been looking for something to do together for 20 years, since our collaboration on Titanic, which was one of the most rewarding of my career", and added that her character was named Ronal. Although the nature of her character was originally unknown, Cameron stated the following month that Ronal was "part of the Sea People, the reef people", in reference to the Na'vi clan of Metkayina, making Avatar 2 Winslet's first role via performance capture, or motion capture altogether, which she was looking forward to; as she insisted on performing all her character's movements herself, she, like the child cast, had to learn free-diving for the film. Winslet, who had been notoriously reluctant about working with Cameron again because of the complicated situations he puts his actors in for their scenes, stated that Cameron proposed the role to her in July 2017 when he came to help her and their fellow Titanic collaborator Leonardo DiCaprio at a fundraiser in France, sending her the scripts shortly after. She commented that her role was "relatively small comparative to the lengthy shoot", as she would only have one month of shootings, but also "a pivotal character in the ongoing story".

On October 13, 2017, it was announced that Giovanni Ribisi would reprise his role of Parker Selfridge from the first film, in all four upcoming Avatar films. On January 25, 2018, Dileep Rao was confirmed to return as Dr. Max Patel. A year later, Edie Falco, Brendan Cowell, and Michelle Yeoh joined the cast in live-action roles. In early April 2019, Vin Diesel announced that he would be joining the cast of the Avatar sequel, although it was not clearly specified which sequels he would be in.

In October 2019, Edward Norton revealed that he had turned down a role in Avatar 2, due to only being interested in playing a Na'vi, which his proposed character was not. In April 2018, David Thewlis revealed his involvement in the franchise, stating that he would be featured in three of the four sequels, later stating in January 2020 that his character was a Na'vi. This led to Thewlis being largely reported as part of the cast of Avatar 2; however, he stated in June 2020 that the reports were wrong, and that he would actually be a part of Avatar 3 to 5.

Performance capture filming

Avatar: The Way of Water had entered production and started preliminary shooting on August 15, 2017, with Manhattan Beach, California, as the main shooting location.

Principal photography started on September 25, 2017, simultaneously with Avatar 3. As Sigourney Weaver later revealed in November, filming had to be moved around to allow her to film a cameo appearance in the series eight finale of Doc Martin.

On November 23, Cameron stated that the crew had been undergoing tests with the cast for the last month to film underwater scenes in performance capture, and that they succeeded in filming the first of those on November 14, featuring six of their seven main child actors, including Trinity Bliss. He stated "we're getting really good data, beautiful character motion and great facial performance capture. We've basically cracked the code". He said that tests would last until January 2018, as "we're still working in our small test tank. We graduate to our big tank in January". It was "a dialogue scene", as according to Cameron, the characters communicate via "a kind of a sign language". On April 30, 2018, Kate Winslet had "just a couple days" of shooting left to do.

In May 2018, Saldana stated that filming was "kind of only halfway done" and that the crew is "about [to finish] motion capture production on the [second and third] movies, and then after that, they go straight into pre-production for the live-action part that would shoot for six months in New Zealand." Saldana finished shooting her scenes on June 8, for both Avatar 2 and its sequel, while Cameron stated around the same time that 130 days of performance capture had been shot. On November 14, 2018, Cameron announced filming with the principal performance capture cast had been completed.

Live-action filming

In February 2019, Landau stated that live-action filming for Avatar 2 and 3 would commence in New Zealand in the spring of 2019. Cameron confirmed later the same month that they had "only wrapped for [the motion capture parts]. Now, that is the vast majority of the characters and it is the vast majority of the running time of the film[s]. But that pesky little live action component is going to cost me five months of my life across the two movies." Filming for 2019 concluded on November 29, to resume the following year in New Zealand.

On March 17, 2020, Landau announced that the filming of the Avatar sequel films in New Zealand had been postponed indefinitely in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He also confirmed that production would remain in Los Angeles. However, virtual production continued in Manhattan Beach, California while visual effects continued at Weta Digital in Wellington. In early May, health and safety production protocols had been endorsed by the New Zealand government, allowing filming to resume in the country. On June 1, 2020, Landau posted a picture of himself and Cameron on Instagram, showing that they had returned to New Zealand to resume filming. After their arrival, Cameron and 55 other crew members who had traveled to New Zealand started a 2-week government-supervised isolation period at a hotel in Wellington before they would resume filming. This would make Avatar 2 and 3 the first major Hollywood blockbusters to resume production after postponing filming due to the pandemic. On June 16, 2020, Cameron resumed filming and Landau posted a photo of his crew on Instagram filming the production.

In September 2020, Cameron confirmed that live action filming in New Zealand had been completed, therefore completing the shooting of the film altogether after over three years; he estimated Avatar 3 to be "95%" completed, due to having live-action parts yet to be filmed outside of New Zealand.

Visual effects

On July 31, 2017, it was announced that Weta Digital had commenced work on the Avatar sequels.

The film will heavily feature underwater scenes, actually filmed underwater with the cast in performance capture. Blending underwater filming and performance capture being a feature never accomplished before, it took the team a year and a half to develop a new motion capture system, with Cameron stating:

Landau stated in November 2015 that Avatar 2 would have a number of major technological improvements since the first movie. A lot more of the lighting work on the virtual production stage could be done during production instead of post-production, and like Alita: Battle Angel, which is produced and co-written by Cameron, the crew can use two lightweight HD head cams to record the actors' facial performance. In addition they also used two digital puppets instead of just one; one that is an accurate copy of the real actor, and another that is the actor's character, allowing the team to re-target one onto the other to make it as accurate as possible.

Cameron stated that there was possibility that the film could be shown in "glasses-free 3D", although it is not entirely certain.

Music

On August 30, 2021, Landau confirmed that Simon Franglen, who had worked on the original film as producer of both the score and the original song "I See You", and as arranger of the electronic music parts of the score, would compose the score for the Avatar sequels. In December 2019, Franglen was reported to be writing new songs for Avatar 2 and Avatar 3. The original film's composer, James Horner, was originally reported to be engaged to write music for the franchise, before his death in a plane crash in June 2015.

Marketing

Steven Gould has been hired to write four novels based on the four Avatar sequels, starting with Avatar 2.

After several media outlets shared rumors of potential titles for the Avatar sequels, including Avatar: The Way of Water for Avatar 2, Cameron confirmed that the titles mentioned were "among titles that are in consideration, but no final decisions have been made yet." The first teaser trailer debuted at the 2022 CinemaCon and was attached to the release of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness on May 6, 2022. On April 30, 2022, four new first look images were released, showing off the adventures of the Na'vi on and off the coasts of Pandora. The title was officially announced at the 2022 CinemaCon, and the teaser trailer was later released online on May 9, 2022.

Release

Avatar: The Way of Water is scheduled to be released on December 16, 2022, by 20th Century Studios. The film was subjected to eight delays, as the crew took more time on the writing, pre-production and visual effects process. Initially, the film was scheduled for release on December 2014. By mid-2013, Cameron originally intended Avatar 2 to be released on December 2015, which was subsequently delayed to 2016 and then to 2017. In April 2016, Cameron announced four Avatar sequels which will be releasing on December 2018, 2020, 2022 and 2023; but, in March 2017, he stated that this film would not be released on 2018, due to extensive production and visual effects process. On April 2017, a new release date of December 18, 2020 was announced, with all the other sequels: Avatar 3, 4 and 5 releasing on December 17, 2021, December 20, 2024 and December 19, 2025, respectively. However, following the announcement of the then-upcoming Star Wars sequel trilogy, in May 2019, the sequels release date being pushed back to two years, with this film, being scheduled to released on December 17, 2021. The release date was again deferred due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in August 2020, a new release of December 16, 2022 was announced.

Mentioning about the delays, Cameron felt optimistic that it would not harm the films' success, comparing it to his films Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Aliens, which were both commercially successful sequels released seven years after the original films. In December of 2021, Zoe Saldana, who plays Neytiri, saw the first 20 minutes of the film. She told fans to "brace themselves", and that she was speechless and moved to tears. The Way of Water and the forthcoming sequels will be released in Dolby Vision.

Sequels

Avatar: The Way of Water is the first of four planned sequels to Avatar; Avatar 3 started filming simultaneously with Avatar 2 in New Zealand on September 25, 2017. Cast members Worthington, Saldana, Lang, Weaver, Pounder, Curtis, Ribisi, Moore, Rao, Gerald and Chaplin have all been announced for Avatar 3. Although the last two sequels have been reportedly greenlit, Cameron stated in a November 2017 interview: "Let's face it, if Avatar 2 and 3 don't make enough money, there's not going to be a 4 and 5". Avatar 3 cast member David Thewlis later confirmed this in February 2018, stating "they're making 2 and 3, they're gonna see if people go and see them, and then they'll make 4 and 5." Conversely, Weaver stated in November 2018, after the first two sequels had completed main photography, that she was currently "busy doing Avatar 4 and 5", which several media outlets interpreted as confirmation that the last two sequels had started filming. In January 2019, in face of the proposed acquisition of 21st Century Fox by The Walt Disney Company, Disney CEO Bob Iger confirmed that both Avatar 4 and Avatar 5 are being developed but haven't been officially greenlit. According to producer Landau in February 2019, Iger may have been misinterpreted. He said that Avatar 4 and 5 "are not only [greenlit]" but also a third of Avatar 4 has already been filmed.

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