With Avatar: The Way of Water — the long-delayed sequel to James Cameron’s groundbreaking 2009 movie Avatar — finally hitting theaters, fans may be wondering how the new wave of tie-ins and spinoffs might tie into the promised five-movie series, three of which have already reportedly been shot.
Ubisoft’s Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora was announced in 2021 for release this year, then delayed in July for a planned March 2023 release. Avatar: Reckoning, an MMO designed for mobile devices, was also planned for a 2022 release, but currently doesn’t have a release date. The Way of Water producer Jon Landau recently shared some details about the games with Polygon, and confirmed that neither will have any storyline crossover with The Way of Water or other Avatar movies.
“We don’t want the stories to be told together,” Landau said. “This is where we differentiate [from other multimedia franchises]. We want the stories to be unique in each of these spaces.”
Landau says the thinking around Avatar franchise spinoffs is that they should all be set in different arenas, so companies producing games — or Avatar comics, or even more divergent projects, like Cirque du Soleil’s Avatar show, Toruk: The First Flight — have more freedom to tell their own stories.
“We don’t have creative content coming out in the visual medium so rapidly as other IPs do,” Landau said. “It’s not like, Let’s do a streaming series, and another streaming series, and a sequel one year later, and all those things. That’s just not who we are. We don’t want that for Avatar. What we want to do is find the best in brand partners, and expand the universe by challenging them to do what they do best. We’re doing that now with Massive and Ubisoft.”
At the same time, Landau and co-producer, director, and writer James Cameron want to make sure all these divergent stories align. “We want what we do in these spaces to become canon in our world. So they cannot do something that conflicts with our stories,” Landau said.
For the games, that means setting the action outside or around the movies’ storyline. “Frontiers of Pandora takes place in the western frontier of Pandora,” Landau explains. “That’s not somewhere we’ve gone before. It takes place in the timeframe after Avatar: The Way of Water opens, but before the one-year time cut in the movie.”
In the first Avatar movie, the Na’vi — the catlike humanoids native to the world of Pandora — resist and drive off the human incursion represented by the RDA, or Resources Development Administration, the militaristic organization trying to mine resources from Pandora. At the beginning of The Way of Water, the RDA returns to Pandora, headed by military leader General Ardmore, an antagonist in the movie and the Dark Horse graphic novel series Avatar: The High Ground.
“Frontiers of Pandora is consistent with the movie, in that it talks about characters that come back with the RDA,” Landau says. “General Ardmore is talked about in the game, but they’re back at the Bridgehead base, not at the frontier. It’s just like we did with [Disney theme-park land] The World of Avatar, which takes place in the Valley of Mo’ara. It’s not a place we see in the movies — it deals with the Omaticaya [clan of Na’vi], on a river that we’ve never seen in the movies. And it takes place two generations after the events of the first film, so we see wrecked Samson and other wrecked gunships in the forest. We see the forest retaking those. But these [franchise spinoffs] are not telling our story.”
Avatar: The Way of Water premieres in theaters on Dec. 16. Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is coming to Amazon Luna, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, and Xbox Series X in March 2023. Avatar: Reckoning does not have a projected release date, and is being developed for iOS and Android platforms.