While still canonical, James Cameron’s original script for Avatar 2 would have been a bigger risk for the franchises’ future than The Way of Water.
Warning! SPOILERS for Avatar: The Way of Water
While still part of the canonical timeline, the original story created by James Cameron before Avatar: The Way of Water would have presented a far greater challenge for the franchise’s future. Having had 13 years to develop Avatar 2 after the first one released in 2009, James Cameron wrote an entire 130-page script for the second installment entitled The High Ground. While James Cameron eventually pivoted and developed the narrative for The Way of Water, The High Ground was adapted into a graphic novel series from Dark Horse Comics — a much better vehicle for the story as opposed to the big screen.
Taking place in the years between the first Avatar and The Way of Water, The High Ground is still a canonical part of Pandora’s history, detailing the RDA’s return to Earth which was briefly shown in The Way of Water’s flashbacks. As such, the three-part graphic novel series covers more of the war between the RDA and Omatikaya People who were still led by Jake Sully before he and his family relocated to live with the seafaring Metkayina. However, James Cameron was right to change course with The Way of Water serving as Avatar’s second on-screen chapter instead.
James Cameron’s Original Avatar 2 Story Plan Explained
In The Way of Water’s opening scenes, flashbacks aided by Jake Sully’s narration reveal that the RDA eventually returned to Earth in even greater numbers and military force. However, The High Ground goes deeper, revealing the critical battles led by Jake in the name of protecting Avatar’s Omaticaya and his family. This included a battle in space which the Na’vi call “the black world.” Apparently, their agile bodies and years traversing the forest make the Na’vi prime warriors in zero gravity environments, wearing recovered space suits from the RDA and receiving combat training from Jake.
The High Ground also culminates with the RDA’s battle to retake Hell’s Gate, and one of the story’s primary antagonists is The Way of Water’s General Ardmore who promises amnesty to any human who originally stayed in support of the Na’vi. Likewise, the dynamics of the Sully Family are featured as well, and this includes Miles “Spider” Socorro and his tensions with Avatar’s Neytiri. However, even James Cameron admitted that The High Ground wasn’t everything he wanted it to be, despite being an action-packed narrative.
Why Avatar 2’s Original Story Would’ve Been A Worse Movie
According to Cameron, “[The High Ground] was missing one of those critical elements about sequels, which is that it didn’t go enough into the unexpected.” Apart from the space battle, The High Ground is a lot of what had been seen in the first film. The same locales would have been featured, ultimately concluding with the Omaticaya evacuating to the mountains seen in The Way of Water. Likewise, Cameron notes that the story was missing critical spiritual elements: “It also didn’t play enough by Avatar rules, which is to connect us to the dream world, that which has a spiritual component that we can’t even quite quantify in words.”
Had The High Ground remained the story for Avatar: The Way of Water, it’s very likely that it wouldn’t have been received as well as The Way of Water, due to the redundancies from the first film and the missing components mentioned by Cameron. That being said, it truly is an interesting plot that does help debut the Sully Family ahead of The Way Water, while also better explaining Jake’s reasoning for leaving the Forest People for the oceans, seeing as how he had already suffered multiple losses in the face of the RDA’s greater numbers and advanced weaponry.
Avatar 2’s Original Story Would’ve Made Future Sequels Harder
While it’s an interesting read, there’s very little doubt that The High Ground would have put the future of the Avatar franchise at risk. The poor reception The High Ground would have likely received on-screen would have translated to poor box office returns, something Cameron noted would have been a deal-breaker for Avatar 4 and Avatar 5. Thankfully, Avatar: The Way of Water has been seeing some incredible returns, ensuring that audiences will receive Cameron’s full vision for the world of Pandora. While this includes The High Ground, it’s for the best that it was adapted as a graphic novel instead of becoming Avatar 2 as originally intended.