Back in blue: is Avatar: The Way of Water resurrecting Col Quaritch as a Na’vi?

<span>Photograph: Everett Collection Inc/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Everett Collection Inc/Alamy

I made a joke in a recent column about Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) coming back as a sentient tree in the forthcoming Avatar: The Way of Water. He’s not, he’s coming back as a Na’vi instead.

Ever since 2009, when Quaritch succumbed to a brace of arrows through the rib cage while trying to fend off an indigenous rebellion in his high-powered mech suit, Avatar fans have wondered how James Cameron would bring him back to life for part two. Perhaps the nefarious mercenary had an equally cunning and perfidious twin brother who would turn up on Pandora to take revenge on his behalf. Or maybe, like Bobby Ewing in Dallas, Quaritch’s demise was just a horrible fever dream. Might he turn up in the shower one day, looking as buff and evil as ever?

According to an interview with Lang in Empire magazine, the real answer is possibly more insane than any of the above options. The colonel will be coming back as something called a Recombinant, or Recom. This is apparently a new technology that can embed the memories of dead human soldiers into avatar Na’vi bodies.

Will this horrendous thing actually be Quaritch, then? Or will it just think like him? It probably doesn’t matter – the main point is that the film’s headline villain is back, and considerably weirder and scarier than ever before.

“He’s bigger, he’s bluer, he’s pissed off. But there may possibly be an aspect of humility. When you take two Na’vi arrows in the chest, that’s gonna have some kind of effect on you,” Lang told Empire. “[He] was always a character who moved in straight lines and at right angles. But now he is as lithe as they come. He can move with the same kind of cunning and feral quality that any of the Na’vi can.”

The ability of human beings to remotely pilot Na’vi bodies was perhaps one of the least interesting aspects of Avatar. Or at least it seems that way now, more than a decade on from all the hype. But you have to give Cameron credit for sticking to his space tech, and it looks like he’s doubling down on this stuff in part two. The bonus here is that we get to see Lang deliver another sneering, molar-baring, scenery-chewing performance, albeit this time through mo-cap. The downside is that whenever anyone dies in any of the next 283 Avatar movies, we will wonder if it’s really worth getting in a tizzy over. They will probably be back in the next episode as a giant blue version of their former selves.

Lang: ‘He’s bigger, he’s bluer, he’s pissed off.’ Photograph: Alamy

Still, at least we will have the ever-reliable Cameron to guide us through the next few Avatar mov ... eh, what’s that you say Hollywood Reporter? Cameron is now only committing to taking the director’s reins on the next two films, and may get someone else in for parts four and five? This is hardly brilliant news but it also isn’t all that surprising. It has so far taken the Canadian film-maker 13 years to produce one sequel to the highest-grossing film of all time, and there are reportedly another three to go.

By our calculation, unless the whole process can somehow be super-charged, Cameron would be 106 by the time Avatar 5 comes out, and might be in need of having his own consciousness uploaded to a Na’vi.

The prospect of the new films coming out any sooner doesn’t sound too likely if further comments from Cameron to Empire are to be taken seriously. The 67-year-old director compared putting together the five-film saga to JRR Tolkien’s achievement in writing The Lord of the Rings – which was based on an imaginary world and mythology that the Englishman spent decades developing.

“What I said to the Fox regime at the time was: ‘I’ll do it, but we’ve got to play a larger game here. I don’t want to just do a movie and do a movie and do a movie. I want to tell a bigger story,’” Cameron told Empire. “I said, ‘Imagine a series of novels like The Lord of the Rings existed, and we’re adapting them.’ Now, that was great in theory, but then I had to go create the frickin’ novels from which to adapt it.”

Bearing in mind that Tolkien created entire histories, pantheons of deities and demi-gods, working languages and mythical races of homunculi, Avatar would be breathing rarefied creative air to say the least. Though there are parallels: the creator of high fantasy also had a penchant for bringing back major characters from the dead. Come to think of it, he was pretty into sentient trees too.