James Cameron is a juggernaut in the film industry. Two of the highest-grossing movies of all time, Titanic and Avatar, belong to him. Now, he's set to finally release a sequel, The Way of Water, to his hit 2009 film, which is set to release in December.
Before he ever touched those hugely successful films, the director almost directed a Spider-Man film before Sam Raimi did in the early 2000s. He even had a treatment written out, which would have included Sandman and Electro as villains.
He also knows Marvel Studios well, seeing as how Avengers: Endgame beat Avatar to become the highest-grossing film of all-time. The victory was short-lived, however, as a re-release from Cameron got his film back into the number one spot.
Now Cameron's name is once again alongside Marvel's—though not in a positive way.
James Cameron Has Some Words for Marvel
In an interview with Variety, Avatar: The Way of Water director James Cameron had some strong words for the characters seen in both Marvel and DC Comics projects.
The director set the scene for his complaints by pointing to how his characters grew from Avatar to Avatar 2. He pointed out that both Jake Sully and Neytiri take a "suicidal leap of faith" at different points in the movie, something which he claimed they would never do in the sequel since their transition into parenthood changes how they think:
“Zoe [Saldana] and Sam [Worthington] now play parents, 15 years late... in the first movie, Sam’s character leaps off his flying creature and essentially changes the course of history as a result of this crazy, almost suicidal leap of faith. And Zoe’s character leaps off a limb and assumes there’s going to be some nice big leaves down there that can cushion her fall. But when you’re a parent, you don’t think that way. So for me, as a parent of five kids, I’m saying, ’What happens when those characters mature and realize that they have a responsibility outside their own survival?’”
Cameron then shifted the focus to Marvel, saying how all the characters over at Marvel and DC "all act like they're in college" and that "they never hang up their spurs because of their kids."
“When I look at these big, spectacular films — I’m looking at you, Marvel and DC — it doesn’t matter how old the characters are, they all act like they’re in college. They have relationships, but they really don’t. They never hang up their spurs because of their kids. The things that really ground us and give us power, love, and a purpose? Those characters don’t experience it, and I think that’s not the way to make movies.”
This is hardly the first time a prolific director has taken aim at the Marvel Cinematic Universe with criticisms.
Martin Scorsese's words are some of the most referenced, as he claimed that movies like those found in the MCU are "not cinema." Though, some big Marvel personalities have previously taken to defending superhero movies.
James Gunn, the director of Guardians of the Galaxy, noted how it "seems awful cynical that he would keep coming out against Marvel" while also making it clear that Scorsese's comments "[were] irritating."
Spider-Man star Tom Holland made it clear that these big blockbusters are "real art," just like any movie, Oscar-nominated for not.
Yet, still, big-time creatives end up coming out against the hugely popular movies. Dune's director, Denis Villeneuve, declared that "[those] types of movies have turned [the audience] into zombies a bit," at least partially due to their "cut and paste" formula.
In a separate NY Times interview, James Cameron had even more criticisms for the big blockbusters like those from Marvel and DC.
The outlet asked him what was gained from actually submerging his actors for their underwater work on The Way of Water. In comparison, movies like Aquaman and the upcoming The Little Mermaid don't film their actors underwater.
His response? "You want it to look like the people underwater, so they need to be underwater:"
"Oh, I don’t know, maybe that it looks good? Come on! You want it to look like the people are underwater, so they need to be underwater. It’s not some gigantic leap — if you were making a western, you’d be out learning how to ride a horse. I knew Sam was a surfer, but Sig and Zoe and the others weren’t particularly ocean-oriented folks. So I was very specific about what would be required, and we got the world’s best breath-hold specialists to talk them through it."
Zoe Saldana, the leading actress in The Way of Water, noted "[she] was scared," even though she "come[s] from generations of island people:"
"The first step is you fake it till you make it: You tell your boss, 'Yeah, absolutely, I’m so excited,' and then it’s complete horror, like, 'What am I going to do?' At best, you’re going to walk away with a brand-new aptitude, but I was scared. I come from generations of island people, and the one thing people don’t know about island life is that if you’re from islands that have been colonized, a great percentage of people don’t know how to swim. Through folklore, you are taught to love the ocean as if it’s a goddess, but you fear it."
A Bad Take from Cameron?
As a wide-sweeping, generalizing statement, the director's claim regarding Marvel characters acting like college students, and lack of family-influenced decisions, is a pretty bad take from the director.
Avengers: Endgame literally has Tony Stark step down as Iron Man for his daughter and family as a whole. When he does decide to take the mantle back up, it's after several deep, well-constructed character beats that make audiences understand his decision.
Paul Rudd's Ant-Man is another example of a hero saddled with familial issues and parenthood that affect his every decision. In fact, Jeremy Renner's Clint Barton just went through the wringer, all thanks to traumatic events linked to his family.
Also, claiming that "they really don't" have relationships is unequivocally wrong. Iron Man's mentorship role for Spider-Man, Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter (a life in which he retires too), Pepper Potts and Tony—the list of examples can go on and on.
However, with all that said, if Cameron's sentiments are applied to only making sure one or two characters live up to those qualities, then it makes a lot more sense. Though, as pointed out above, there are plenty of examples in the MCU that go against his point.
Fans don't have much longer to wait before they can finally witness the sequel to Cameron's 2009 sci-fi epic and see if the director can live up to the expectations he's built over the last decade.
Avatar: The Way of Water hits theaters on December 16, 2022.