“That’s not the way to make movies": James Cameron wants the Marvel Universe to grow up

In a new interview, the “Avatar: The Way of Water" director criticizes the immaturity of superhero characters

By Alison Stine

Staff Writer

Published October 26, 2022 5:46PM (EDT)

Director James Cameron (Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images for AMC)
Director James Cameron (Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images for AMC)

The director of the highest-grossing film of all time has some harsh words for some other movies that have consistently smashed box office records. Basically: grow up. 

James Cameron, the Academy Award-winning director who first rose to fame after writing and directing 1984's "Terminator," is back on the publicity circuit, this time promoting the sequel to his 2009 smash hit "Avatar." The new film "Avatar: The Way of Water" has been long-delayed, due to everything from the story drastically changing to the director wanting to spend some serious time on one of his hobbies, deep sea exploration. (Cameron has his own submarine.) Now that the "Avatar" sequel is slated for a December theatrical release, Cameron is making the rounds to do press. And, characteristically for the outspoken director, he's talking about other things too.

Cameron told The New York Times, "I also want to do the thing that other people aren't doing. 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." 

Cameron said that having children — he has five, from three marriages — changed him, both making him more risk-averse (submarines must not count) as well as shaping his interest in exploring family dynamics. He told The New York Times that characters in Marvel and DC films "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 isn't the first time Cameron has been critical of DC or Marvel. In 2018, Cameron told IndieWire: "I'm hoping we'll start getting 'Avenger' fatigue here pretty soon. Not that I don't love the movies. It's just, come on guys, there are other stories to tell besides hyper-gonadal males without families doing death-defying things for two hours and wrecking cities in the process. It's like, oy!"

These remarks upset superhero fans, as did comments the director made about "Wonder Woman" in a 2017 interview with The Guardian, where Cameron "pinked with fury" when the reporter asked about Rose sharing her floating door at the end of "Titanic" and compared himself to Shakespeare. In that interview, Cameron said, "All of the self-congratulatory back-patting Hollywood's been doing over 'Wonder Woman' has been so misguided. She's an objectified icon, and it's just male Hollywood doing the same old thing!" He described the Patty Jenkins-directed film, which grossed over $822 million worldwide, as "a step backwards. Sarah Connor was not a beauty icon."

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Cameron did not spare DC's "Aquaman" or Disney in his remarks, either. Asked by The New York Times, what was the benefit of having waterborne actors holding their breath for very long periods of time in his new film, as opposed to the forthcoming live-action "Little Mermaid," which did not submerge performers, Cameron said, "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."

By Alison Stine

Alison Stine is a former staff writer at Salon. She is the author of the novels "Trashlands" and "Road Out of Winter," winner of the 2021 Philip K. Dick Award. A recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), she has written for The New York Times, The Guardian, and others.

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