The world has changed so much since the last Avatar came out about 13 years ago. In 2009, the Marvel Cinematic Universe barely existed; Disney had just bought Marvel and The Avengers was still three years away. Batman was played by Christian Bale and the notion of a shared DC universe with all of the Justice League was basically a pipe dream.
These days, Marvel and DC are the big dogs in the world of blockbusters, and Avatar, while it holds the title of the top-grossing movie in history, has been mostly quiet for more than a decade. But in making the new Avatar: The Way of Water sequel, James Cameron says he’s trying to do something different than the two or three movies that Marvel and DC now crank out year after year.
In an interview with The New York Times, Cameron talked about how having kids and affected his worldview and his filmmaking. The Way of Water is supposedly a family story, with the characters played by Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana now very much parents of young kids, struggling with ordinary domestic issues amongst their more otherworldly dilemmas. And that, Cameron says, will separate the movie from the superhero films we get. As he put it…
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. 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.
There have been a few exceptions here and there — Tony Stark’s young daughter became an important supporting character in Avengers: Endgame, for example — but by and large Cameron is correct in his assessment of these superhero movies. That critique could become less accurate in the future. Marvel is developing a Fantastic Four movie, and that franchise is very much about family in a way that, say, the Avengers is not. But for now, he’s not wrong. (It’s also worth noting that James Cameron is a longtime comic book fan, who spent years in the 1990s trying to make a Spider-Man film.)
Avatar: The Way of Water is scheduled to open in theaters on December 16, 2022.
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