In the eyes of storied film director and Avatar creator James Cameron, the almost signature reluctance of both Marvel and DC to allow their respective cinematic heroes to grow, mature, and find meaning in their later years is detrimental to the overall impact and storytelling of their films.
Cameron shared his distaste for the childish suspended states of animation Marvel and DC keep their characters in during a recent interview given by himself and Avatar: The Way of Water stars Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña, and Sigourney Weaver to The New York Times in promotion of their upcoming film.
Asked by the outlet’s Kyle Buchanan for insight into “the biggest difference between making the first and second film?”, the director asserted that it was how “Zoe and Sam now play parents, 15 years later.”
In support of his appraisal, Cameron then recalled, “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,” he continued. “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?’,” the director added.
His curiosity piqued, Buchanan further pressed if his “having children changed the way you take risks in your own life?”, to which Cameron confirmed, “Yes, I was pretty wild in my misspent youth, and there are a lot of risks that I wouldn’t take now.”
“I see some of that wildness in my own kids, and there are stories that are embargoed until they’ve turned a certain age,” he joked. “But it definitely colors your whole perspective to have children.”
It was in light of his experience of a parent that Cameron then leveled his specific criticism at the the respective cinematic arms of the ‘Big Two’, asserting to Buchanan. “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,” he criticized. “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.”
Speaking to just how Cameron’s more family-oriented mentality has influenced his upcoming sequel, Worthington detailed to Buchanan, “Jim wrote this family [in Avatar: The Way of Water] in a great way where not only are the stakes life and death, but the conflicts are quite domestic.”
“You’re still having these arguments with kids that you have every day, like, ‘Pick up your clothes, eat your food,’ even though the world is at war,” he said. “To be honest, I’ve used a lot of what I learned from reacting to teenage boys in the movie and put it back into my real life, because I’ve got three boys — it’s a zoo at my house — and someone’s got to be the Great Santini and keep them in ”
Though addressing the problem from a more specific, parent-oriented perspective, the root of Cameron’s criticism is readily apparent to anyone who has checked out a super hero film in the years since the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron.
From She-Hulk, to Harley Quinn, and now even Daredevil, nearly every single super hero film – save Zack Snyder’s DC outings, which regardless of how one feels about them, admittedly took a decisively more consequential tone to its characters – has its heroes undercutting every single moment more serious than getting a restaurant bill with a Spider-Man-esque quip.
Not only that, but they’ve seemingly taken inspiration from one of the worst parts of their source material – a continued obsession with the status quo out of fear of ‘marketability’.
It’s the exact reason former Marvel Comics publisher Joe Quesada gave for his decision to sell Peter Parker’s marriage to Mary-Jane to the devil, and it’s the reason these films – theirs in particular – hold only three real outcomes for their protagonists, all of which prevent them from experiencing any emotional journey more complicated than losing and rediscovering their confidence.
These include a return to a more ‘neutral’ existence in the MCU (Captain America), a passing of their mantle on to someone else (The Hulk), or being killed off when on the precipice of real growth, good or bad (Scarlet Witch).
With such a lack of stakes permeating nearly every single one of their films and pieces of related media, it comes as no surprise that both Cameron – and audiences in general – are finding themselves less invested in a genre once filled with risk and potential.
Avatar: The Way of Water is set to hit theaters on December 16th, 2022.