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James Cameron: Marvel & DC movie characters ‘all act like they’re in college’

The ‘Avatar’ director says comic book movies get it wrong when it comes to building relationships ‘that really ground us.’

By Benjamin Bullard
James Cameron GETTY

Don’t tell Morgan Stark, but one of the great science fiction moviemakers of our times doesn’t think there’s much of an on-screen connection between Marvel characters like Tony Stark and their closest loved ones. Director James Cameron more or less put Marvel and DC on blast during the current press tour to promote his upcoming Avatar sequel, telling The New York Times that most superhero film characters ‘really don’t’ have meaningful relationships from one movie to the next.

“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,” said Cameron, who’s definitely teased the limits of how family keeps it real in movies as diverse as Terminator 2: Judgment Day (with Sarah and John Connor) and True Lies (with husband-and-wife duo Harry and Helen Tasker).

“They have relationships, but they really don’t,” Cameron continued. “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.”

Oof. Peter Quill and his parental issues might have something to say about that, not to mention Tony Stark hanging up his spurs in the most ultimate way possible — and that’s before DC fans even get started in on Bruce Wayne. In any case, the director of Aliens and The Abyss definitely knows his genre milieu, and at least he’s titanically un-shy about sharing the love when it counts: He even congratulated Marvel when Avengers: Endgame surpassed his own record-setting blockbuster at the box office.

For some context to frame his comments, look no further than Avatar: The Way of Water, the long-delayed sequel set 15 years after the events of Cameron’s 2009 Avatar blockbuster. Sully (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) return from the first film, only now with the everyday responsibilities of adulthood added on top of the previous movie’s raid-the-planet arms race for resources. It's a shift, says Cameron, that finds them at a distinctly different place.

“Zoe and Sam now play parents, 15 years later,” said Cameron. “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?’”

Agree or not with Cameron, fans will get their chance to see firsthand how Avatar’s characters have matured soon enough. Starring Saldaña and Worthington alongside Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, CCH Pounder, and Kate Winslet, Avatar: The Way of Water washes ashore in theaters nationwide beginning Dec. 16.

Looking for some sci-fi TV? Check out shows like Resident Alien, Brave New World, Project Blue Book, Eureka, Heroes, Intergalactic, and more streaming now on Peacock.