…is what the Oscar-winning director wanted for a headline.
Yup. James Cameron playfully trolled Marvel fans during Avengers Week. He pined for Avengers fatigue while doing a press junket on the set of his sequels to Avatar. Oh, and he compared his future Avatar sequels to The Godfather.
And everyone rolled their eyes.
The comments were so noteworthy, it’s almost like he was deliberately being provocative in the hopes of drawing click-bait attention to his current projects. Wait. It isn’t almost like that. It’s exactly that.
IndieWire quoted Cameron lamenting the current domination of popular cinema by the box office juggernaut. “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!”
Note that Cameron does, in fact, say he loves them. You know, teachers typically sandwich their criticisms between positive remarks. Cameron does the opposite.
Okay, but what’s the context of these remarks?
Cameron gave an extended interview with the press over the weekend. The Oscar-winning director of Titanic (and my forever-hero for making the original Terminator) is currently in production on the first two (of four total) sequels to his giga-bucks earning 2009 film Avatar.
The conversation was really about what he wants his new project to dig into. And, in all honesty, the ideas are way more interesting than his casual nonsense about the MCU.
Unfortunately, they were obscured by his provocateur approach. Attention seeking is, I suppose, a key part of major Hollywood projects. It’s also a fine art. In this case, the jabs at the MCU and the self-aggrandizing comparisons have gotten way more attention than the actual interesting work he’s doing.
And, it’s frustratingly banal commentary. The criticism falls apart after more than a glance. There are tons of stories being told which don’t feature “hyper-gonadal males.” And, the dig only vaguely resembles what the MCU has actually been doing. In fact, you might argue that complex storytelling is literally its defining feature. FSR’s own Brad Gullickson just concluded approximately four months examining the franchise in detail. That universe is not what Cameron alleges.
However, Cameron wasn’t just looking for headlines. He was trying to articulate what he finds so essential to his own idea. Instead, as many people seem to do, he had to contextualize those thoughts against a negative.
In his mind, the MCU is lacking something he sees as so vital. The problem is, the MCU doesn’t have the same artistic goals he does. So, the remarks don’t ultimately find traction. Worse, they obscure a really compelling idea. Everyone will spend their time talking about the fighting words he tossed at Marvel instead of his idea.
So, what’s his big idea? Cameron wants Avatar to be an epic story of family and generational change.
Deadline quoted Cameron describing the Avatar sequels as “a continuation of the same characters but what happens when warriors, willing to go on suicide charges and leap off cliffs on to the backs of big orange Toruks, grow up and have their own kids. Now the kids are the change makers.”
Yes. Absolutely. Generational storytelling is the stuff of the best of science fiction. So much of that genre is speculation about the future. At the heart of the speculation is a wonder about where we will go. Well. With generational storytelling, we can play around with that concept. Look at the classics like the leap from 2001: A Space Odyssey to 2010: The Year We Make Contact.
A more directly relevant example might be novelist Allen Steele and his “Coyote” series of books. In these stories, colonists arrive on a new moon. From the first book, we live with the original colonists. But, as the series progresses, we follow their children and grandchildren as they encounter new and different challenges.
This type of storytelling is utterly anathema to the MCU’s franchise model. The Star Wars franchise has been exploring it a bit by advancing the timeline in chunks. Although, I get the impression Cameron really wants to dig into the immediacy of generational change. He seems to want to explore the churn of change that the next generation forces on the remnants of their elders. It’s a cool story idea, but a difficult pitch to audiences. People grow to love the characters. And, they don’t want to move on from their stories.
Per Deadline, Cameron continued his remarks, saying “If you look at the big successful franchises now they are pretty much uninterested in it. So this could be the seeds of utter damnation and doom for the project, or it could be the thing that makes it stand apart and continue to be unique.”
But, of course, in order to make his point about generational storytelling, he described the most popular reference point of all time. The Godfather. Because why wouldn’t Cameron default to a comparison one of the most lauded films of all time? He said, in what appears to be a direct quote, “It’s a family drama, so it’s The Godfather.”
Gah! And suddenly we’ve derailed from an engaging conversation again. Instead, Cameron might have gotten a bit more out of his mileage if he had talked about the difference between “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings.” There is a saga where the first book was an engaging adventure, but the sequels turned into the next generation’s epic story. And, it’s free of all that baggage of being one of the most acclaimed films of all time.
And, yet, buried in all Cameron’s hyper-gonadal family-man fronting is a gem like this from the same Deadline piece:
“I would argue until I am blue in the face that science fiction is the quintessence of being human in a sense. We are technological beings. We are the only truly conscious species that we know of. We are struggling with ourselves over the issue of our own quest for understanding, our own ability to manipulate the fabric of reality, our own technologies blowing back on us and changing the way we behave amongst ourselves and as a civilization. We are living a science fiction reality.”
You know, James Cameron – personally – funded the development of a deep ocean submersible and went to the ocean’s deepest point. This lyrical, romantic embrace of science and fiction and the contemplation of the future of humanity is heady stuff.
Just arrived at the ocean's deepest pt. Hitting bottom never felt so good. Can't wait to share what I'm seeing w/ you @DeepChallenge
— James Cameron (@JimCameron) March 25, 2012
More of that style please, sir.
So, how did the boss of the MCU take the remark? A Vulture reporter asked Kevin Feige, architect of those ‘Avengers’ movies, for a response, and Feige got right to the heart of the issue. “Uh, he loves the movies! That’s awesome! Wow, James Cameron loves our movies! That’s exciting!”
It’s a great deflection on Feige’s part, but also probably the correct response.