Cameron too good for ‘Avatar’ films
Films are below director's standards
Greg W. Locke
This weekend will see the release of what might end up being the “Movie Event of the Year.” James Cameron’s ninth narrative feature film, Avatar: The Way of Water, is finally here, 13 years after its predecessor, 2009’s Avatar. That film currently stands as the highest grossing worldwide box office of all time, bringing in just under $3 billion during its theatrical run.
So, here’s the thing: I hated Avatar and have been dreading the release of The Way of Water for more than a decade. That being said, I love Cameron and, up to the release of Avatar, considered him to be one of the most important filmmakers on the planet.
With that being said, I’m not going to talk a whole lot about The Way of Water this week. I’ll tell you a handful of facts that you need to know:
The film cost about $400 million to make, which puts it in a rare club of the four or five most expensive films ever to produce.
It clocks in at three hours and 12 minutes, which is about twice as long as the average film in 2022.
The original cast of Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, and Giovanni Ribisi are back with Cameron adding Kate Winslet, Edie Falco, Michelle Yeoh, and Jemaine Clement.
The film takes place more than 10 years after the original.
There will likely be two (maybe three!) more Avatar films, or so says Cameron.
Reviews haven’t rolled in yet, but it is already on some year-end critics lists and getting nominations from several award bodies.
This movie will do well. I’d bet everything I own on it. I think the critics will be divided, but also I don’t think the critics will matter. People will go to this movie because that’s what people are supposed to do: Respond to hype, follow the IP, be a part of the conversation. I get it.
Why do I hate Avatar so much? I think anyone who has read futurist literature probably finds Avatar to be too unsophisticated and broad. Mostly, I think the movie just looks unthinkably cheesy. The color palette, the design style, the landscapes, I hate them all so, so, so much. To me, the film(s) look cartoonish, New Age cheese that feels more like watching someone play a video game than watching cinema.
Rather than complain about Avatar: The Way of Water endlessly, I want to celebrate Cameron as one of the most important filmmakers of my lifetime. Aside from his debut, 1981’s Piranha II: The Spawning (which I haven’t seen) and these Avatar monstrosities, I like all of his work to varying degrees. And so yes, before you ask, I will rank and rate them:
8. Piranha II: The Spawning(1982): Haven’t seen it and don’t really care to. This is the movie that allowed Cameron to get his foot in the door. Following this one, he went on to make the film that set up his career, 1984’s The Terminator. (N/A)
7. Avatar (2009): Aside from Avengers: Endgame, probably the biggest film production to date. The most successful movie ever and one of the most technically accomplished. Also a cheesy piece of simple-minded sci-fi philosophy that looks like a children’s video game. I hate it, but in a lot of ways, I respect it. (C)
6. Titanic (1997): I recall being 17 when Titanic and Good Will Hunting were released. Both films featuring extremely handsome leading men in extremely well produced love stories. I also recall telling everyone that in 50 years no one will care about Titanic and everyone will love Good Will Hunting. Smart kid. I stand by this take. Titanic is a good movie. It’s well made. It’s also super flawed and cheesy. I liken its success to that of a boy band from the same era. (B-)
5. The Abyss (1989): Something of a marvel when it was released, this production epic is where Cameron started to value technical filmmaking over storytelling. A disaster film. A monster film. An alien film. A Cold Way film. The Abyss has a lot going on, and it doesn’t all work. But dang, it’s an impressive film that, I think, must been seen. (A-)
4. True Lies (1994): Following the massive worldwide success of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Cameron made an action-comedy for the ages. True Lies is not just a fun action romp, it’s a go-to comedy for me. Here we see Cameron telling a pretty simple story, which is maybe what he should return to. (A)
3. The Terminator (1984): Put this one in the gritty, low-budget masterpiece hall of fame. This little sci-fi action flick not only jump-started Cameron’s legendary career, but it made Arnold Schwarzenegger a top-tier megastar and began what is one of the longest-running franchises in cinema history. Needless to say, this one holds up very well. The futurist writing in this script is so good, it’s hard to believe that the limp Avatar came from the same mind. (A+)
2. Aliens (1986): After becoming a rock star director with The Terminator, Cameron signed on for an impossible job: Make a sequel to Ridley Scott’s all-time classic sci-fi/horror film, Alien. Not only did Cameron make a great sequel, I think he topped the original and made one of the best sci-fi films ever. One of the best-looking films of its kind in my book. A drop-dead masterpiece that, to most cinephiles, is his signature work. (A+)
1. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991): What is there to say about this one that hasn’t already been said a million times? T2 was a force of nature. It’ll always be in the Best Action Film Ever conversation. When it was released, is was by far the most technologically advanced feature film made. Like all his masterworks, this one holds up. One of my most-watched movies ever. (A+)
Cameron could retire now and, based on those top five films alone, go down as a legend. I don’t think these Avatar films will hurt his legacy at all, but I also don’t expect them to ever end up on any BFI lists.
Send your own Cameron list and Avatar: The Way of Water thoughts my way at email@example.com.