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

James Cameron is currently promoting The Way of Water, the sequel to Avatar. A lot of time has passed since Avatar, and that time is reflected in the story, apparently. I don’t think this is a spoiler because it’s in all of the promotional material, but Sam Worthington’s character and Zoe Saldana’s character are married (or whatever it would be in this universe) and they have children. This was the whole point of the story, that these two characters are still together and raising children. In a New York Times interview with Cameron and the cast, Cameron spoke about how he wants to tell stories where the characters develop and change and form real bonds over time. He compares this story to the lack of personal development within Marvel stories. So I’m sure the Marvel fans will be on his ass soon.

The characters are parents now: “Zoe and Sam now play parents, 15 years later. 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?’”

Changing the perspective by making his characters parents: “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. But it definitely colors your whole perspective to have children. 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.

[From The NYT]

I don’t think that he’s wrong? Again, his critique is of the character development throughout superhero “universes.” He’s the one saying: you’re going to have Batman or Thor go through all of this drama over the course of decades and you’re never going to show them in a loving marriage or as parents? I get Cameron’s critique while I also understand why these franchises don’t show that kind of development, and it’s because Marvel and DC want to appeal to certain younger male demographics. I mean, the Nolan-directed Batman trilogy was basically Michael Caine’s Alfred telling Bruce that he should hang up the Bat-cape and get a f–king girlfriend. And when Batman finally did just that, the story literally ended.

Photos courtesy of James Shaw / Avalon and Xavier Collin/Image Press Agency / Image Press Agency / Avalon and JW / Bang Showbiz / Avalon.

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35 Responses to “James Cameron: Marvel & DC characters ‘all act like they’re in college’”

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  1. minx says:

    He’s not wrong, but Heaven forbid you critique Marvel/DC.

    • goofpuff says:

      Agree. The problem with the DC/Marvel movies is the heroes never really grow or learn from their experiences. Even giving Iron Man Tony Stark a relationship with Pepper never really changes him at all. Her impact is nothing to his life. If they just removed her, nothing would change at all. Even them having a child changed nothing with how he would have acted.

      They do a better job I think in their mini-series versus their big action movies. Wanda’s storyline, Loki, and Captain America mini-series explored themes and consequences that the movies never do. They are so much better than the movies by far.

  2. mia girl says:

    “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”

    Yeah, Marvel and DC may not be doing that, but The Incredibles did.

    • cc says:

      The Incredibles is the best super hero movie. Story, score, character… and the fact that it’s truly a kids’ movie that adults love too- not the other way around like so many are.

    • ML says:

      Good point @ Mia Girl. There is a difference though in that The Incredibles is the story of what happens afterwards instead of telling the child/ partner-free version. Great children’s film.

  3. Eurydice says:

    I think the whole point of certain genres is to remove the grounding from the characters. That’s why so many children’s stories, Disney movies, etc., have dead or missing parents. The child has to solve problems and make decisions without the security of an existing social structure. It’s the same with the superhero genre – they’re alien, other, dangerous to know, pretty much disabled for everyday life. Because they don’t fit in, they have to build their own structure.

    I don’t think the problem is with genre; it’s that the stories aren’t told well. But, speaking as someone who is happily without children, I can say that, while children are an unique experience, they aren’t necessary to becoming a mature adult or for realizing that there are responsibilities in life outside of oneself.

    • Chantal says:

      Also, I didn’t get the hype about Avatar. I guess it just wasn’t my cup of tea.

      • Eurydice says:

        I’m a huge sci-fi fan, so it should have been my cup of tea, but the story was just bits and pieces of other (better) sci-fi stories all patched together. It looked pretty, though.

    • Lizzie says:

      This! I could care less what he thinks about movies other than his own; he’s a melodramatic hack and abusive to boot. But “the things that really ground us, that give us power, love, and a purpose?” Gag me. He’s so clearly begging for a certain demographic to embrace his movies, but GenX has other things they can take their kids to see.

      And I’m sick and tired of the “kids made me grow up” line. Maybe you’re less of a selfish a$$hole now, but I’ll bet he can’t remember his kids’ birthdays without help and I doubt he changed a lot of diapers. This paterfamilias routine to stay relevant is just barfworthy.

    • Becks1 says:

      I don’t think the characters need to have kids to grow or become a mature adult, but I think the bigger issue is that the characters just don’t grow or mature or learn from their mistakes or whatever. It’s okay in itself, obviously many people don’t mind it, but its one of the reasons I’m not a huge marvel fan.

      • Deering24 says:

        Have to disagree Marvel characters don’t grow or learn. Iron Man’s whole arc through his and the Avengers’ movies is how he grows up, becomes a leader, and sacrifices for the greater good. (And that is a result of learning how to use his power responsibly and Pepper’s more grounded influence.) Black Panther wrestles with the burden of kingship–and the damage his family’s secrets have caused. Even in the most action-oriented Marvel movies (Winter Soldier), the characters are affected by wrestling with questions of what is real patriotism/duty/trust, etc.

  4. Mary says:

    He isn’t wrong about a lot of them but it should be noted that SUPERMAN has been a happily married man for like 30 years now and he and a Lois Lane are raising kids together across the multiverse.

    In fact, DC Comics tried and failed about a decade ago to take Superman backwards and try out “bachelor” Superman and it was so unpopular it almost tanked DC Comics. They restored his marriage to Lois Lane with DC Rebirth.

    Marvel has definitely struggled more with this and there has been a lot said about DC keeping Batman in a perpetual state of misery but, all told, Clark Kent and Lois Lane have been getting it done for a long time now.

    Anyway watch Superman and Lois on the CW (yes I know the CW sucks but the show is very good) and read DC Comics Rebirth if you want an example of a superhero who very much does not fit these accusations. ✌️

  5. Mcali says:

    I just came here to say I hate Avatar. Creepy, boring, overrated.

  6. Lala11_7 says:

    Cameron’s biggest sci-fi hits were movies where the center of it wasn’t the Terminators…but the personal connections between people….a Woman & a Man…a Mother & her child…etc….

    Without those personal connections…it just becomes like video games from the 70s through the 90s…because for the last few years…even VIDEO GAMES showcase more compelling interesting characters & storylines than movies…take for instance the games in the Star Wars cannon…ALL OF THEM…the storyline BETWEEN the action & the characters…to me…are better than ANY Star Wars movie on the screen with the exception of “Empire” & “Rogue”

  7. Shai says:

    I just think it’s interesting he has these thoughts like Avatar is amazing storytelling.

    • Lala11_7 says:

      I Will NEVA watch Avatar…but what he did with human connections in “Aliens” & the “Terminators”….I don’t mind him speaking on this one

      • Lorelei says:

        @Lala, I will never, ever understand why this man squandered all of the capital he had after Titanic’s enormous success by deciding to spend the next 25+ years of his life solely on Avatar, and FOUR (!) Avatar sequels. Mind-boggling.

      • Deering24 says:

        Yeah, the first two and last Terminators are very character-based. Hamilton’s character arc in the first is terrific.

  8. LT says:

    I have never watched any of the superhero films just being too busy with my own family, but the whole idea of film is to escape and leave your real life behind for a while. Most of us fondly remember the freedom of youth and can enjoy it vicariously through film. I am sure that that is part of the appeal for these superhero flicks to older audiences who are already doing the family thing … nice to hearken back

    • The Recluse says:

      I am reminded of the Preston Sturges film: Sullivan’s Travels. It’s about a director who wants to make a film with meaning, about the common man and super earnest and so forth. So he goes out into the real world to find what’s ‘true’. He winds up having mis-adventures and in the end winds up in a prison camp. At the very end, all the prisoners get to go to theater and see a movie. It’s a comedy. And this super serious guy learns that sometimes all people want is to laugh, to escape from their troubles. He was going to call his film: Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?
      Well, we know what fun the Coen brothers had with that. They made their movie as the possible film this director might have made.

  9. Riley says:

    Why is getting married and having kids the be-all, end-all? I don’t think that everyone wants to see movies that show people settling down and having kids. Those that are childfree and single by choice do like seeing movies that represent their viewpoint.

    • Deering24 says:

      _Thank_ you. So tired of this “love and kids automatically make you a better person–and is all you should really aspire too.” Movies/TV seldom address how one lives life if you don’t fit the standard marry-reproduce-grow-old-coupled pattern. And the majority of people don’t live like that. Are they bad or defective? Hardly.

  10. Lorelei says:

    @Chantal, you are not alone. Avatar must have its fans, I guess, but I only saw the first one, hated it, and don’t know anyone IRL who liked it either— certainly not enough to want four more of them, ffs.

    And ITA with @Eurydice and @Lizzie that the whole idea that people don’t truly “grow up” until they have children is absolute bullsh!t. I do have a kid, but I know plenty of adults who don’t, and tbh many of them tend to be MORE mature than a lot of the parents I know.

    ETA This is a reply to Chantal’s comment above— no idea why it showed up here

  11. jferber says:

    This from the man who dissed/bragged that the U.S. government asked him for his assist on lifting something on the bottom of the ocean (not sure of details). With his big mouth, he blew the whole thing. In the past, the U.S. government got help from Hollywood stars (selling War Bonds during WWII, etc.). Cameron acted like a HIGH SCHOOL kid on that one (I should know since I taught high school for years).

  12. MangoAngelesque says:

    Because characters (and by extension, people) can’t ever be TRULY fulfilled or complete as actual humans without having kids. And not just kids, but kids they sacrifice every dream they’ve ever had for.

    My head hurts from rolling my eyes.

  13. Christine says:

    Funny considering Linda Hamilton’s comments about their marriage and how he was a terrible father.

    • Deering24 says:

      I’d give a million to hear Gale Anne Hurd’s take on him too. Funny–he marries strong women and claims to love them–but he can’t stay married to them. He’s practically a “Nice Guy” category on his own.

  14. Christine says:

    *spoilers for most recent Thor below*

    Thor: Love and Thunder literally ended with Thor raising his adopted child after the love of his life had just died. So…developing, changing, forming bonds…check.

    What is with the current crop of blowhards bashing superhero movies? Don’t see them if you don’t want to.

    • AlpineWitch says:


      Plus add my comment to those who disliked Avatar, I saw it in the theatre in 2009 and never wanted to sit 3 hrs and watch that again…

      Terminator/Aliens remain his best films (I hated Titanic too).

    • FF says:

      Apparently, one studio releasing a successful series of comic book adaptations has them all bent out of joint.

      I’ll never stop side-eyeing that this whining kicked up right after PoC and women started being given opportunities to great effect. Almost all of these complaints are coming from white men who’ve been overpraised for the last three decades.

      • Christine says:

        That had never occurred to me, and I think you are seriously on to something. Come on, Endgame with all the women riding in to the rescue was a thing of beauty, and James Cameron is exactly the kind of narcissist who hasn’t bothered to watch a single superhero movie, but feels qualified to speak of them ALLLLL.

        I’m linking the scene, of the women of MCU kicking ass.


    • The Recluse says:

      Anyone who claims that the MCU doesn’t deal with character development and real issues hasn’t been paying attention. A lot of them are definitely dealing with PTSD. Tony Stark went through a whole character arc from being self-centered to making the ultimate altruistic gesture. Dr. Strange is on a similar journey. Wanda/Scarlet Witch had one of the cruelest story arcs: she lost everyone whom she loved. Thor has gone through something possibly worse: he lost his home planet as well as all of his loved ones. Loki’s character has undergone quite an evolution. Paul Rudd’s character is just trying real hard to be a good dad. Steve Rogers lost everything he knew and was trying to cope and do the right thing in a morally grey world. We could name even more characters who are on similar journeys. Ms Marvel for instance.
      These directors/producers should just say what they truly mean: they resent the immense power that Disney has accrued in a diminishing theater market. That, I get. But it isn’t as simple as that. The whole movie viewing field has changed drastically over the decades and COVID didn’t help.
      People dissing the MCU the way he did obviously hasn’t made a study of it.

      • Christine says:

        Wanda and Bucky both break my heart.

        Loki is my all-time favorite in the MCU, I love him so much!

  15. Jess says:

    Ehh, I agree with this to an extent. A lot of the superhero characters are like that but I’d say Tony Stark, Thor & Christopher Nolan’s Batman went through some pretty extensive character development.