James Cameron’s “Avatar” may be the “savior” for the world’s global cinema scene, which has been overtaken by Marvel superheroes for the past few years.
After about 2 weeks since its release, James Cameron’s “Avatar: The Way of Water” has achieved a worldwide box office sales of 955 million USD, according to Box Office Mojo, and is expected to surpass the 1 billion USD mark by 2023. This is an impressive number and outstanding commercial success, which has only been seen in Marvel’s superhero blockbusters recently.
In many senses, “Avatar: The Way of Water” is not just a movie. For ages, the global cinema scene has been conquered by one superhero movie after another, most of which produced by Marvel Studios. However, “Avatar: The Way of Water” managed to break the streak. As the 2nd movie in the “Avatar” franchise and sequel to the 2009 film, “Avatar: The Way of Water” is filled with meticulousness and risk-taking – something rarely seen in Marvel productions, which is catered for commercial consumption.
It is also easy to see the creative vision of James Cameron via the 2nd “Avatar” movie. Why create a movie if it cannot be the greatest? Why rely on repetitive characters that have grown familiar to the audience via endless movies and dramas and related contents? Why boast numerous world builds instead of focusing on one single story? All these were questions posed by the director, who decided to show the flow of his plot and worldview in a chronological order rather than an expansive “multiverse” approach.
At the same time, it is impossible to ignore the massive investment, CGI, VFX, and state-of-the-art filming technology that have gone into “Avatar”. According to SlashFilm, James Cameron believed that “Avatar: The Way of Water” should have “no barrier” when it comes to visual effects. Instead of using the technology that has worked with the 2009, the production team of the 2nd movie made a lot of improvements and reinventions, leading to an almost absurdly beautiful film.
They were also willing to take numerous delays in development time to wait for technology to catch up with James Cameron’s vision, and even took 2 years to dive into the Mariana trench to flesh out an underwater world.
According to Business Insider, most of the audience enjoyed the oceanic scenes in the “Avatar” sequel greatly. This is only possible because James Cameron refused to go the easy way, and instead of using the class green screen, he utilized a specific underwater motion-capture technology. A 3.4 million liter water tank was also constructed for the sole purpose of realistic filming, according to Mezha Media.
The only movie that can compete with “Avatar: The Way of Water” in terms of investments is neither Marvel’s “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” nor “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”, but “Top Gun: Maverick”. Here, cast members not only need to learn to drive a plane, but also to use a camera to film their own scenes while on air.
All the meticulousness that went into “Avatar: The Way of Water” and “Top Gun: Maverick” is a complete contrast to Marvel Studios’ steadfast style. At the same time, the studio’s over-reliance in CGI and post-production has not only limited the potential of Marvel actors, but also lowered their works’ overall quality.
In fact, during an interview with GQ magazine, Christian Bale, who played the villain in the 2022 movie “Thor: Love and Thunder”, shared that has grown sick of the green screen. Eagle-eyed audiences also constantly pointed out poor designs, cinematography, and color-grading, to the point such criticisms have become a “norm” for Marvel films.
At the same time, the most anticipated projects were rushed in production, poor in investments, and have been boasting lackluster writing.
One excellent move that bears the same weight as a multi-million cinematic universe
Of course, as a franchise,the impact of “Avatar” simply cannot compete with Marvel in the highly competitive and extremely diverse pop culture environment. There’s no extremely memorable dialogue that stays rooted in the audience’s mind, such as Tony Stark’s “I love you 3.000” or his fingersnap and the accompanying line “I am Iron Man”. Nevertheless, the first movie of “Avatar” still grossed higher than Marvel’s biggest commercial success “Avengers: Endgame”, and the 2nd movie is quickly climbing the ranks for highest-grossing films.
James Cameron revealed to IndieWire that he assembled a sizable team of writers to collaborate with him on developing ideas for the “Avatar” sequels. On the basis of 1,500 pages of notes gathered over the course of a year, this crew collaborated with Cameron to develop the plot for the three films. It took them another four years to develop a complete script from this plot.
With a cinematic universe like Marvel, which needs an average of 2-3 new films to hit theaters each year, this is obviously impossible. As a result, only roughly 40% (or about 2-3 works) of the Marvel superhero films that are released in theaters each year have a strong writing and storyline. The others are merely “fill-in” movies, leaving spectators unsatisfied, such as “Thor: Love and Thunder”, “Eternals” (2021), or “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”. As a result, popular perceptions on the MCU gradually declined.
Of course, “The Way of Water”, like the majority of recent Marvel superhero films, won’t appeal to every single viewer. However, the 79% approval rating from critics and 93% approval rating from the general public for the film on the movie review website Rotten Tomatoes can still be regarded as a guarantee for the quality of the work and the “Avatar” brand.
The first “Avatar” movie didn’t have a post-credits scene, and neither did its sequel. The Inverse website appropriately refers to this as “the war between James Cameron and the post-credits scenes.” It offers the movie a chance to stand alone with its own ending rather than turning into a cog in a very long chain.
The audience must visit a theater in order to truly enjoy Avatar or Avatar: The Way of Water. That experience is something that home entertainment services cannot emulate, but seems to have been looked down on in recent years. Against that trend, reminding audiences of the beauty of traditional cinema is what many famous Hollywood filmmakers have been trying to do over the years: Christopher Nolan fights with the studio to get Tenet ( 2020) released in theaters, the same story happened to Denis Villeneuve and Dune (2021).
Audiences can watch Marvel movies in theaters, they can watch them at home, they can watch movies, they can watch TV series. Audiences may even skip a few works in the series because the MCU always has a way to help them fill in the missing information gaps with its huge, ever-expanding universe. With Marvels, the audience are provided with endless options: they can watch at home or at the cinema, watch all contents, or decide to skip several series or movies in the cinematic universe. At the same time, giving the audiences too many options may also encourage procrastination, as they would consider the need to go to the cinema. However, for the “Avatar” franchise in general and “Avatar: The Way of Water” in particular, viewers understand that they’d miss out half of the fun if the movie is not enjoyed on the big screen with the top audio and visual technologies.