Why James Cameron's Avatar Isn't as Great as Everyone Thinks – CBR – Comic Book Resources

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Box office doesn’t necessarily translate to longevity. While James Cameron’s Avatar may be a financial behemoth, it’s a long way from a classic.
On September 21, 2022, James Cameron's Avatar was re-released in theaters. It grossed a little over $30 million worldwide in the ensuing week, which was enough to put a little distance between it and Avengers: Endgame for the title of highest grossing international release of all time. The tactic is intended not only to prime the pump for the upcoming Avatar: The Way of Water, but to maintain what has become the film's only talking point of note.
While always impressive, the box office figures hide an uncomfortable truth about Avatar. Unlike the Star Wars and Marvel movies with which it competes for box office dominance, it hasn't aged well. Far from being a classic, it's become a colossal afterthought. The sequel may prove as formidable at drumming up ticket sales as its predecessor, but the fact remains that Avatar is not a great movie.
RELATED: James Cameron Hopes Audiences React to Remastered Avatar Like His Kids Did
Director James Cameron often breaks new technological ground with his productions, resulting in must-see movies featuring visions no one has seen before. That was the case with movies like The Abyss and T2: Judgment Day, which helped launch the era of CGI and became genre classics in and of themselves. Titanic, too, benefited from the sheer scope of the production, and its historical romance was viewed as a sign that the director had "matured" past the sci-fi thrillers that defined the early parts of his career.
Avatar benefited immeasurably both from his reputation and the comparative novelty of the 3D effects it brought to the screen. The technique worked well in conveying the lush alien landscapes of Pandora, helping sell its universe, along with its environmental message. Audiences responded with huge numbers, and the 3D technology it engendered launched a wave of similar projects that dominated Hollywood for years.
RELATED: New Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora Clip Teases Never-Before-Seen Western Frontier
For all that, its subsequent pop culture footprint has been small. Beyond the initial wave of expected merchandising tie-ins, Avatar failed to generate much of anything. Fanfic and dedicated sites are few and far between. The film is rarely quoted, and the lack of memes and other bits of social media detritus speak volumes about miniscule cultural resonance. Indeed, the term "Avatar" is more apt to evoke Avatar: The Last Airbender — a franchise which has produced far more spin-offs, remakes and fan good will. In the thirteen years since the original, there has been seemingly no demand for the follow-up that's about to arrive, despite the fact that its pro-environment message has become more dire than ever.
Its problems stem deeper than that. The story, while serviceable, remains shockingly thin, with two-dimensional characters supporting a heavy-handed plot devoid of subtext or subtlety. Problematic elements have dated it extremely poorly. For instance, the plot has a good deal of ableism, as its wheelchair-bound protagonist can only be "free" in the transferred body of one of Pandora's Na'vi natives. Add to that a white savior complex and a reductionist view of indigenous cultures, and it becomes much less memorable that it seemed on first blush. Even the 3D rival it engendered turned into an expensive boondoggle, as the effects were used to inflate ticket sales with little corresponding aesthetic value.
That doesn't necessarily make it terrible. Cameron is too skilled a filmmaker to drop the ball entirely. As spectacle, Avatar is dated, but it remains engaging — particularly its action sequences — and as a straightforward heroes vs. villains action movie, it works. However, given its apparent impact at the time and the staggering amount of money it made during its initial run, its invisible profile in subsequent years speaks volumes. How or if the sequel affects that has yet to be seen, but judging it by box office figures alone ignores a history that is far less meaningful than it should be.
The remastered release of James Cameron's Avatar is in theaters now.
A native Californian, Robert Vaux has spent over 20 years as a professional film and television critic: working for such outlets as Collider, Mania.com and The Sci-Fi Movie Page. His favorite superhero is Nightcrawler and his lucky numbers are 4, 9, 14, 16, 36, and 40.
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