James Cameron Differentiates ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ From Superhero Movies: ‘The Problems They’re Facing Are Real’ (Exclusive Video)

“They’re not going up against some guy that’s trying to conquer the galaxy,” Cameron tells TheWrap of his Na’vi protagonists

Despite the fantastical world of Pandora in which the story takes place, “Avatar: The Way of Water” filmmaker James Cameron maintains that one of the draws of his original franchise is that the problems facing these fictional characters are real, in contrast to superhero movies in which the heroes are “going up against some guy that’s trying to conquer the galaxy.”

In a lengthy interview with TheWrap Magazine for our cover story, Cameron broke down the appeal of “Avatar” worldwide while stressing he has nothing against superhero movies.

“One of the things we did succeed with on the first film is to make it relatable around the world, across all the cultures,” Cameron said. “It didn’t just succeed here in the U.S., we made three quarters of our money in the rest of the global market. So it was important to me that we tell some kind of story that was universal, so everybody deals with fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, brothers and sisters, all of that sort of thing. It doesn’t matter what culture, what language group you’re in, what religion you are. It’s a universal idea.”

The “Terminator 2” filmmaker drew on his own personal experience as a teenager and also as a father to craft the central story for “The Way of Water,” which finds Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) juggling their responsibilities as parents with their responsibility to their people and community.

“Now, I can’t speak to their individual sort of cultural guardrails on that, how that works, I can only speak to my own experience having been on both sides of the equation as a teen that people didn’t understand – I mean first of all, all teens feel like they don’t belong, they don’t fit, but if you’re an artist in a very jock-y high school, you get beat up a lot and you look for the other misfits,” Cameron said. “My dad didn’t get me. My mom did, because she was an artist.”

“And then living the other side of that as a father of five and seeing how my kids struggled in their different ways, all in different ways because they’re all different people, so that was all great grist for the mill. You put that all on this fantastic planet with all these amazing vistas and all that, but it grounds it right down and says these are real people. They may be nine feet tall and blue with cat tails, but they’re real people because they feel real. The problems that they’re facing are real.”

Cameron continued, noting that loves superhero movies, but he specifically crafted “The Way of Water” and its upcoming three additional sequels so that the characters faced more relatable challenges.

“They’re not extraordinary problems. They’re not going up against some guy that’s trying to conquer the galaxy,” he said. “They have real problems. And I’m not dissing superhero movies. I love ‘em, they’re our modern myths and legends, they’re the Greek gods fighting. We love all of that stuff, but that’s not the movie I wanted to make.”

When the first “Avatar” opened in 2009, Christopher Nolan’s Batman films had hit big and “Iron Man” had launched a year prior, but the Marvel Cinematic Universe was not yet the assembly line of constant, commercially appealing superhero movies. “The Way of Water” now opens to a marketplace dominated by the superheroic, and while the film’s box office is off to a big if somewhat soft start, time will tell if this universally relatable approach from Cameron can make lightning strike twice.

“Avatar: The Way of Water” is now playing exclusively in theaters.