For all intents and purposes, it is my sincere belief that James Cameron is the most innovative filmmaker in the history of cinema. His sparse, selective, yet highly regarded filmography has changed the foundation of film with each succeeding entry. His films have pushed the boundaries as to what a camera is able to capture, expanding and encouraging more ambitious and technologically challenging films to be made. His two Terminator films made the stale sci-fi genre into a fresh, appealing field of film, with Judgement Day literally changing the landscape of cinema as to how CGI can be integrated into feature films. T2 is an absolute classic in every sense of the word, quite possibly being the greatest, most influential action film of all time. Titanic, much like his Terminator films, has become a treasure of cinema, transporting audiences to a viscerally authentic voyage of the doomed ship, from its hopeful beginnings to its ice-cold demise (pun shamelessly intended). His most recent feature, 2009’s Avatar is the highest grossing film of all time, ushering in a new era of 3D motion pictures with often disastrous results, earning nearly three billion dollars in the box office, with god-knows-how-much more with the Blu Ray sales.
To say James Cameron is an important figure in cinema is a criminal understatement. Even his lesser efforts have become beloved treasures of film, matching his critical acclaim with box office dominance. He is one of an elite few filmmakers who audiences will look for just on the fact his name is on the director slot, directors like Spielberg, Scorsese, Tarantino, Nolan and Ridley Scott being prime examples.
With that being said, reading his now infamous comments on Wonder Woman had me perplexed, not only because I respectfully disagree with it, but rather because I know he genuinely believes this sentiment. Apart from his wizardry with a camera, James Cameron has earned the reputation for being one of the most meticulous filmmakers with a knack of being a perfectionist, reaching the heights of Stanley Kubrick and David Fincher in the realm of perfectionism. He has become notorious for his painstaking attention to detail, spending literally hundreds of hours to make sure one, singular, solitary frame of film is done to his rare satisfaction.
If his filmmaking acumen is any indication, it is safe to say the way he goes about critiquing films is met with the same focus, his comments surely being well thought out and thoroughly contemplated. In this instance, I will give him the benefit of the doubt. To essentially criticize a film for the beauty of its protagonist being “objectifying” holds a weight of truth, something that other media outlets are curiously neglecting to admit. Even in these rapidly progressive times, the cinema is still bombarded with films that hellaciously objectify women, films such as Fifty Shades and its sequel, The Other Woman, and just about every Michael Bay film ever. This unofficial genre of film has been met with a vicious amount of criticism from audiences and critics alike yet, curiously, are still being made. It is a well known cinematic contagion that is kept alive by modest box office returns. So in that aspect, James Cameron alludes to a problem that is tragically current as it was nearly a decade ago, if not more so.
Still, Wonder Woman is the very antithesis of that cinematic plague. It can be viewed as a female empowerment film, yes, but the audience doesn’t care about Wonder Woman because she’s beautiful; it’s because the script gives the audience reasons to care about her. Case and point: The Fast and Furious films, Gal Gadot’s most prominent role prior to the Amazonian. In the films she appears in, Gadot is effortlessly charming and likeable, but patty-paper thin in regards to characterization, so when her character *spoilers* dies in Fast 6 (otherwise known as Furious 6, Fast and Furious 6, or Fas6 and F6rio6s), the audience simply thinks “Oh, no! That one girl who is the Lay’s eating Asian man died!”.
On a side note, if you can actually know her character’s name from those films without having to look it up, contact me immediately.
Good scriptwriting works in tandem with good performance, as they can effortlessly complement each other when done right. Those familiar with Cameron’s work might have noticed a quite significant omission in the beginning of the piece. As mentioned before, James Cameron is a true, icon in filmmaking. On top of that, his films have been praised for including strong, influential female characters. Sarah Connor’s character arc in his Terminator films is a stroke of genius, beginning with a timid, unconfident waitress, and concluding with a hardened and brutal badass hellbent in saving the future of the human race. Titanic’s Rose, as much as it is a meme now, is a strong independent woman who envies DiCaprio’s free spirited nature, as opposed to Billy Zane’s being Billy Zane. Even Avatar’s Neytiri, though somewhat overtly familiar, is nonetheless praised for her strong characterization. Cameron knows how to write for women (we’ll see what happens in the Avatar sequels), and none shine brighter, or have broken new ground than Ellen Ripley and this is where Aliens comes in.
While she was in the original Alien, essentially becoming the involuntary hero in the end, Ridley Scott’s characterization of her pales in comparison to Cameron’s sequel Aliens (that’s right, just make it plural and you have yourself a sequel). The sequel sees Ripley start from scarred survivor to the iconic hero who will fight an Alien Queen like it’s nobody’s business. “Get away from her, you bitch!” will forever be James Cameron’s crowning achievement. Matched with Cameron’s expert character development in his screenplay and Sigourney Weaver’s iconic, Oscar nominated performance, Aliens is a textbook study as how to develop strong, relatable and iconic female characters by never beating the audience over the head with any sort of agenda. Films without agendas, what a lost art it’s become.
Conclusively, I do fundamentally disagree with James Cameron’s criticisms of Wonder Woman. I find it to be short sighted and oddly naïve for a director known for his female leads. Though he is correct in saying Hollywood does objectify women, even to this very day, especially when those films make high box office numbers, Wonder Woman hardly feeds to the problem. Does it empower women? Yes. Is that empowerment earned? Absolutely. How? By making a modern day icon that children can look up to, not by their beauty or gender, but by her morals and conviction. James Cameron’s filmography is the epitome of that, making his comments even more confounding.
Then again, he did say Terminator: Genisys was a good movie.