James Cameron Would Be Hesitant To Make A Film As Violent As The Terminator Today

James Cameron's greatest strength as a filmmaker is his ability to emotionally connect to general audiences despite the massive scale of his technologically innovative blockbusters. His newest feature, "Avatar: The Way of Water" is currently the biggest movie in the world, already racing past the 1 billion mark after two weeks. Despite having deep roots in bloody, R-rated action movies like "Aliens," the ambitious director believes that, looking back, some of his films have in fact been too violent. 

Specifically, Cameron is referring to the heavy dependence on gun violence featured in his previous films, particularly the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicles "Terminator 2: Judgement Day" and "True Lies." In an interview with Esquire Middle East, Cameron confessed that the "gratuitous depiction" of gun violence "[has] no place in moral moviemaking in the current state of the world," and that upon reflection, there are plenty of scenes in his filmography that he would approach differently now.  

"I look back on some films that I've made, and I don't know if I would want to make that film now. I don't know if I would want to fetishize the gun, like I did on a couple of 'Terminator' movies 30+ years ago, in our current world," Cameron shared. "What's happening with guns in our society turns my stomach."

It's surprising to see such a famously confident (some might even say cocky) director walk back on some of his creative choices. However, if you've been paying attention to the way Cameron's interests have developed as his career progresses, there's quite a logical trajectory to be found here. For decades, Cameron has been known for pushing modern film technology to the cutting edge. But more recently, he's also become an outspoken advocate for environmentalism and other humanitarian issues.

Avatar represents all of Cameron's artistic tastes

Make no mistake, Cameron has never been an apolitical filmmaker — from the anti-colonialism of "Aliens" to the exploration of the morality of tech in "Terminator 2." Cameron recently told Esquire Middle East that "I'm happy to be living in New Zealand where they just banned all assault rifles two weeks after that horrific mosque shooting a couple of years ago." But his political push forward in the "Avatar" franchise was particularly informed by parts of the filmmaker's own personal life. In 2012, Cameron and his family decided to switch to a vegan diet, out of a concern for sustainability and lowering their overall carbon footprint. 

The world of "Avatar" comprises many of Cameron's cinematic trademarks, but its fantastical, escapist depiction of Pandora and the spiritual denizens who protect it are representative of his own environmentalist politics. One can argue its sequel, "The Way of Water," is one big statement to "save the whales!" Cameron's even brought his newfound disgust with gratuitous gun violence into the "Avatar" sequel:

"I actually cut about 10 minutes of the movie targeting gunplay action. I wanted to get rid of some of the ugliness, to find a balance between light and dark. You have to have conflict, of course. Violence and action are the same thing, depending on how you look at it. This is the dilemma of every action filmmaker, and I'm known as an action filmmaker."

Cameron can find thrill and spectacle outside of gun violence

Sensibilities change; it's only natural for an artist to evolve after going through many iterations of their career. What's most impressive about Cameron as a filmmaker is that even though he has developed a distaste for gratuitous violence, he's inventive enough to find thrills, tension, and spectacle without it.

The proof of this is all in the direction of "Avatar: The Way of Water." Guns, explosions, and violence still abound on Pandora, but they're heavily associated with the villains of the story: the predatory human colonies trying to seize control of Pandora and its natural resources via slaughter of the Na'vi people. The protagonist, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), sometimes uses guns to protect his family, but he is a true hero when he fights like the Na'vi, using their ancient weaponry and spiritual instincts in combat. "Avatar" is Cameron's environmentalist fantasy, where nature prevails over destructive human technology. 

Despite all the thrilling action sequences, what's really a joy to watch in both "Avatar" films are the natural wonders of Pandora. The mystical sunsets, diving sequences with magical alien fish, and the relationship between a young Na'vi boy and a whale are bits of cinematic spectacle that truly shine over any battlefield set piece.