Avatar Returns – Marvel’s Phase 4 Ends

There have been times in life where I have felt like I must be missing something others are seeing. Instances where at the very least, my perception is I am out on an island with my thoughts compared to the rest of the population. As if…I’m the only person who feels a certain way about something.

Like the movie “Avatar.”

But…confirmation I am not alone in wondering how it became the highest-grossing film in history comes from Jamie Lauren Keiles, who wrote a column for the New York Times Magazine titled “Avatar and the Mystery of the Vanishing Blockbuster.”

The very presence of the cereal box pictured above, recently spotted at a local grocery store, possibly begs to differ about the film vanishing from our culture. At the very least, Kellogg’s is betting “Avatar” is still – or will be once more – a big deal.

And according to Keiles, a study by the consumer-research firm MRI-Simmons found an estimated one in five American adults have seen “Avatar.” In the theatre, mind you.

In less than two weeks, the long-awaited (?) sequel to this 2009 sensation will open, “The Way of Water.”

“Of all the questions raised by “Avatar: The Way of Water,” the most pressing seems to be “who asked for this?” Through the first “Avatar” was the world’s top-grossing movie not once, but twice, reclaiming the title from “Avengers: Endgame” after a 2021 re-release in China, its most oft-cited claim to fame is its surprising lack of cultural impact. While films of similar scale and ambition – “Star Wars,” “Jurassic Park,” “Iron Man” – have spawned fandoms and quotable lines and shareable memes and licensed merchandise, “Avatar” has spawned mainly punch lines.”

“On the fifth anniversary of the film, Forbes announced, “Five Years Ago Avatar Grossed $2.7 Billion but Left No Pop Culture Footprint.” A few years later, Buzzfeed ran a quiz titled “Do You Remember Anything at All About Avatar?” challenging readers to answer basic questions like, “What is the name of the male lead character in Avatar?” and “Which of these actors played the male lead?”

No follow-up movie until thirteen years later is certainly a factor as well.

I am one of those American adults who has never seen “Avatar” in a movie theatre. It is very strange I didn’t see it when it first opened. My wife and I try to average at least one movie a week throughout the year. It was the week before Christmas…there were other movies…and the subject matter simply didn’t do anything for us even though a lot of folks were reporting how dazzling the film’s visuals were.

We eventually caught up with “Avatar” when it first debuted on cable, and while mindful we were not experiencing a fully-immersive, multi-dimensional theatre view, it still didn’t do much for us…an ok film for me. My wife? She liked it a bit less than ok.

Director James Cameron certainly crafted a spectacular world for viewers to visit, and perhaps this is as simple as people just loved the look of the movie when it came out, different to them from anything they had seen before. It should be noted Cameron’s world of Pandora is one of five “lands” within Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and apparently is not lacking for attendees even at this “late” date. That has to count for something.

“The history of recorded images might be described as an incremental quest to master the building blocks of consciousness – first sight, then motion, then sound, then color. With “Avatar,” Cameron revealed that human ingenuity could marshal even more: physics, light, dimensionality: the ineffable sense of an object being real; the life force that makes a thing feel alive.”

My wife and I are avid moviegoers. Next weekend, we’ll be sitting in an IMAX theatre with 3-D glasses on. We’ll give this sequel as good a chance as possible of winning us over…like the original film certainly did for many others.

If we’re sufficiently wowed, maybe we’ll even give the cereal a try. Hard to resist Blueberry-Flavored Blue Moons…

As for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (which began with “Iron Man” the year before “Avatar” was released), the studio has confirmed their Phase 4 of viewing concluded with the streaming release of “The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special.” I’ve documented being a bit underwhelmed about how Marvel has proceeded with their storytelling since the afore-mentioned “Avengers: Endgame.”

That being said, I recently was reading of all things a column on Fantasy Football (which I spend a ridiculous amount of time on even though the hobby is truly ridiculous…so there’s no need to elaborate further) when lo-and-behold the author took time out from his day job to list his personal Marvel Phase 4 rankings. I’m not a big list guy at all when it comes to creative enterprises, because everyone has their own unique experiences and feelings when enjoying art, music, shows, and movies. In the past I haven’t embraced award shows like the Emmys and Oscars because of that very reasoning. Yet, I do like the idea of reviewing and turning the page on Marvel as we enter the New Year so here we go…

(If you have no earthly idea what the MCU is I thank you for reading this far, and hope to see you next time. For those venturing forth, please feel free to let me know your likes and dislikes regarding these rankings…appearing here from my favorite down to my not-so-favorite)

  1. Spider-Man: No Way Home – Head and shoulders above the rest. Awesome. Great. Much love. Best Marvel effort since Endgame.
  2. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever – If I were in charge, I would have just flipped the mid-movie and end-of-movie battles. The transition in power was handled perfectly and tastefully. All involved did themselves proud.
  3. WandaVision – Took a while to get going, but eventually got there and stuck the landing. Poor Wanda.
  4. Hawkeye – The setting is at Christmas, and I do like me some Christmas. Besides, archery is cool.
  5. Loki – Wanted it to be a bit more than it was…but pretty darn good as is.
  6. Moon Knight – I’m sure I liked this way more than most, but I thought Oscar Isaac was great.
  7. Werewolf by Night – A wonderful Halloween treat (albeit a short one) which I enjoyed a lot. I want more of this in the MCU going forward.
  8. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings – Solid film until the ending, and then it fell apart for me. Still ranking it here.
  9. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness – I can’t believe I have this ranked so high, but the overall Phase 4 set a very low bar. Poor Wanda.
  10. She-Hulk: Attorney at Law – I know some will wonder why I have this ranked so high. But once I dealt with the fact this was strictly being played for laughs, I enjoyed it.
  11. Black Widow – She died, and then she got her origin story? It was fine. Ok. Thanks.
  12. Thor: Love and Thunder – Thor: Ragnarok was spectacular. But they tried to do it all over again and…no. Just. No.
  13. Ms. Marvel – I’m confident I’m not the demo they were going for, but I really liked the Jersey City half of this.
  14. The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special – A nice holiday gift for fans…but maybe just give us a solid Phase 5 next year. That would be a much better gift.
  15. Eternals – Some people probably have this ranked last. I do get it.
  16. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier – Probably way too harsh a ranking based on my ridiculously high expectations. It just didn’t connect with me.
  17. What If…? – I don’t ask “what if” anymore. I just care about what is. Hell, it’s confusing enough keeping up with all things Marvel.
  18. I Am Groot – I am not Groot, but I do love Groot…just not in this.

109 thoughts on “Avatar Returns – Marvel’s Phase 4 Ends”

  1. I’ve never seen Avatar and am not sure our kids have. Usually my wife will take them to the movie theatre when we don’t watch them at home. I used to be like you, maybe a movie a week, back when I was a bachelor and could catch the cheap weekday matinees with the empty theatres while I was pretending to be “out on assignment” at work. I know you don’t like lists of creative enterprises, but I’d be curious to know some of your all-time favorite movies (knowing that these things change and evolve over time).

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I am one of the American adults who has never seen “Avatar” in a movie theater or on cable. I haven’t seen any of the other movies on that list, either. Perhaps I am missing something (internally and/or cinematically). I enjoyed your post, so I hung on until the end. Can I get my hand stamped in case I return?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I do enjoy your writing, but I’ve not set foot in a movie theatre in a gazillion (no exaggeration!) years so have not seen any movies on your list. I did watch Brad Pitt in Bullet Train on Netflix the other night and thought he was good. Too much fast talking/mumbling in British accents for me to keep up with the plot, so I just enjoyed Brad being funny.
    So, we’ve moved on from Pumpkin Spice cereal to Avatar cereal. My, my how times have changed.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I never saw the appeal of Avatar and can’t understand the frenzy for the sequel. It will come and go without me purchasing a ticket that’s for sure. And while I love going to the movies, my spouse is a feet up on the couch type of viewer so it has to be special to get him into the theater.
    My superhero movie list is small. I liked Ironman, Deadpool, Venom, X Men and Wolverine, but it’s not really my genre.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I teeter on the verge of having a small clue about the MCU- which by the way I had no idea there was an acronym for all these movies. I am a huge fan of acronyms though so I can appreciate that effort. Not even 1 of the 18 movies you list have I seen. Same goes for probably all of the big franchise productions. This statement sums me up nicely, thank you- “my perception is I am out on an island with my thoughts compared to the rest of the population.” Fantasy, which I guess is the only way I have to describe this genre, is just not my thing at all.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I used to use them all the time at work- made it faster to write up patients surgical notes. No one else had a clue what I was writing. I suspect they often thought I was being difficult on purpose or pompous.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I thought that picture of the cereal was some photoshopped shenanigans at first. Now I’m depressed that it is real.

    As for the mcu, I plan on watching GG3 and Antman3, when they come out and then I’m done. Watched the spiderman movie but that’s it from your list. I dislike, extremely, the plan of Disney to force users to subscribe to Disney+ to watch tv shows to understand the greater picture.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I couldn’t get the iPhone out of my pocket fast enough when I saw that box. Was scared no one would believe me. I know a lot of people who have taken leave of all things MCU, and I myself was greatly disappointed when the scenario you noted here came to pass.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. The blueberry flavored blue moons look like they’d be fun to play with, or use to make jewelry and crafts, but here’s hoping (against hope) more people are eating real blueberries in their cereal instead of that stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I love Groot too! Grooooot! 😂 I also never saw Avatar in the theater, only at home but it’s a great movie. But, why the water thing? This could be a big flop for the series, right?

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Lulu: “Our Dada was also underwhelmed by that ‘Avatar’ movie. He says it looked good but the story was a bit thin.”
    Java Bean: “What? I thought Dada liked everything!”
    Lulu: “Well that’s his reputation but apparently he holds James Cameron movies to a higher standard.”
    Charlee: “Meanwhile, our Dada is still waiting for them to introduce his favorite hero into the MCU.”
    Chaplin: “Who’s that?”
    Charlee: “Somebody named Dazzler. She started out as a disco super-hero before becoming one of the X-Men.”
    Chaplin: “Hmm … I have a feeling Dada is going to be waiting a while.”

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’ve never seen Avatar or even a trailer for it, so I have no idea what the fuss is all about. Of course I’m not big on movies of that genre and take comfort in my classic films–if you do make an all-time favorite list, be sure it really does cover all time! I’d love to see your choices, old and new.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I have a friend who is really into movies. He always asks me if I’ve seen a movie or show and then remembers I don’t have a TV or watch movies. He called the other night and asked if I and seen “Wednesday”. I said no, was it the Wednesday from Adams Family. He said yes and he loves it. He’s always telling me to stop reading and get a tele.

        Liked by 2 people

      1. No. Didn’t see Avatar at the theatre. I do remember falling asleep during a showing of Out Of Africa once…Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. It was a long film, and I had worked late the night before. The movie was almost three hours long, and I didn’t quite stay awake for the whole thing. My wife “carried” me to the end!

        Like

  11. I’m a huge James Cameron fanboy, and I was there opening weekend for “Avatar” with my 3D glasses firmly in place. On a technical level, it was superb, with still the best and most immersive 3D effects, but the story just didn’t connect with me. It’s still my least favorite Cameron film, and I’m baffled that he’s chosen to spend the rest of his career on Pandora. I just rewatched the movie as I’m doing a review for my blog (to be posted next week!) and feel pretty much the same. But don’t count Cameron out when it comes to sequels, as the guy who gave us “Aliens” and “Terminator 2” usually delivers. As for your MCU Phase 4 ranking, it tracks pretty closely to mine. Although I must be one of the 5 people who actually loved “Eternals” as it was the rare Marvel movie that tried to do something different, and director Chloe Zhao crafted a gorgeous-looking film.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Dear Mr. Off the Chessboard, I can’t find a name for you on your blog.
    Should I just call you…Chess?
    Anyway, I’m not a big fan of this main genre, and a couple off the genre you mention.. However, I have seen Mrs. Marvel,Wanda Vision & Moon Knight, because they had Emmy noms and I am a voting member of the ATAS.
    If I don’t watch, I won’t vote. I stay honest to my priviledge.
    Appreciate you critique!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Nope, no idea what those initials stand for. However, since I do like spiderman rather a lot, I will have to watch this one. We’re both Groot fans, even had a little Groot plant. But guess we’ll wait for it to hit a service we have, Netflix, whatever. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. As I started to read your post, I was excited to realize I’m not the lone soul who never saw Avatar on the big screen. Frankly, I don’t get it. There are many other block buster movies that leave a lasting impact, or quotes/words that people remember long after the movie was released. Not this one, at least not for me.

    I agree with your #1 Marvel pick (Spiderman is awesome), but after that it drops quickly. Best to you, Bruce.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I could not agree more, Jennie. There are so many films that stay with you for months and years afterwards, but this was not one of them for me. I am interested to see this sequel in a theatre and see if it resonates with me. Spider-Man is awesome!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. You really hit the nail on the head here with “Avatar.” I did see it when it first came out. In the theater, even. And yet, I don’t remember a damn thing about it…other than the fact that there were blue creatures.

    Or was that the Smurfs?

    And yet, I loved me some “Iron Man” and remember that original movie very well. I don’t understand how “Avatar” grossed all that money OR how it ended up in some weird sort of cultural void.

    In any case, I have no desire to watch the sequel.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. I got my wife to go see Avatar back in 2009…she doesn’t like big movies but I do. I thought…what was the fuss about? She on the other hand surprised me and loved it. It was nice 3d…it really was…the story was good but I just didn’t see great.
    The Marvel universe. I’m well versed in. I have a 22 year old son so him and I have seen most of them at the theater. After End Game I haven’t been as impressed…like you I did like the new Spiderman and my son and I loved the appearance of Tobey Maguire…because he grew up on those. I have liked all the Guardians movies…but my biggest disappointment has been no real Hulk movies…he is my favorite but not their favorite to make single movies about.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I do think Mark Ruffalo deserves to have his own take on the Hulk in a single movie.
        You know in the Ang Lee 2003 film…it was far from perfect but there were things that I did like about it.

        Liked by 1 person

  17. I loved the Avenger phase, and did watch the post Endgame TV series, but that’s that for me, enough is enough. The spinoff movies of Thor were mildly OK but I can live without Guardians, Chris Pratt is too annoying.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I had this conversation with my sister recently who expressed dismay (Yes! Dismay!) over the fact I hadn’t seen the original and had no plans to see this one either. I couldn’t even buy her a drink to assuage her feelings because she only drinks cheap wine and I just refuse to feed that kind of habit.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Okay I’ve never seen any of the movies you listed, and have only seen bits of Avatar in the comfort of my own home. I am not a movie person anymore because of movies like these that don’t draw me it. Give me a good old rom-com any day. Any era, I’ll be happy.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. It makes sense that we’re not all enthused by Avatar in the same way. I remember being impressed by the visuals and finding the story quite moving in terms of all the things it brought to mind about the human experience and humanity as a whole. At the time I was especially open to understanding what precisely movies were trying to say beyond just entertaining us. I feel as though I received the message Avatar was trying to send. 😁 More than anything, I feel as though the plan with Avatar seems to be to give us a stunning audio-visual feast, one with truly epic proportions. At this point though, I’m mostly curious to see in which ways The Way of Water will feel worthwhile and a story that needed telling outside of just trying to wow us with visuals. I guess we’ll soon find out.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. I will not go see part 2, as I can guarantee that it will include the following: references to climate change, at least one confused transgender, references to white supremacy, references to equality and equity, a reference to gun control, and one reference to “why can’t we all just hug, kiss and sing Kumbaya”.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. So… I DID see Avatar – 2009? Really? Good gawd, I knew it was a while ago, just not that long. I enjoyed it, to be honest. But then, I like to go to movies to escape and if you can’t escape in Pandora well…. That said, I do know Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldaña as well as Sigourney Weaver played in it. So there is that 😉
    As for your list, I was frankly surprised at myself that I have seen zero of them. Though some are on my to-see list, like Black Panther. Is it me or all the ones listed follow-ups? How many Spidermans do you have to see? I saw the one with Toby Maguire and was surprised when, what, not even two years later there was a new one? What? I just cannot keep up. I do love Ironman and Thor and did see some of the movies, though not all…
    Interesting post, Bruce!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much, Dale. The movies on the MCU list are a combination of theatrical movies and streaming series that have been released since Avengers: Endgame was in theatres in 2019. I am sure a lot of casual fans passed on seeing all or at least most of these. It is a lot to keep up with. Kudos to you for knowing the stars of the original (I did also!). 2009 seems like a l-o-n-g time ago…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You have to be a Marvel fan to keep up with them all 😉 I’m a low-calibre fan 😉 It’s so weird, I remember going to see it in the theatre but I didn’t remember Mick was still with us (he died in 2014) – how odd is that? That I don’t remember, I mean.

        Liked by 1 person

  23. My sense of self and appreciation of life grew when I accepted the fact that I don’t have to ‘get,’ ‘appreciate’ or attempt to tune into everything that arrives in popular culture, Bruce. I guess it was sort of like jumping off the hamster wheel.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. There had to be a new Avatar movie to justify Disney’s Avatar themed remodeling in the Animal Kingdom at Disney World. Otherwise it’s just something that gets old and outdated. Especially since it wasn’t even done when the original movie was new.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Fantastic post, Bruce! I was quite young when Avatar was first released and was dragged to the movies by my uncles and aunts to check it out. I didn’t remember much about it till my girlfriend and I rewatched it yesterday and I can now see why this dazzled the world a decade ago. It’s definitely not a perfect movie, which makes you wonder how it went on to make so much money but word of mouth was quite powerful back in the day, before social media really took over.

    I agree about Marvel’s phase 4… What a catastrophe. They really went with the quantity over quality mentality and it was saddening to watch it unfold. I’m not done with their stuff, just like I have hope that DC will continue to deliver some amazing stuff among all the bad ones. I did giggle at some of your thoughts in your ranking at the end, especially Groot hahahah I still need to watch those Groot shorts, She-Hulk, and Miss Marvel, although all 3 got so many mixed/negative reviews that I have a hard time making time for them now. Buuuut… as a completionist… I will get around to it. Eventually. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much, Lashaan. I will be looking forward to your thoughts about those Marvel specials and series you still plan to navigate. The Groot shorts are over before you know it – easy to knock that one out. As long as you know going in it is just for laughs, She-Hulk is to me not as bad as others have reported. The fourth wall gets broken, and I think it works for the most part. Miss Marvel…1/2 of the movie is set in Jersey City and I thought that part was good…but definitely for a younger demo. I still am looking forward to all things Marvel and DC as you are. As for Avatar, I’m hoping to be wowed and we’ll see what Cameron has to offer all these years later. Like you noted social media…not just word of mouth…this time around!

      Liked by 1 person

  26. I rarely go to the movies, Bruce, and Avatar was the last one I actually saw in the theater (to give you a sense of how “rare” that is). I loved the movie even though it’s simply a retelling of Pocahantas. The visuals were dazzling, and of course, I’m a fantasy writer. I’ll wait for the new one to air on television at home only because I’ve become a hermit. My husband loves fantasy sports and Marvel movies, but those don’t do much for me for some reason. I love how we’re all so different. Makes the world go round.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Diana, that is so ironic Avatar was the last film you saw out. I hope this new one wows me…we shall see. I have become a hermit in other areas for sure, but still have that “pull” towards seeing as many movies on the big screen as time allows me. My wife and I have a lot in common (including movie-going), but also have a lot we’re quite “different” on as well.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There are some movies that “must” be seen on the big screen. I think before Avatar, the movie I insisted on seeing at the theater was “Dances with Wolves.” That was 1990! (Oh my!) I’m glad you and your wife enjoy doing that together. Keep it up!

        Liked by 1 person

  27. I’ve never watched Avatar for what is probably a stupid reason. When it came out, a co-worker and I made a $20 bet that the other would be the first to cave and watch it. He later moved to Germany, but at last check-in, he still hadn’t watched it. I don’t need $20 that badly, but I hate to lose.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, I just saw the sequel yesterday and I have to say I do “get” the love for Avatar now. When I saw the original a few years after it first came out (at home), I thought it was just ok. Yesterday, I was completely blown away with the full-on, 3D Imax presentation. Again, the story is fairly simple in design, but the execution of it with Cameron’s visuals and sound were like nothing I’ve ever seen. (I hate to lose bets also…)

      Liked by 1 person

  28. Great write up! And, Happy 2023! The older I get, the more I side with Scorsese on calling these things “theme parks.” Same MCU movie with 30 different titles. I know – harsh. However, I’ve seen too many movies to encourage me to seek something groundbreaking and less formulaic with each week. Honestly, two men farting and reaching madness on an isolated island in “The Lighthouse” is far more entertaining, funny, scary, and compelling than another CGI-infested superhero cookie cutter in which the protagonist winces to find that one extra power to defeat the bad guy in the predictable finale. Bah humbug! Haha! Let’s have an awesome year and be our own hero!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bernie, I am hoping that 2023 brings us a wide variety of films and not just “machine-made” entertainment. As much as I want the MCU to do better, I also want Hollywood to do better and provide choices other than ready-made blockbusters. Let’s be our own hero – I like that!

      Like

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