I think I may be a â€œfilm snob.â€
Great way to lead off a review, right? Let me back up a moment. Months ago, when the teaser trailer for James Cameronâ€™s newest epic Avatar hit â€œthe Intardwebz,â€ I wasted no time mocking, ridiculing, and berating the film. I cranked up my petty squabbling after production stills, behind-the-scenes looks, and the full trailer were made available. Like so many other jaded movie-know-it-alls I joined in the choir of fanboys shouting â€œTHEY LOOK LIKE GIANT SMURFS!!!â€ Then it hit me â€“ I was bashing a film I HADNâ€™T SEEN YET. Now, not many of you out there know me, but one thing I try to do when it comes to films is to give all movies a fair chance to entertain me. And so, as unbiased as I could be, I saw Avatar. Did it exceed my expectations, or was I right to mock this movie? Take the jump and find out!
Starring: Sam Worthington, ZoÃ« Saldana, Stephen Lang, Sigourney Weaver
Director: James Cameron
Company: Lightstorm Entertainment/20th Century Fox
(Just a headâ€™s upâ€¦ I will most likely go into some kind of spoilers with this review. Yes, I know the siteâ€™s called Major Spoilers, and release â€œspoilersâ€ is pretty much what we do around here, but seriously, if you have any plans to see this flick, donâ€™t read my review right now. Bookmark it, go see Avatar, then come back and read this. Youâ€™ve been warned.)
Avatar is the story of Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), an ex-Marine who has been taken off the battle field due to a battle wound that has left him paralyzed from the waste down. What battle, you ask? We donâ€™t really know. Anyway, Sully is recruited for a mission to Pandora, a planet that from space looks an awful lot like Earth. See, Earth is in the middle of an energy crisis (â€¦ really?), and Pandora is chock full of a mineral called â€œunobtainiumâ€ (â€¦really?) we so desperately need toâ€¦ solve our crisis. How? Again, we never really know.
Unfortunately, that largest deposit of unobtainium is nestled under the most populated â€œHometreeâ€ of Pandoraâ€™s indigenous people, the Naâ€™vi. The Naâ€™vi are 10 feet tall, blue-skinned, and fairly cat-like. One interesting feature is that they all have a long braid of hair that contains what is believed to be part of their brain stem, which allows them to â€œplug intoâ€ all manner of plants, animals, the ground, each other, etc. essentially, they all have USB ports.
This is where Sully comes in. Heâ€™s been pushed into the â€œAvatar Program,â€ a scientific installation funded by the energy company who uses Naâ€™vi and human DNA to create artificial Naâ€™vi bodies that â€œpilotsâ€ can plug into and use. These avatars are used, in theory, to attempt to negotiate peace between the Naâ€™vi and the humans. Sullyâ€™s been thrown into this not for his military expertise, but because his twin brother was a leading member of the teamâ€¦ until he was killed, that is (donâ€™t bother finding out why). Because their DNA matched, Sully can effectively use his brotherâ€™s avatar, much to the disdain of the project head (Sigourney Weaver, channeling a giant blue Jane Goodall).
The last bit of background we need to cover is the militaryâ€™s surly commander (Stephen Lang). This guy doesnâ€™t want peace. This guy doesnâ€™t like science. He doesnâ€™t really care about the energy crisis. He just wants to blow up some Naâ€™vi. And, as luck would have it, an ex-Marine who also doesnâ€™t care for science can now effectively integrate himself into the Naâ€™vi tribe. The commander temps Sully with the promise of a cure for his paralysis in exchange for detailed reconnaissance of the â€œalienâ€ settlement.
After that, the plot of the film is pretty much by-the-numbers. Sully joins the tribe, learns their ways, reports to the commander, eventually learns to love the Naâ€™vi, learns to REALLY love the chiefâ€™s fierce warrior and future priestess daughter (ZoÃ« Saldana), turn against the military, and mounts an attack that eventually forces the Earth military off Pandora. With films like this, thereâ€™s really only two ways it could wrap up, and Iâ€™m sure some of you know what Iâ€™m talking about. I wonâ€™t give it away, but hereâ€™s a hint: Sully doesnâ€™t die. Not even close to it.
Once upon a time, I wrote that for me, essentially, a film canâ€™t run on stunning visuals alone. And after seeing Avatar, I stand by that statement. Take a minute to let it sink in. I just said I didnâ€™t fully enjoy Avatar. Quick everyone, grab your pitchforks!
The CGI is, of course, nearly flawless. You can really see where the $300 million went with this one. The foliage is lush, the waterfalls are breathtaking, and the landscapes are amazing. The Naâ€™vi come off as about as believable as CGI can get. But computer graphics will never match the realism ofâ€¦ well, realism. Itâ€™s like the movie Westworld â€“ the scientists build nearly human-like androids, but they were just â€œoffâ€ enough to be noticeable as inhuman. I canâ€™t fault this movie for not being completely realistic; they came as close as theyâ€™re ever going to get to real life. Good job, CGI team. Good job.
The problem I have with Avatar is the story. Have you seen the movie Dances with Wolves? How about the Last Samurai? Fern Gully? Well, if you have, then youâ€™ve seen Avatar. Honestly, while watching this film, I found myself constantly predicting what would happen in the following scenes, and about 90% of the time guessing right. And when I got to the last scene with Weaver (if youâ€™ve seen it, youâ€™ll know what Iâ€™m talking about), I already deduced the end of the movie. An ending that was still 40-50 minutes down the line. If youâ€™re the director of what could possibly be the biggest film of the decade, you should make it a point to not let this happen.
Speaking of the director, Avatar has the stink of â€œLook-at-me-Iâ€™m-James-Cameronâ€ all over it. Everything is taken incredibly serious, so serious that even the â€œcomic reliefâ€ character is stoic. I know Cameron was trying to parallel Avatar with what we did to the Native Americans all those years ago. I know he was trying to make a statement about the militaryâ€™s bloodthirsty ways and our compulsive need to consume everything, even that which is not ours. I know he was trying to be DEEP. I found it kind of pretentious.
The acting was pretty good, more or less. Sam Worthington can go from bumbling and clueless to fearless and heroic in the blink of an eye, which takes talent. Now only if he could work on his American accent. ZoÃ« Saldana is excellent as Neytiri, or at least her voice work and motion capture acting is. As I said earlier, Weaver is definitely channeling Jane Goodall for this role, and she does a great job. Our â€œcomic relief,â€ played by Joel Moore, was almost unneeded, only popping up here and there to say â€œHey guys, Iâ€™m part of this film too,â€ much like Biggs from Star Wars: A New Hope. Special mention goes to Stephen Lang, who, while incredibly 2-dimensional (ironic, seeing as this is a 3D film), is amazing to watch. He just oozes â€œbad guy.â€ And Iâ€™ll be honest here, as much as I love Samuel L. Jackson and am pumped for him to be in the next few Marvel films, I wish this guy would have been cast as Nick Fury. Seriously. Go see this move, come back, and try to tell me he wouldnâ€™t make a perfect 616 Fury. Just try.
In closing, Iâ€™ll wrap up my feelings on Avatar with a little Christmas analogy: you could have the most amazing-looking present under the Christmas tree, with intricate wrapping paper, perfect bows, flawless seams, and just the right amount of tape holding it together, but if the present is empty, at the end of the day youâ€™re just stuck with an empty box. And while I applaud the film for its groundbreaking effects, I just canâ€™t see myself getting behind the story. Your mileage may vary, but Iâ€™m going to have to give Avartar 2 Â½ stars out of 5.