Directed by James Cameron and starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana and Sigourney Weaver, Avatar is a famous 2009 science fiction film that is one of the highest-grossing movies in history. People usually either hate it or love it, but I am just in the middle. It is a solid movie, neither bad nor particularly good.
First, the story. And yes, this is of course where Avatar fails miserably. The colony after the mine of the indigenous people is the conflict here, the natives versus the technologically advanced newcomers. It is such a familiar concept that was seen million times before. ‘Dances with Wolves‘, ‘Pocahontas‘, ‘Ferngully‘… The list goes on and on.
But that is not why the story is so weak because many films these days are clichéd in one way or another, that is expected, especially in blockbusters. However, what is not okay is to have a story that is also predictable to death. That was the biggest red flag for me here. The protagonist is a good guy who is also disabled and somehow gets to go on this mission, he meets the extraterrestrial tribe Na’vi in order to ask for the permission to mine their environment, but he falls in love with one of them, he learns their ways, they later learn of his betrayal and you have the conflict and he later redeems himself and becomes the hero while in the end becoming a true member of their society. Yes, all of that actually happened in this movie which is crazy. Literally one expected turn after an expected plot point. That predictability and overall familiarity and laziness of the script hurts the movie the most.
As for the characters, they are okay developed. Jake Sully is a typical protagonist and although solidly developed, his story is way too familiar as well as his conflict and he was sometimes annoying in his arrogant behavior. Neytiri is a typical love interest in that she hopelessly falls in love with our lead and she never gets much development, but she’s a strong female character nevertheless and that is great. The highlight is an exobiologist Grace who is not only the most human but also the most likable as well as realistic character depicted here. As for Colonel Miles, well, he is the worst. He is the archetypical villain who will stop at nothing to get to his goal even if it means destroying the whole race of people. That evil determination and cartoony behavior definitely makes him the weakest character and he ruined the whole movie along with the plot as he is so laughably idiotic and childish.
The acting is quite solid for this kind of film. Sam Worthington never quite made a career after Avatar which is strange, but he is good here and quite serviceable in the lead role. Zoe Saldana is also stupendous and of course Sigourney Weaver is simply excellent in her delivery. All of the actors did a perfectly fine job in their roles.
Now, the movie of course looks ridiculously good. The special effects are extraordinary. They are groundbreaking for better and for worse. The stuff in space, the weapons and technology and the natural scenery all look terrific. However, the Na’vi look too polished as is some flora and fauna of the planet which look too shiny and you definitely see it is CGI which is never a good thing. I honestly think that however great and revolutionary the effects are here, the movie will not age well which is noticeable even now. That is mostly because it is too much animated and computerized to the point where you consider whether or not this is a live-action movie. Or a movie at all. What am I talking about? Well, there were many times while watching Avatar that I literally thought that I was watching a video game which is weird and definitely not good. The colors, the animation and for the most part lack of human characters as well as many action sequences executed in video game manner make it look like a game with graphics instead of a film with effects. But it looks good no matter what and it definitely works to the movie’s advantage.
No matter how much critics praise the effects, to me that is not the strongest technical aspect here. That would have to be the cinematography which is surprisingly good with some simply stunning scenery and incredibly memorable and colorful imagery regarding especially the planet’s flora and heights. But that scenery is accompanied with superb score that takes the movie to the next level. It is perfectly fitting in style to the movie’s themes and setting and it is simply beautiful. It is also very nicely in tune with the film’s action going from awe-inspiring during the skydiving scenes to war-like during the conflict to uplifting during the happy ending. And the movie is very well directed as well.
But the editing is awful. There was no need for this to be a three hour movie. Yes, it is epic, but at least half an hour should have been cut out and there were evident dragged scenes where the editing floor failed to do their part. Now, regarding the movie’s script, there is one more thing that bugged me out and that is of course the whole scene with the tree which seems as if directly copied from ‘Pocahontas’. That should have never happened. You can borrow themes, but taking whole scenes is just ridiculous.
As for the imagination of the movie, it is a double-edged sword. The alien design is just awful, not only completely borrowed from ‘Fantastic Planet’ both in extra height and blue color, but also ridiculous with the tail and the hair. And it once again looks too video game like, too comic-booky and too cartoony again contributing to the feeling of not watching a live-action film. But the flora and fauna is mostly imaginative and well depicted. The fluorescent plants and their design and vivid colors are great and the animals are mostly good, although the flying creatures look too much like dragons. But what is terrific is the attention to detail which is evident, especially in the creation of a whole new language for Na’vi. Usually in these movies, the aliens would speak English, but here they not only have their language but the language is fairly well thought out and executed which is a nice touch.
I also liked how the movie takes its time to get there. It has great build-up and the first third or so where they just arrive on the planet is perfect introducing you to the characters and story without a single action shot. But the second half is unfortunately the opposite and filled with too much endless action and the war should have been reduced a lot. As for the themes, they are great and it is, however familiar, also a bit original in approach. Usually the aliens are more advanced and they come to our planet, thus this opposite approach is quite welcome. The ecological and political message along with the childish dialogue is handled too simplistically, if intended for children and it is at times even a bit preachy. But the movie looks incredible and the highlights are the scenes in the sky with breathtaking visuals and music. The emotional investment is also quite solid and the movie starts and wraps up wonderfully.