Do I need to spoiler-alert when the movie’s two years old? I assume most of you have seen this film, given it’s astounding blockbuster numbers.
I was late to the Avatar party, and I might have gone my entire life without seeing Toruk, the great leonopteryx. I do admit, it would have been quite an empty life.
Sometimes, I lag in seeing new films. It took me months to see Inception, though I loved it from afar since the first preview. Unlike Inception, Avatar never quite captured my interest. Pocahontas with aliens? Fern Gully, but the trees are replaced with magical unobtanium? Color me unimpressed.
Having finally seen James Cameron’s science fiction fantasy, I can safely say that, while I didn’t love the movie, I liked it.
Avatar is not an intellectual, densely-plotted, artistically motivated film. Avatar is a wonderful, light morality play that is easy on the eyes. The story is mediocre and predictable, at best. The visuals, however, are outstanding. James Cameron’s greatest success with this film is his intricate world-building. I can only imagine how exciting it must have been for Cameron, to see his long-thought-of fantasy come to life.
The world of Pandora is stunning. I’m glad I watched this film, if only for the lovely details. The fluorescent flowers that glow in the dark, the vase-like plants that shrink at the slightest touch, the Christmas light vines that adorn many trees.
The Hallelujah Mountains* with their waterfalls and steep cliffs are also wonderful to look at on a HD screen, even though there’s no sufficient explanation for why they exist. As a friend of mine noted, why would part of the planet randomly float up in the air and have its own electromagnetic field? It’s like saying that the rules of physics apply normally on Earth, except that there’s no gravity over Japan.
The plot is simple. Indians vs. Cowboys, but the cowboys lose. Oops, spoiler. Our hero is Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic Marine who quickly falls in love with an unrecognizable Zoe Saldana as Neytiri, one of the chosen future leaders of her people. Her people, by the way, are 10-foot-tall, blue humanoid creatures with long tails and–this is important–at least one long braid of hair.
The braids are actually integral for creating connections between the Na’vi and the planet’s animals. The same hair melding used to connect to animals is also used for mating among the Na’vi, which leads to some problematic questions.
Jake has been sent by the RDA Corporation to learn the ways of the Na’vi people, so that RDA can exploit that knowledge and use it to mine Pandora for its tasty, tasty unobtanium. Through magic future technology, Jake is able to control an avatar, a human-created Na’vi body, in order to intereact with the blue people. The Na’vi quickly accept Jake as one of their own, even though most people would be weirded out by another species being able to take on their species’ form.
American RDA troops attack. Something about betrayal. And then Jake leads the blue people to fight back.
The Westerners come in with guns-a-blarin’. They have futuristic fighter jets with rocket launchers and machine guns. Even on foot, the RDA troops are outfitted with flamethrowers, poisonous nerve gas, and supercharged mecha Transfomer-like Iron Man suits. Which come with knives, for some reason. The natives are equipped with arrows, spears, and non-fire-breathing dragon-creatures.
Though by all rules the outcome should have been certain demise for the blue people, the RDA is stymied by the mysterious electromagnetic field that blocks sensors and computer targeting systems on their weaponry. Because remember, there is no gravity in Japan.
Michelle Rodriguez’s character dies a basically pointless, non-heroic death, complete with disappointing last words. The infantry slaughter the natives on foot, as predicted. A somewhat important (but really fairly redundant) Na’vi character dies. It looks like our plucky heroes are about to bow out, when suddenly, Nature attacks.
Eywa intervenes by sending in hammerhead titanotheres and sturmbeests to fight the Americans, and a previously deadly thanator for Neytiri to mount, in a non-sexual, hair-only manner. I suppose this climactic moment must have been quite moving for less jaded audiences. However, the rising score and slow shots were a little too heavy-handed for this reviewer.
All in all, the movie was fun and featured great visuals. Avatar’s greatest gift is its message. The film allows audiences to feel good about supporting a native people against oppressive colonialists, while not actually making anyone think about any part of American history or current foreign policy.
Fact is much uglier than fiction, anyway. And the names aren’t as cool.
*Art mimics life mimics art. China has renamed the Southern Sky Column, one of the inspirations for Cameron’s Hallelujah Mountains. The new name? Avatar Hallelujah Mountains. More here.