In a rush to remove minerals from the planet Pandora, scientists trying to make peace are ignored and the natives are in danger of being killed by a corporate military. The filmmaker thinks the audience has the intellect of a fifteen year old boy, so we won't notice him punching us in the face with the theme if he makes Avatar pretty enough.
In Dances with Wolves, oh wait...what's this movie called again, oh yeah, Dances with Wolves, crap, no, Avatar, paralyzed soldier, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is sent to the hell-hole Pandora to pick up where his dead twin brother left off – the owner of an Avatar. An avatar is a body that is genetically mixed with his DNA and the DNA of the native people the Na'vi that is remote-controlled by a viewer. The science team, Dr Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) and Norm Spellman (Joel David Moore), tries diplomacy using the avatars to get the Na'vi to move away from their sacred home because the super valuable mineral unobtainium is under their home tree. Jake's first interaction with the Na'vi is with the beautiful Neytiri (Zoe Saldana). She shows him the ways of the Na'vi and she conveniently speaks English.
I hate the expectation that a theme and pretty backgrounds should be enough to make a full movie. Writer-director James Cameron beats us about the head with themes. Colonization is bad, native Americans and Africans are good, being connected with earth good, earth-raping bad, which reality is real, science brings peace, corporations bring death, there is not us and them – only us. Unobtanium is obviously a symbol for the minerals in Africa including diamonds and gold, the oil in the Middle East, and the land and gold in North America. The Na'vi are obviously inspired by African and Native American culture. When Cameron isn't beating us over the head with themes, he's using narration to use a sledge hammer and hit us on the head, making sure he can directly drip the theme onto our brain.
Cameron rips off other myths, modern and classic left and right. I spent more time spotting the myth theft than being in the story, mostly because there wasn't much story. From the time it started, it was obvious how it would end because it's so formulaic. Any attempts at drama were stereotypical, trite, petty, and completely lacking any resonating quality. Oh no – the Na'vi won't accept him. Wait, they will because of the magic tree fairies, a sign from their Mother. Will the crazy military guy with giant scars on his face be a violent fellow? I wonder. Will the scientists be overruled by the corporation? Who can predict? Yeah, I can. Want to know why? I've seen the live action version of this movie before, it was Dances with Wolves.
Generally, I don't compare movies because I don't expect my readers to have seen another movie to understand my points but it's impossible to ignore. Jake Sully is a retired Marine who is unambiguous about his loyalty to the corporate military force. Lieutenant Dunbar is a soldier. Both are exiled to the perimeters of society. Each have to interact with native people and meet a woman who speaks their language and teaches them the way. Do you think there will be a different ending?
The dialogue and acting aren't any better. The audience actually groaned as much as they rolled their eyes. It is vital to a fantasy or science fiction movie that the acting and writing be rock solid, so the audience never has to question the sincerity of the characters. Avatar doesn't give the audience the cinematic bedrock it needs. When the Avatar is live action, the acting couldn't be more mediocre. I was left completely unconvinced. It was worse when the faces of the actors are transplanted (sort of) on the avatars.
The only thing worth seeing in Avatar is the animation, and that's only worth seeing when it's up close on the faces of the Na'vi. When it is up close it is so realistic, it is almost tactile. Blemishes, pores, and oily impurities give the Na'vi and the avatars a undeniable quality. It's too bad that these close-ups are few and far between, don't last long and probably fill less than 4% of Avatar.
The rest of the movie's animation is cartoonish, flat and dull. There are times when the idea of the Pandora lends itself a bit of majesty to the scene that the animation doesn't deserve, especially the night scenes. The 3D adds nothing to the quality of the film, except in the close-up scenes.
I heard it said that this movie is the movie Cameron has wanted to make since he was a teenager and I believe it. The plot, acting, and theme-bashing are of the quality of a 15 year old boy. Uninspiring, inconsistent and dealing with it gave me a migraine.