I’d be lying if I said I knew where to start when it comes to writing this review. How do you dissect a world so carefully created and beautifully rendered? I feel like a biologist standing scalpel in hand over the body of one of the fantastical creatures featured in Avatar, with absolutely no idea what I’m doing.
For starters, let me tell you why movies like Avatar usually fail to impress me, because the reason is fairly simple. Usually in movies of this nature, where the protagonist is transported to another world and interacts with an alien species, that protagonist is some dorky, reluctant hero, usually a scientist who’s clumsy and bashful and unable to assert himself at the beginning of the movie, but who by the end has found the courage and fortitude to stand up to the bad guys and thus realise his own self worth.
Not so with Avatar. The protagonist in the movie is a marine, Jake Sully (played by Australian actor Sam Worthington) a grunt who is paralysed in combat back on Earth, but decides to stay in service when the army offers to recruit him for the project his twin brother was working on on the distant planet of Pandora.
Jake is instantly likeable as a character because of how he refuses to let his disability affect his life in any way. It’s part of the magic that writer and director James Cameron (who’s previous bests include Terminator 2 and Titanic) weaves to lure you into the world of Avatar.
It’s a fairly straightforward premise, if you can get the audience to connect with your protagonist as early as possible in the film, they will follow him, become emotionally invested in him and thus become emotionally invested in the film itself.
Well, from his opening lines as he comes out of cryonic suspension after the trip to Pandora, I liked Jake Sully.
From there, Cameron starts setting the stage for this epic ‘space opera’ as some critics have called it and in a series of well executed opening scenes we learn that the humans who have arrived and set up military headquarters on Pandora have done so because they want to mine a mineral called ‘unobtainium’.
The largest deposit of this mineral on the planet occurs right underneath a gigantic, 150 meter tall tree (known as the ‘Hometree’) where a tribe of the local inhabitants, an alien species called the Na’vi, have lived in peace for thousands of years.
In an attempt to learn their culture, gain favour with them and ultimately persuade them to move so that mining operations can begin, human scientists developed the Avatar program whereby human and Na’vi DNA is combined to create Na’vi bodies that have identical neural structures to their human counterparts, thus making it possible to transfer a human mind into a Na’vi body.
Jake is chosen for the program because his twin brother’s DNA was used to create an Avatar at great cost to the military and so, instead of letting the Avatar go to waste, they decide to use Jake to ‘drive’ it and act as a bodyguard to Dr Grace Augustine (Sigorney Weaver) in her efforts to re-connect with the Na’vi and further her peaceful attempts to learn as much as possible about Pandora, the Na’vi and their culture.
Once Cameron has laid these basic foundations, believe me, you will be more than willing to follow him anywhere. My disbelief was suspended in less than 10 minutes into the film and from that point I willingly let myself become completely immersed in the breath-takingly beautiful world that is Pandora.
I watched Avatar in 3D and the most amazing thing about the experience is that when I think back on it, I don’t remember it as a movie, but rather like some kind of intensely beautiful dream I had.
Everything on the planet of Pandora is connected through a kind of biological neural network, a system where energy is consciously transferred, conserved and shared in a far more efficient way than the synthesized manner in which humans do it.
Thus a kind of perfect balance is achieved and almost effortlessly maintained, that is, until humans arrive and fuck everything up.
The jungles of Pandora are like nothing you have ever seen before, they are literally teeming with thousands of plant and animal species. At night the jungles light up with glowing phosphorescent algae and plants, making everything look like the best imaginable acid trip anyone could ever wish for.
Avatar is also one of those rare movies where you are never bored watching it. With every scene, the movie turns, the stakes are raised and you are drawn further and further into the story.
What’s also rare about Avatar is the fact that at the movie’s climax you really, really hate the humans and everything they stand for, which is a stroke of genius on Cameron’s part because Avatar is actually a powerful piece of social commentary about mankind’s propensity toward ignorance and destruction and our complete detachment with the natural world.
Sam Worthington does an adequate job of playing Jake Sully, however, his American accent slips continuously throughout the movie, which can be a bit irritating if you pick it up. Sigorney Weaver really shines in her role as Dr Augustine though, the no nonsense biologist with a genuine interest in the well-being and preservation of the Na’vi people, but my favourite actor in the movie was Stephen Lang, who plays Security Chief Miles Quaritch.
You just can’t help but admire Lang’s character because the sunuvabitch just. Doesn’t. Die. He’s a giant asshole throughout the movie, but when it comes time to kill he opens up a can o’ whupass that would leave John McClane whimpering in a corner.
Zoë Saldaña also puts on a noteworthy performance as Neytiri, the princess of the Na’vi tribe (and yes, there is actually a person acting underneath all the blue-skinned CGI) and Michelle Rodriguez is excellent as Trudy Chacon, the badass, wise-cracking marine pilot who sides with Jake and the Na’vi when the shit starts hitting the fan.
As for the plotline itself, there are people out there who are criticising it for being overused, but to all those naysayers, all I can say is open your eyes. Hollywood only has 32 scripts that it keeps on permanent rotation, EVERY Hollywood blockbuster follows a plotline that is overused, they have no choice because if you completely discard the structure and formula of the genre in which you’re working there’s an 80% chance mainstream audiences will hate your film.
Cameron’s execution of what has become a fairly standard Hollywood story of zero to hero is immaculate and from a structural point of view, he hits every story beat perfectly and keeps the story lean and mean from start to finish.
Trust me, you will walk out of Avatar emotionally drained in the best possible way, you will marvel at how powerful Cameron’s imagination is and most important of all, you will come out of that theatre thoroughly entertained.
In a world of over-sensationalised violence and gratuitous sex in films that are badly scripted and haphazardly constructed, Avatar really stands out as a piece of film that, even if it’s in a small way, makes the world of film and popular entertainment a better place.
To sum up, my Girlfriend, J-Rab said it best – this movie will leave images in your mind that you will be happy to look back on and for that reason alone, I would highly recommend watching it.
Final Verdict: 9/10