FRIDAY NIGHT MOVIE REVIEW: “Avatar” stars Sam Worthington (Terminator Salvation, Clash of the Titans), Zoe Saldana (Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Trek ), Sigourney Weaver (Alien , Ghostbusters ), Michelle Rodriguez (The Fast and the Furious, Widows), Stephen Lang (Don’t Breathe, Manhunter ), Giovanni Ribisi (Boiler Room, Selma), Joel David Moore (Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, Forever [TV series]), CCH Pounder (The Shield [TV series], RoboCop 3), Wes Studi (The Last of the Mohicans, Mystery Men), Laz Alonso (The Boys [TV series], Wrath of Man), and Dileep Rao (Inception, Drag Me to Hell). It is written and directed by James Cameron (Titanic, Terminator 2: Judgement Day).
Jake Sully (Worthington), a handicapped Marine, is dispatched on a foreign planet called Pandora to aid in the research and mining of a precious mineral for large profit. It is only when his conscious is transferred into a scientifically engineered body of Pandora’s native species that his morals are tested.
With the long-awaited sequel finally hitting theaters, I thought I’d go back in time to 2009 to see just how much this film about blue cat people holds up.
James Cameron is a visionary. Whether you like the guy or not, the man has utilized cinema to push the envelope of technology. Almost every picture he has produced has included some sort of advancement that has revolutionized the way we do film, all the while offering audiences a true cinematic experience. With “Avatar,” he broke the barrier of motion-capture and in turn broke the box office by becoming the highest grossing movie of all time (only to be dethroned ten years later by “Avengers: Endgame”). Everyone was talking about it: the floating rocks, life-like blue people (Na’vi), and how much more incredible it is to see it in 3D. Thankfully, I got to see it in theaters (in 3D!) when it first released in 2009, and while I don’t recall much of that evening, I do know that it blew my small mind away. Twelve years later, I had still yet to rewatch it… until now.
Obviously, we have to approach the aspect of visuals with this feature. Twelve years after its initial release and this movie still holds up with its CGI. The landscapes are downright beautiful (and all the more life-like), the animals are awesome, and the Na’vi are simply unreal. Granted, this film has shown a bit of age. Certain shots involving green screen backgrounds on practical sets are not as seamless, and there were a few scenes of the Na’vi that resembled what we’d find in current Marvel flicks that didn’t have much time to properly make the animations realistic. Which… is still enough of a reason to say that this film was ahead of its time.
Technically, this is a cinematic achievement to behold. The story, on the other hand, is what causes contention. As a kid, I didn’t have much film know-how; I hadn’t seen everything, so even the most blatant rip-offs of more well-known movies could be revolutionary to me. “Avatar” has been often summed up as “Dances with Wolves” in space. The similarities are certainly there, particularly the aspect of a man showing great empathy to another kind (or race) that he joins him in the fight against his own. There’s nothing new under the sun, people. The kernel story theme may be the same, but the execution and world around it offers enough to separate it (at least in my opinion). Jake Sully’s journey is an interesting one, mainly on a visual level. Seeing him learn the culture of the Na’vi is easily the greatest strength of this tale and Cameron has crafted an exciting world for us to explore.
The acting in this is fairly solid. Zoe Saldana absolutely crushes it, as she truly is the leading lady of motion capture/special effects. Her performance as Neytiri is fantastic and is easily the best role of the flick. The rest of the ensemble is made up of rather interesting choices, with the woman from “Aliens” (Sigourney Weaver), the guy from “Dodgeball” (Joel David Moore), the girl from the “Fast and Furious” franchise (Michelle Rodriguez), and a leading man you’ve never seen before (Sam Worthington). For years, I hopped on a bandwagon opinion about Worthington regarding his acting capabilities. The bandwagon? He’s not a good actor. I’ve seen him in a few films since “Avatar,” and I will admit that the guy doesn’t give much. As Jake Sully he does a solid job, though his face doesn’t bring that much life to the role. At least, his human self. His Na’vi counterpart is better, which he did do the motion-capturing for; I think that makes up for the other half. Everyone else in this held their own. I love Sigourney Weaver and she knocked it out of the park. Stephen Lang as a villain was a great choice, too, as the guy is simply awesome. He played the stereotypical combat sergeant well.
Is “Avatar” the greatest picture of all time? No. The story works and offers intriguing themes of spirituality, but I didn’t connect with it as deeply as I (or James Cameron) would have wanted. As a kid, I simply enjoyed the visual spectacle of it all, and that’s what I did this go-around. Not to mention enjoy the masterclass score by James Horner; sure, it has similarities to “The Lion King” in my mind, but man is it great nonetheless. If you haven’t seen this movie, I would recommend it. At the very least, it’s worth witnessing a pivotal moment in cinema history. FINAL SCORE: 90%= Juicy Popcorn
Here is the trailer: