Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Movie Review: Avatar

Stars: 2 out of 5
Pros: Effects are outstanding (if already showing their age)
Cons: Shallow characters, one-sided lectures
The Bottom Line:
The effects look great
Shallow characters, lectures
Means I won’t rewatch

Effects Shine, but Can’t Hide the Lecture

I wasn’t interested in seeing Avatar when it first came out, but I’ve been curious about it over the years.  When I found it playing on TV, I decided now was the time to watch it.  Sadly, I found it disappointing.

The story is set in the future on a distant planet.  Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is a paraplegic former Marine who has been sent to the planet at the last minute to fill in for his twin brother who recently died.  Jake needs to take his place as an avatar, a specially designed creature that can be used to explore the planet.  The team is being overseen by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver).  However, the real reason they are there is to mine the planet for resources needed on Earth.  Standing in their way are the native species.

When Jake’s avatar accidentally gets separated from the rest of the team one day, he winds up making first contact with the natives in the form of Neytiri (Zoe Saldana).  Everyone thinks this is wonderful, and Jake finds himself learning all he can.  But as he does, he begins to fall in love with Neytiri and her culture.  Where do his loyalties lie?

Any discussion of this movie has to start with the effects because they are the real star.  Yes, they are a little dated now since the movie did come out in 2009 and computers and computer effects are constantly evolving.  However, they still hold out pretty well.  Many of the characters are computer generated as is the world they inhabit.  If you are looking to get lost in a visually stunning movie, this is the movie for you.

However, the story is slow.  Yes, we need some time to understand the world the movie is taking place in, both for the humans and the aliens, but I felt like there were sequences just meant to show off special effects that could have been cut to trim the movie’s length.

Worse yet, I didn’t feel like I connected with any of the characters.  It didn’t help that the aliens weren’t distinctive enough for me to easily tell them apart until late in the film.  This also meant I had a hard time keeping the humans in alien avatar’s straight at times.  There were moments where I knew I was supposed to feel something, but I just couldn’t do it.

Then there’s the villain.  Ironically, in a world where most of the characters are computer animated, he was just too cartoony.  There was no attempt to give him any depth or even any real motive.  He was just evil.

Which brings me to my biggest issue with the movie – it is a high tech, beautiful lecture.  I’m sure you can figure out the clich├ęs present – white man bad being the biggest.  But environmental issues and native’s rights issues are also present.  Now, I’m not saying that these aren’t issues worth exploring.  They do need to be discussed.  However, what we get here is a one-sided lecture without any attempts to show nuance or complexity.  I don’t watch movies to be lectured, so I didn’t enjoy the film.

Ultimately, Avatar was what I was expecting it to be.  I’m glad I watched it because I was curious about it, but I have no desire to see it again.

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