Review: Avatar

PLOT: A paralyzed Marine, Jake Scully (Sam Worthington), is given the chance to walk again when he’s recruited for a top-secret program involving the exploitation of an alien planet. Scully’s assignment is to infiltrate the planet’s indigenous population, called the Navi, through the use of a lab-grown, Navi body, which he will be able to control with his mind. After several months living among the Navi, Scully’s sympathies begin to shift, especially after he falls in love with a beautiful Navi warrior (Zoe Saldana).

REVIEW: First, the good news. AVATAR is much better than the under-whelming trailers would suggest, and it’s nowhere near the disaster some have been pegging it to be. It’s a solid, exciting, sci-fi action adventure. And now, for the bad news. Anybody expecting another classic from James Cameron is going to be sorely disappointed, as this ain’t it.

Truth be told, I find it hard to believe that after taking twelve years to make a follow up to TITANIC, this is the best James Cameron can do. I mean, c’mon folks- this is James friggin’ Cameron we’re talking about! THE TERMINATOR, ALIENS, THE ABYSS, T2, TRUE LIES, heck, as much as I hate to admit it, even TITANIC kicked ass! AVATAR, while a perfectly fine flick, doesn’t even begin to compare to his other films. While it`s certainly cutting edge, it feels like too much time was put into working out the visual side of the film, and not enough spent on substance. Emotionally, this felt hollow. It should have been stirring, but it`s not. Rather, this just feels like a sci-fi reworking of DANCES WITH WOLVES/ THE LAST SAMURAI, and, cutting edge VFX aside, nothing you haven`t seen before. Cameron`s been promising for years that this would be THE film event of the decade, but as far as I`m concerned, it doesn`t even come close.

In the highly hyped role that’s been tipped to make him the next big action star, Sam Worthington comes across a lot better than he did in TERMINATOR: SALVATION. However, I’m still not sold on the guy as a star. Sure, he’s decent, but he totally lacks star power, and comes off as a very bland hero. I think an actor with a lot more presence was needed here, and if you compare him to former Cameron heroes like Schwarzenegger, or Michael Biehn, he can’t hold a candle to them. Co-star Zoe Saldana fares a lot better as the Navi love-interest. Even though we never see the real Saldana, her voice and motion captured mannerisms were enough to make an impression on me, and after this, and her work in STAR TREK, I have a feeling we’ll be seeing a lot of her in the years to come. She does a lot with a thinly written role, and at times, I almost wished she was the lead as opposed to Worthington.

However, the real star-power here comes in the form of Ellen Ripley herself, Sigourney Weaver. Cameron directed her to an Oscar nomination in ALIENS, and while I don’t think they’ll pull that off here, she’s terrific in a strong supporting turn as the compassionate scientist in charge of the Avatar program (and yes, she gets an Avatar of her own). Her character comes into conflict with the baddies, led by an appropriately smarmy corporate goon Giovanni Ribisi (although he’s a little too mustache-twirlingly evil at times), and a pumped up Stephen Lang, who plays the battle-scared, cruel marine in charge of displacing the Navi. Lang does a good job in his second solid performance this year (after his juicy role in PUBLIC ENEMIES), but he gets a lot of eye-rollingly bad dialogue, which leads me to my big problem with the film: the script.

No one’s ever accused James Cameron of being a top notch writer. Heck, the dialogue in TITANIC was atrocious at times, but the film more than made up for any script shortcomings in spectacle. While AVATAR aspires to do the same thing, I couldn’t get past how cliched and predictable the film seemed, especially compared to the recent, similarly themed DISTRICT 9, which is a far superior piece of work. From the first five minutes of the film, you’ll know exactly where this is going- right up to the predictable ending.

Another issue I had with the film was the generic, all-too-familiar musical score by James Horner who continues to steal from his earlier work (some cues sounded like they were lifted directly from ALIENS). I also didn’t care for the theme song by Leonna Lewis, which, I suppose, they’re hoping will be the next ‘My Heart Will Go On’ (I doubt it).

Flaws aside, I still would have to say I enjoyed AVATAR. My biggest fear walking into it was that I wouldn’t be able to get past the CGI Navi’s, as I never liked the blue fairy design, but after an hour or so, I started to get sucked into the Navi world. It should also be said that the effects come across a lot stronger in 3D than they do in the conventional 2D trailers. I didn’t get a chance to see the film in IMAX 3D, but even in the slightly less impressive Digital 3D version, this was still a very immersive, visually stunning experience, and is easily the best use of the 3D process that I’ve seen to date.

In the end, AVATAR is not the kick-ass, mind-blowing James Cameron movie I was hoping for, but it’s a perfectly serviceable sci-fi adventure that’s well worth seeing, despite it’s flaws. While I doubt this will catch on like TITANIC, it’s still good to have James Cameron back directing movies, and I hope we don’t have to wait another twelve years for his next film.

* NOTE: Wow, just under a month later- I guess I was wrong about it not catching on like TITANIC, eh? While I stand by my review, obviously I REALLY underestimated it’s box office performance. Alas- no one’s ever accused me of being psychic…
RATING: 7/10

Review: Avatar



About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.