Reviews: Avatar

Ben Vernel casts a critical eye over blockbuster Avatar:

Let me get one thing straight: Avatar is not the greatest movie of all time. Hell, it’s not even the greatest movie I’ve seen in the past week (Fantastic Mr. Fox was a hell of a lot more enjoyable than this predictable tale of giant blue cats). Everyone knows the plot of Avatar (i.e. Pocahontas In Space), but I’ll summarize it anyway; a paraplegic marine – Jake Sully, played by Sam Worthington – is sent to Pandora, a lush planet in the… in… well, it’s somewhere in some galaxy or another. We’re never told. Anyway, he’s sent there because his twin brother died and Jake is needed to drive his Avatar – a big organic costume that can only bond with the person it was created for. Or their twin brother. And he’s specifically required to deal with the Pandoran natives, the N’avi (the aforementioned giant blue cats). They live on top of a mineral deposit – something called Unobtanium – and the state of play is thus: either the scientists who run the Avatar program convince the N’avi to relocate, or the military (led and essentially personified by the insane Colonel Quaritch, played with scenery-chewing abandon by Stephen Lang) crushes them, drives them from their land, and hears the lamentation of their women.

What follows is a fairly generic hero’s journey, with Sully coming to appreciate the N’avi culture and resent the cold, calculating apathy of the humans. It’s also a blatant Native American/European settler allegory (although it’s vague enough to apply to most colonialism), a pastiche of shallow anti-war sentiment and a by-the-numbers holiday action blockbuster. With good special effects. And that’s it.

Sure, the visuals are kinda pretty, but everything else is kinda stupid. The film is full of gigantic logical fallacies, from the ridiculous ease of Sully’s induction into the Avatar program to the lack of chain-of-command in the military which allows a mere Colonel to launch a full-scale planetary invasion on a whim. Much of the movie is done purely for the sake of looking cool and with no regard to the intelligence of the audience. I’ve enjoyed fun action films before (Pirates of the Caribbean, Iron Man) and I’ve enjoyed epic science fiction before (the original Star Wars trilogy, the recent JJ Abrams Star Trek) and I had an alright time at the cinema seeing Avatar, but it wasn’t revolutionary. It wasn’t amazing. It was just alright, and more than a little stupid. The politics of Avatar are incredibly superficial, and every supposed layer of this film is about as thin and flimsy as tissue paper. Nothing has any depth except the visual world, and even that isn’t as mindblowing as I had anticipated.

Sam Worthington is serviceable as the likable protagonist Jake Sully, which is about as much praise as he’s ever deserved over the course of his career. Zoe Saldana does an ‘Andy Serkis’ in the role of Neytiri, the female N’avi with whom Sully forms a close bond. She’s alright, but as with Serkis and Gollum it’s hard to tell how much of our interest in the character is due to the actor’s performance and how much is due to the quality of the animation. Sigourney Weaver features as the head of the Avatar program and is again serviceable without being amazing. None of the actors are particularly bad – it’s the material they have to work with that falls short.

It’s just so corny. Every line is cookie-cutter simple and every stage of the plot is predictable beyond belief. There’s not a hell of a lot of suspense and there is basically no depth to any of the characters. Sully has an arc but even at the end of the almost-3 hours we still don’t really know him. If you’re looking for a dumb, pretty action movie then Avatar will satisfy but if you go in believing the exaggerated hype then prepare to leave disappointed.

– Ben Vernel

One Response to “Reviews: Avatar”
  1. Annette says:

    Good points, I think I will definitely subscribe!🙂. I’ll go and read some more!

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