Rated PG-13 for intense epic battle sequences and warfare, sensuality, language and some smoking.
Avatar was a good film with terrific visuals but not a lot of heart.
In the not-so-distant future, Earth is going through a severe energy crisis. The key to solving that crisis lies on Pandora, where there is a mineral called Unobtainium. For years humans have been trying in vain to get the natives, known as Na'vi, to allow them to get this rare material. Now, the humans have grown tired of doing things the 'right' way and are ready for war. Because the Pandoran atmosphere is toxic to humans, they've created an Avatar program which allows them to link their consciousness with a Na'vi avatar. This allows them to walk freely on the planet. Jake Sully, a paralyzed veteran has been chosen to control an avatar. He has dual missions. Working with scientists, he has been asked to get to know the Na'vi, to become one of them and try and negotiate a resettlement. The military however wants Jake to learn the secrets of the Na'vi strongholds so that they may overrun them when war comes. At first, Jake is more than happy to reveal the Na'vi ways and give the military all they need. But the more time he spends with his new friends, especially the beautiful Neytiri, the more he comes to understand them. Now it is up to him to try and stop the military from destroying Pandora and save the Na'vi from extinction.
I don't think there has been a movie more hyped than Avatar in years. Considering James Cameron hasn't directed a film since Titanic, which just so happens to be the highest grossing film in history, it's not a huge surprise that his follow-up (10 years later) is a big deal. So does it live up to the hype? Well, yes and no. Visually, it is a tremendous feat with CGI and 3D effects that at times will blow you away. But the story is overly long and not very interesting. Cameron, who also wrote the film (among other jobs) isn't well known as a screenwriter, so it was kind of expected that the story and dialogue wouldn't be outstanding. He is much better known as an innovator; someone who has the ability to see things that others don't. And visually, this film is head and shoulders above most others.
The movie starts right in the middle of the action. Jake arrives on Pandora, not having any idea what he's in for. His brother was the one who was trained for the Avatar mission, but when he died, Jake was asked to fill in. This is because the human-avatar hybrid is based on human DNA and so Jake has the unique ability to simply step right in to his brother's avatar. For Jake, the experience is tremendous because living through his avatar gives him the ability to walk, which is something he can no longer do in real life. Being a former military man himself, when he's asked by the Colonel to infiltrate the Na'vi and report back, he's more than willing to help. But, as is usually the case, he falls for a girl and his world changes. The movie then becomes about Jake trying to stop what he's started and save the Na'vi while falling in love. It's a story we've seen a thousand times, the difference is that the love is happening between two different species, even if Jake happens to look like one. But to each his own I suppose.
Visually, the movie captures you immediately. The CGI in the film is beyond anything you've ever seen before. The lush Pandoran landscape, the creatures, the Na'vi - they're all brilliantly done. If they Na'vi weren't big blue humanoids and all you saw was the landscape, you'd have no idea it was CGI. It is as close to realistic as you'll ever find. Couple that with the 3D effects and you feel like you're literally in the same world as the characters. However after a while, the awe was gone and I was waiting to be entertained. The scenes with the humans at the military/science base were OK. Because so much of the background was CGI and because 3D makes people feel smaller on screen, at times I felt like I was watching a movie at Disney World. Luckily, most of the movie takes place in the all-CGI world of Pandora.
The action sequences were out of this world, and this is where the movie really comes to life. When Jake first enters the Pandoran wilderness, he's chased by a dinosaur looking creature through the forest and into the woods. The camera flies through the forest as you almost become Jake, running along with him as he tries to lose the creature behind him. Then there are the training sequences with Neytiri where Jake learns how to run through the trees, and fly through the air. And then of course there's the ultimate highlight of the movie - the end sequence where war finally breaks out between the humans and the Na'vi. The battle sequence at the end may go down in history with the likes of Helm's Deep as the greatest action moment you'll see on film. It was truly edge-of-your seat excitement for the last 20-25 minutes of the movie with humans and Na'vi going head to head in a battle for the future of Pandora.
The biggest problem of course comes when the movie isn't in action mode, and for the first 2 hours, there's a lot of dead time. Yes, of course you can't have an all-action movie and there is a need to tell a story, but the movie slows down so much it's hard to pay attention. It's not as if you can't figure out where this movie is going right from the beginning. Predictable isn't a strong enough word for the script. The good guys win even as they lose some of their own. And the bad guys manage to hang on right till the very end. For some, the story and lack of character arcs won't matter. For others, the beauty of the CGI will wane and they'll need something else to hold on to. If I hadn't seen a 3D film in the last few years, this movie would have been even better. But since I've seen probably 6-8 3D films in the last 12 months, as nice as it is, it doesn't feel new anymore. I'm one of those people who would have liked a better story and better characters. Not one character didn't come straight out of a screenwriting guide. It's a movie that the fanboys will love, but crossing over into all four quadrants will be difficult. So did the movie live up to the hype? Visually yes, but as a whole, no.
THE BOTTOM LINE
So overall, I liked Avatar more than I thought I would. The CGI was tremendous and the action sequences made the film. But it didn't blow me away, and it's not the 'next big thing' in the movie world. Just my not-so-humble opinion.