Short version: Does Avatar live up to all the hype and expectations? In a word: Yes.
Screen Rant reviews Avatar
So, after endless fanboy hype (and hate) rivaling that of the months leading up to Watchmen, Avatar is finally upon us. The burning question (once again): Is this film worthy of all the hype preceding it?
Well, first let’s get to the story…
Sam Worthington plays Jake Sulley, a Marine who lost the use of his legs in battle. He has absolutely nothing to do with the Avatar project until his twin brother is killed (apparently in a senseless mugging). His brother was a scientist who had been working on and preparing for the Avatar project for three years.
This is significant because the bio-engineered Na’vi bodies created for the Avatar project are genetically coded to a specific human – and since Jake is the identical twin of his brother (despite having zero training in the project) the corporation talks him into joining it. Their logic is they can always use a Na’vi Avatar with combat skills on their side. Worthington’s character is not only a Na’vi Avatar, but also obviously one for the audience as well… the person who comes onto the scene not knowing anything about what is going on (like the audience) and the film’s exposition happens through his point of view for our benefit.
The planet Pandora contains a very rare mineral with extremely valuable properties (that are never explained, no need) called… Unobtainium. Yeah, I know. They only call it that once in the film, thankfully. Anyway, there are pockets of it scattered throughout the planet, but the biggest cache of it happens to be directly beneath the village of the Na’vi we come to know. The goal is to either negotiate with them to get them to move so the bulldozers can come in and mine or to expel them via military force.
Relations with the Na’vi have been shaky at best – it seems that olive branches were extended in the forms of schools, roads and supplies, but the Na’vi are not interested in any of it – and there have been some isolated clashes between them and the military. It’s decided that Sully (not being a scientist) would be an ideal mole – he can go in and gain the trust of the locals in order to gather intel that can be used against them should things come to blows. Sully is promised that the expensive surgery which could once again give him use of his legs would be taken care of if he goes along with the plan – which he does. He has three months.
Sigouney Weaver plays Grace, the fairly grizzled, smoking lead scientist on the project who is not happy (to say the least) to see Jake show up to take his brother’s place. There’s another scientist who was friends with Jake’s brother and who comes to resent the fact that after he has put in so much time learning how to be a Na’vi, that a newcomer with no experience comes in and plays a central role in the project. The scientists are determined to find a diplomatic solution (although tasking scientists with this doesn’t really make much sense) and are constantly at odds with the military. They relocate their lab far away from central command in hopes that they can function more autonomously, without intervention from the corporation (represented by Giovanni Ribisi as the lead on the project) or the military.
Speaking of the military, Stephen Lang absolutely shines as Colonel Miles Quaritch, a chiseled in stone older soldier with plenty of field experience who is in charge of military operations on Pandora. Scenes with him, Weaver, the sci-fi tech and Cameron at the helm took me back to the most excellent James Cameron film, Aliens. In some ways this almost felt like a continuation of that film – if not in story, then in characters and hardware.
And of course we have Zoe Saldana as Neytiri, who does a fine job as the lead female who is put in charge of teaching (Avatar) Jake the language and culture of the Na’vi. At first she intensely dislikes and mistrusts Jake, but over the course of the film their relationship’s development is the focal point as she softens towards him and he comes to respect and understand the Na’vi deeply.
So what’s the verdict?
If you’ve seen the movie and want to talk about it without worrying about spoilers, please head over to our Avatar Spoilers Discussion.
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