Since the release of the highly anticipated Avatar: The Way of Water is fast approaching, we will look back at its predecessor, Avatar. Avatar took the world by storm back in 2009 and quickly climbed to the top of all-time box office earnings, surpassing another of James Cameron’s films, Titanic. Viewers were in awe of the film’s beauty and the story’s sheer scale. We rarely see an original movie that creates so much buzz and excitement. However, is it deserving of a top spot as one of the highest-grossing films ever?
Avatar is written and directed by James Cameron, starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, and Sigourney Weaver. The story takes place in what we can assume is a not-too-distant future where many of Earth’s resources have depleted, and people struggle to survive. The movie follows Jake Sully (Worthington), a down-on-his-luck veteran left paralyzed from his service. Future technology could bring back the use of his legs; however, Jake has been “waitlisted” and is unlikely to receive new legs anytime soon. To make matters worse, Jake gets news that his twin brother, a scientist, has been murdered during a robbery.
Consequently, Jake takes the unique opportunity to be a part of the Avatar program, where his brother is highly involved. Due to Jake having a similar genetic make-up as his brother, he’s a perfect match to take his place. Jake accepts the offer hoping for a fresh start.
The program takes place light years away on “Pandora.” Pandora’s atmosphere cannot support human life, hence the need for the Avatar Program. The program involves the use of Avatars, which are genetically engineered beings that share the same characteristics as the Pandora Natives, the Na’vi. Subjects’ minds transfer into the Avatar, in which they assume body command. The humans hope to mine the precious metal, unobtanium, which you can only find on Pandora. The project lead is a businessman, Parker Selfridge (Ribisi). At the same time, Colonel Miles Quaritch (Lang) heads the military operation. Jake’s task is providing intel on the Na’vi and gaining their trust in hopes of removing them from their home, which sits atop a large unobtanium deposit.
It’s easy to see the appeal that contributed to Avatar’s box office success. The movie is an absolute spectacle from start to finish. It feels larger than life and immerses the viewer in its world. The movie’s visuals were way ahead of their time and were the main contributor to its massive success. Over ten years later, CGI looks better than many projects released today. Pandora’s design looks stunning, from the landscape to the wildlife that roams it. The action sequences are breathtaking and authentic. It Is a true blockbuster in every meaning of the word. It’s a must-see in-theatre experience.
Directly behind the visuals, the most appealing aspect of the film comes from the relationship between Jake and Neytiri. You feel like you’re learning with Jake as Neytiri teaches him the ways of her people. Zoe Saldana is excellent in the film and does impressive motion capture work in her role as Neytiri (a Na’Vi native).
However, the film isn’t without flaws. Aside from the Na’Vi themselves and Jake, the movie’s human characters were bland and didn’t provide much to elevate the story. The story is nothing to write home about and is a new take on familiar themes. The film spends a lot of time building up the world within Pandora and showing the relationship between Neytiri and Jake. Unfortunately, this causes the character development of others to be put aside for much of the runtime. As a result, the film’s main villains are rather generic and dull.
Despite the flaws, Avatar is a spectacle and delivers everything you could want in a blockbuster. It may not be revolutionary in storytelling or character development, but it offers a fantastic viewing experience. The world of Pandora is mesmerizing, and the motion capture work is incredible. Zoe Saldana puts in an awe-inspiring performance. Theatres today are missing films like Avatar, an original screenplay that is made solely for entertainment
The movie’s story is nothing we haven’t seen before; our main character infiltrates another group as an outsider and eventually becomes accepted as one of them. He learns their ways and gains trust, losing it later in the film. He then must choose between his people and his newfound group. Avatar follows the recycled formula but manages to hide through its stunning visuals, which is why people are so attracted to it. As previously stated, the big knock on the film is the development of the human characters. They all play a very cliché character type. We see Jake develop throughout the film as he becomes accustomed to the ways of the Na’vi and eventually finds his purpose. Even choosing to help the Na’Vi and forgo his chance at receiving new legs.
It is unclear what purpose the villains serve in the story other than being a driving factor in developing our main character. If each of the main antagonists, Colonel Quaritch and Selfridge, were left entirely out of the film, it wouldn’t cause the movie to be any better or worse. Quaritch’s motives are unclear, and he hates the Na’vi because the film says so. Selfridge is the typical unethical businessperson solely focused on making a profit. Unfortunately, neither provides enough for the story to enhance it meaningfully.
Aside from this, Avatar succeeds in drawing you in emotionally. By the end, after you’ve experienced Jake’s journey, the destruction of “Hometree” and the deaths of Na’vi feels tragic. It creates a feeling of despair after seeing how connected they are with nature and the land. The film plays on themes seen throughout the history of humans going to great lengths to obtain what they desire, even at the cost of suffering for another group. Ultimately, we assume Jake is sacrificing his human body in favor of his Avatar body. With the sequel releasing soon, it will be interesting to see what new and old faces they will bring back and how they plan on continuing the story.