Avatar ★★½

I realize that it may seem strange to decide to log Avatar on Christmas Day, but given that I'm seeing so many people log The Banshees of Inisherin today, is it? Besides, sometimes you just have to scratch an itch.

I haven't seen Avatar since 2010, partly because it's one of the movies I used to associate with my ex-girlfriend, but also partly because the story left me wanting at the time, and I've had no desire to revisit it for a long time. However, given that its very belated sequel seems to be doing relatively well at the box office, I figured that it may be time to give it another look. I wanted to do it in a theater during its recent rerelease, but again, COVID anxiety. I'm working on it.

Part of me wonders if my impression of this movie is shaped by the fact that I've been watching it on increasingly smaller screens. I don't doubt that the visuals would look great on the big screen. That's why I'm wanting to see The Way of Water on the biggest screen I can find, so I don't have to be introduced to it on Disney+ or HBO Max on my phone. Though even watching this one on my phone, I give James Cameron props for the attention to detail and world building that he infused into this movie.

If I were judging only on the visuals, I would give this a higher rating than I am. Unfortunately, my cinematic perspective is highly oriented on plot and character development, and I had Star Wars levels of deja vu while watching this. This leads me to wonder if the title of "highest grossing movie ever" has actually meant anything since the dethroning of Jaws.

For the plot, the best way to describe it is as a cross of Dances with Wolves and FernGully: The Last Rainforest. Marines in the 22nd century are stationed on the moon Pandora, source of a rare material with a name that highlights Cameron's lack of originality: unobtanium. Yikes, even Marvel put in a minimum of effort with vibranium. One of these Marines is Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paralyzed soldier replacing his twin brother for a program that requires basically the brother's exact biological structure. How convenient.

Why is this important? Well, it seems that this project built an avatar for him to control that resembles the native population: the Na'vi, a group of tall, blue bipedal creatures. The propaganda spewed from Sully's commanding officer, Quaritch (Stephen Lang), is that they are backwards savages who need to be relocated to mine the mineral, even if by force. Quaritch sees a way to do it after Sully gets separated from his fellow avatars and winds up in the company of one of the communities. This plan, and Sully's impression of the locals, gets turned sideways as he gets to know them and their customs - and falls in love with Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), the daughter of the leaders.

At this point in time, I'm assuming that everyone reading this - regardless of if it's those on Letterboxd or on Facebook - has already seen this, though I've been wrong about it in the past. But even when you first saw it, did you not see every beat in this plot coming? I know that I did 12 years ago, and I didn't even finish it then, tapping out with just less than an hour left. Now that I have finished it, I still saw everything that I hadn't yet seen coming, White Savior trope and all.

In a way, it's funny that several professional critics at the time of its release compared this to Star Wars, because I could make that comparison myself. Namely, both George Lucas there and James Cameron here seem to labor under the delusion that impressive special effects will impress everyone into not minding the unoriginal plot or the bland performances at the forefront.

Would I recommend it? I would for the visuals, and on as big of a screen as you can get, but if you're also focused on plot, forget it.

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