Avatar: A Review
Avatar – Dir: James Cameron; *ing: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang
Unless you’ve been hanging out with the inhabitants of the bunkers of South Waziristan for the past year, you’re probably aware that James Cameron – filmmaker, owner-occupier of voluminous ego, self-proclaimed King of the World – has returned to the cinematic fold after an even dozen years with this, the most hyped of all hyped films in recent memory, a sci-fi tale epic in scale, scope and running time that outlines a story of human endeavours and, umm, alien abuse. Everyone and their maternal uncle has been talking Avatar as if programmed to do so from birth. So how does it fare at the end of the day?
Well, first the bad news: Avatar is not some sort of Second-Coming-style religious experience; it’s not going to transform your humdrum life into a bed of honey and beanie-babies, nor indeed is it going to save planet earth from greedy anti-Kyoto type villains. And contrary to mass-hysterical opinion, it’s unlikely that it’ll herald the beginning of an all-3D-cinema age; the majority of films being made really do not need to be in 3D, and so why should they be? (Unless of course every movie involves several scenes of George Clooney cozying up to the 3D camera, in which case I for one will have those dumb 3D glasses permanently fused to my face).
But on to the good news: unlike Cameron-wannabe Michael Bay, who can take $300 million and turn it into a pile of steaming stupid, the original actually knows how to tell a story, no matter how silly that story is. Which in the case of Avatar, ranges from mildly to somewhat annoyingly silly, with the all-important moral of the story amounting pretty much to ‘human beings are total jerks – except for the, er, exceptions.’ The film has been compared endlessly to Dancing With Wolves and The Last Samurai and the like, and it certainly has much in common with them: white man infiltrates an alien culture – in this instance the Na’vi race of the moon of Pandora – in order to exploit them by learning their ways, only to find himself becoming one with them, and ending up as their messiah, saving them from the evil would-be conquerors. That in itself has cringe-worthy shades of the ‘white saviour’ syndrome, but Cameron, ever the tech junkie, skillfully soars over the pitfalls of that oft-repeated scenario by creating a jaw-droppingly wondrous ‘off-world’ where the tree-hugging, 10-foot tall, blue-hued Na’vi are just the tip of a mind-bogglingly fantastical iceberg. There are crazy-beautiful landscapes and near-mythical dinosaur-like creatures aplenty, as well as the notion of our paraplegic hero Jake Sully (drool-worthy Sam Worthington) occupying a manufactured, human-Na’vi hybrid body – the avatar of the title. There is also some pseudo-mystical gibberish about the Na’vi’s tree deity Eywa that stands in the way of the evil designs of the moon’s unwelcome human exploiters (‘Off with you, earth scum, or face the wrath of some almighty foliage!’), as well as the always-welcome presence of a non-CGI but still wholly cartoonish antagonist, in this case rabid military man Colonel Quaritch (Lang), a man so bat-shit insane that he doesn’t flinch when during the final battle his arm catches fire. That’s right, when his arm is on fucking fire!
Though it’s somewhat unnervingly ironic that in a film that speaks of peace, tolerance and brotherhood, the highlights are the bombastic battle sequences, that doesn’t take away from the fact that Avatar is still a thrilling cinematic experience. It may be tone-deaf when it comes to nuance, but it is a suitably over-the-top, larger-than-life return of the king.