X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Terminator: Salvation, Twilight: New Moon, GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra. The year is 2009, and the summer movie season has just shit all over us. The few bright spots were Up, District 9, and Star Trek. All universally enjoyable movies dabbling in concepts of science fiction. All the live-action, earthbound entertainment left us with brain tumors. Audiences Everywhere wanted to travel through the stars to escape the aftermath of the 2009 blockbuster season. Tacked on to the end of the year was the hit indie film, James Cameron’s Avatar.
People went in droves to see this cinematic experience that was being hailed as a masterpiece, a groundbreaking feat in 3D technology and IMAX. People had found a movie to rally behind at the time. I can’t say I was ever a fan of Avatar, but I understood why it was praised then. We needed a big blockbuster that could rally an audience behind it. The endless amount of money that poured into the box office was a result of the January/February lulls in movie releases. James Cameron went on to proclaim that he was no longer in the movie business but rather in the Avatar business, vowing to throw himself into the world of Pandora and further adventures of Jake Sully and the blue cat people.
Five years later and there’s not much to show for it. The sequels are constantly being pushed back, though I’m sure Cameron will see them unreleased over his dead body. He’s the king of the world, after all. What Cameron wants, Cameron will get. But will Cameron get an audience to return to this world since people have stopped caring about the movie that started his blue cat obsession?
Let’s just take a look back at Avatar as a whole to discuss its merits as a film. Is it good? The technical aspects still work, but those were never in question. The story is still functional but doesn’t produce any cheer worthy moments or anything of value beyond a pro-green message or a higher quality White Savior story. Granted, you don’t need a great story to go along with a great script. Avatar isn’t interested in building characters that permeate public consciousness. It suffers from the same effects as the other bad blockbusters from 2009; there is no care to tell a story here.
Avatar is no more than a frustrating footnote in movie history. It’s not quite bad, but it’s almost there. It’s definitely not good. Hiring Sam Worthington to be your lead is never a good plan. Coming off the same conveyor belt as Jai Courtney, Worthington has the charisma of a cardboard cutout. Scratch that, a cardboard cutout of Arnold Schwarzenegger has more charisma than Worthington’s filmography. The supporting cast is rounded out with the likes of Sigourney Weaver, Michele Rodgriguez, Zoe Saldana, Dileep Rao, Stephen Lang, Giovanni Ribisi, and Joel David Moore. All of these people portray more intriguing characters (minus Lang, who plays Colonel Army) and end up either dead or shafted by the finale. Why James Cameron, director of several of the greatest action movies ever made, decided to put such an uncharismatic lead in his Dancing With Wolves remake is beyond me.
The technical aspects of Avatar are amazing. In the theaters, the film is immersive, bringing the audience into this goofy world Cameron has created. But this is where the fun side of Cameron’s creativity ends and the world building problems begin. It’s just not memorable. The names of the creatures on Pandora elude me, and I just revisited the film prior to writing this. There are giant dogs and dragons and weird horses, each creature with designs that aren’t radical enough to recall nor ugly enough to be feared. They simply are. The environments themselves are worth being in awe over. Floating mountains? Bioluminescent water and plants? This is a science fiction wet dream. There is a trailer for Avatar that plays like a Disney Nature documentary that’s worth checking out. It highlights the intriguing world building without the excess of a movie that struggles to entertain. There are few movies that can show off a flashy home theater room so well (I prefer Tron: Legacy).
Avatar is a wholly forgettable movie that made for a fun theater experience in a year full of bad movies. With any luck, James Cameron will find a way to merge a good script with an unforgettable experience at the movies on our next trip to Pandora.