Pandora is a distant planet rich in a valuable mineral amusingly named “unobtainium.” The only problem is that the richest deposit lies directly beneath the village of a group of natives known as the Navi–ten-foot tall anorexic smurfs who are a tough enemy to beat despite their primitive ways. In order to avoid a costly war, the mining company trying to get at the mineral has been attempting to win over the Navi with good old-fashioned cultural imperialism. As part of this plan, they have allowed hippie scientist Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) to attempt an experiment by which humans are neurally connected to artificially grown native bodies called avatars. The avatars allow them to interact with the natives and the planet’s hostile atmosphere more easily.
When one of the human controllers is killed before arriving on Pandora, his quadraplegic marine twin brother, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is recruited to take his place. Sully’s jarhead status catches the attention of the company’s hawkish security chief, Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang), who convinces Jake to work as a sort of undercover agent to find the enemy’s weaknesses. As he infiltrates the Navi civilization, Jake ends up siding with the natives and lots of big special effects and battle scenes ensue.
While Avatar is a decent movie with lots of cool special effects, it’s not the incredible movie that a lot of people have made it out to be. The scenery is very pretty and the monsters and mecha suits are very cool, but it’s nothing extraordinary. The much-talked about 3-D effects in the movie, for example, looked a lot to me like current generation 3-D effects. The 3-D looks cool, but the movie is cool-looking enough to start with that I didn’t really feel it added a lot.
Once you go beyond the pretty shiny stuff and cool action scenes, there’s just not a lot there. The plot of the movie is the same “chosen one” plot that we’ve all seen dozens of times. Individual plot points stop just short of having subtitles reading “THIS WILL BE IMPORTANT LATER.” The acting is good, but nobody really shines here, and Worthington’s portrayal of Sully isn’t particularly likable. Overall, the reception Avatar has gotten reminds me a lot of the one Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon got: a decent movie given credit for being a lot better than it is because it happens to be really pretty.