As the preeminent purveyor of nifty techno-fantasy wrapped in spiky individualism, James Cameron is, arguably, our generations Robert Heinlein. He has shown us distinct yet admiring scenarios of the military in Terminator, Aliens, and even The Abyss. After his detour into Titanic, Cameron returns to genre storytelling with Avatar, the adventures of space marine Jake Sully on the moon Pandora.
A self-admitted dumb grunt, and recently rendered paraplegic, Jake (Sam Worthington) is on Pandora to persuade the unfriendly natives to part with their valuable minerals. To do this, the humans have established a research lab where they operate a small number of custom-fitted avatars. These are fleshly automatons who look like the skinny blue aliens and are piloted remotely. In the lab, Jake deals with a skeptical scientist (Sigourney Weaver) and a scheming colonel (Stephen Lang). On Pandora, he fights to survive innumerable vicious predators while attempting to make rapport with the Navi, the indigenous people. In particular, Jake tries to make nice with Neytiri, the hot daughter (Zo Saldana) of a Navi chief.
Plotwise, Avatar is a little undercooked. The moment that avatar Jake meets the Navi elders and feels their withering contempt for his so-called civilized ignorance of their environment-embracing ways, you know what will happen over the next two-plus hours: its Dances With Wolves in space.
If youre not into heroes riding into battle on the backs of gigantic, neon-orange bird creatures, Avatar is probably not your kind of movie. It worked for me, though. Even after the years spent developing 3-D motion-capture technology just for this movie, Cameron retains a gift for action scenarios, providing high-energy pulp adventure in a fantasy world that is almost goofy in its layers of minute detail. Avatar is not graceful or deep, but its call to my giddy inner 12-year-old will bring me back to the movie sooner rather than later.