Rarely does Hollywood produce an epic, and rarely do they fall into capable hands. Not since The Lord of the Rings trilogy has there really been a satisfying epic that comes anywhere near the passion and ambition those films had, but Avatar comes damn close. It’s not as strong as those films, but it does have strengths, as well as weaknesses.
Are there flaws? Yes, but they’re forgivable — at least they were for me. The story and characters are very simple, and the former of the latter delves into familiar territory. However, despite this simplicity, the audience is given enough time to care for each character, especially when all hell breaks loose.
James Horner’s the best he’s been in years. He does borrow from his past work, but honestly, if you haven’t listened to Horner’s previous scores, then you’re not missing out on much. There’s plenty of variety and complexity that makes this score soar when the action starts, and give beautiful growth for when we’re venturing around Pandora and having moments between the characters.
The visual effects are certainly where Avatar succeeds on every level. The designs and execution are extraordinary. I first saw this in 2D (because, honestly, the film should be able to hold up in any format to be considered a film and not solely an experience), and even on the traditional screen, the visuals do nothing but make jaws drop. Cameron’s imagination is in perfect form here, and here’s hoping he does sequels.
To me, the film never felt heavy-handed or hammy. Yes, some of the dialogue leans towards cheese, but it never becomes self-parody, maybe just a nod to the films of Cameron’s past. Despite the multiple parallels to the Iraq War, Blackwater, and Halliburton, this film was written over a decade ago, but these connections give Avatar a resonating power beyond the spectacle it already is.
Even though Cameron the writer can undermine Cameron the director, he never loses us along this journey. There’s an immense buildup to the final third of the film, and Cameron’s attention to detail and storytelling more than allow the audience to gasp in awe at everything he pushes to the limit.
The performances are well done. Stephen Lang stands out as the best of them all, he really does a great job at making Colonel Quartich one hell of a villain. Sam Worthington stole the show in Terminator: Salvation and he works that similar magic here. Zoe Saldana is also very intense and engaging in her role, especially when conflicts arise. Sigourney Weaver and Michelle Rodriguez were believable through and through; no one gave less than 100%.
All in all, everything worked in Avatar for me. I love the look, and whenever the audience was supposed to cheer, I cheered. At work, those who’ve seen the film loved it, so I’m hoping this word-of-mouth continues at the box office so we get more sequels of this caliber (maybe even higher). Not since The Lord of the Rings has there truly been a worthwhile epic in any genre, and Avatar could shape up to be a juggernaut should there be a bright future for it.