James Cameron brings us a whole new world . . . Has it been worth the hype and the wait? Having made the most expensive film in history for the second time running, the self-proclaimed ‘king of the world’ has attracted as many drooling fanboys as determined doubters. It’s hard to argue with most of Cameron’s work – we’d even call ‘Titanic‘ a classic – but with the unbridled technical virtuosity of ‘Avatar‘, he may have stretched his talents too far for something so nonsensical.
Sam Worthington stars as Jake Sully, a paraplegic marine given a new lease of life through a surrogate body, moulded on the Na’vi: 10-foot-tall, blue-lizard-skinned and cat-faced aliens who happen to be sitting on a goldmine of resources essential to mankind’s survival. Two factions of humans influence Jake’s journey into this species’ society – Sigourney Weaver’s ‘goodie’ scientists, and the predictably ‘baddie’ marines, bolstered by Giovanni Ribisi’s corporate slimeball. However, Jake’s blossoming relationship with his female Na’vi guide may ultimately decide all of their fates.
‘Avatar‘ has nary an original idea in its hippy-dippy head. Cameron absolutely stuffs the film with parallels to both history’s crimes and those of the world today, with the Na’vi embodying various indigenous cultures who have suffered at our hands, and the marines reflecting our current ‘gung-ho’ attitudes. Most of these elements come across as cliche, however. Meanwhile, Jake’s lengthy initiation into the tribe highlights both the best and worst the film has to offer: while these scenes often instil a real sense of wonder in the audience, they also can’t escape a whiff of the naffness that threatened to sink ‘Titanic’. At the heart of it all, Worthington is, unfortunately, an underwhelming presence. He’s definitely better here than he was in ‘Terminator Salvation’, but we really hope his casting as Perseus in the imminent ‘Clash Of The Titans’ remake won’t ruin its potential or, indeed, his.
Where the film shines is in its acres of three-dimensional eye-candy (that’s 3D in the ‘don’t look down’ depth and perspective sense, as opposed to the old-school in-your-face approach). At first, Pandora is disappointingly cartoony – for such a supposedly fearsome place, it’s terribly clean and pretty. But as the film gathers pace, it’s all too easy to get lost in the stunningly-rendered vistas, and the exotic colours and designs of the lush plants and impressive creatures are a wonder to behold. However, in thrall to his technology-driven vision, Cameron’s style seems to have lost some of the drama he brought to his previous nail-biters. There’s little of the sense of menace or threat present in, say, the ‘Lord Of The Rings’ films, and not enough of the sly wit which distinguished the somehow reminiscent ‘Starship Troopers’. By the climactic battle, some will be disappointed that all this time and money basically culminates in a less effective (though subverted) re-staging of the man-in-machine vs beast finale of ‘Aliens’.
So, what you get from ‘Avatar‘ in some ways depends on what you expect from it. If you buy into JC’s hyperbole, you may be disappointed by what could be viewed as an extended Xbox360-style tech-demo, justified by an unholy hotch-potch of reheated story elements (mainly culled from Cameron’s own ‘Aliens’, ‘The Abyss’ and ‘Titanic’). However, taken as just another disposable blockbuster, ‘Avatar‘ is perfectly enjoyable, and suitably spectacular. If you’re willing to immerse yourself in its world, it should awe, excite and entertain you. The ‘king of the world’ is off the hook for now, but where will he go from here?
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