At 162 minutes and a cost of somewhere between $250 and $300 million, James Cameron's Avatar is both a spectacular slab of virtually nonstop action and an unmistakable diatribe against corporatized American imperialism. There are the usual muscled-up boys (and equally powerful girls) with big-bang toys, wreaking havoc, to be sure, but at its heart this mammoth film is...
...a chick flick, with all the dramatic keynotes that the phrase implies. Forbidden interspecies love? Reverence for a planetary feminist godhead? Clandestine dalliances far from the madding crowd? Avatar has all of those and more, and, despite a script that at times leaves its most interesting characters delivering some of the most banal lines, somehow it all holds together.
Avatar is the work of a director who passionately believes that untrammeled, Western-style imperialism is a pivotal societal sin, along with its attendant reliance on the rape and looting of foreign cultures and their natural resources. That said, there's enough white-hot testosterone and Amazonian estrogen to satisfy Cameron's sci-fi fanboy base and then some. Occurring in the year 2154 after the total depletion of all of the Earth's natural resources, Avatar is set on the planet Pandora, where mining operations have run up against the planet's indigenous people, the Na'Vi. Eleven-foot tall, blue-skinned, vaguely feline bipeds, the Na'Vi are infiltrated by Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a former Marine grunt who has suffered a spinal injury. Sully is tasked by the bellicose Col. Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) with finding a way to remove the Na'Vi from their homeland.
This is done by placing Sully's consciousness within a bio-engineered Na'Vi body - an "avatar" - under the guidance of sympathetic ethnobiologist Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), who is kept in the dark about Sully's covert mission. But Sully, who regains the use of his paralyzed legs whenever he inhabits his Na'Vi self, slowly comes to appreciate the indigenous world even as he begins to be repulsed by the callow, predatory nature of his own species.
Avatar is not without its faults, but as a purely visual experience it's like nothing you've ever seen before: a lush, sexy, primal world created entirely by Cameron's legions of CGI masters. For a film with such a lengthy running time, Avatar moves like a rocket. It's thrilling and lovely and sad and explosive in all the right ways, and it needs to be seen - on the big screen, in 3-D - to be believed.