Saw this today on IMAX 3D. I have to say, I really, really loved it.
I loved it for everything it is, while freely acknowledging that there are many things it is not.
First of all - what it is. It's a grand old adventure yarn. I use the word "yarn" deliberately because in some ways the story feels like it belongs in a different era. It's has a very pulpy, boy's fiction feel to it. This should not be construed as a criticism. Some of the best movie entertainment is derived from similar sources. It's no wonder Steven Spielberg loved the movie. I'm sure George Lucas will love it too, if he's not too jealous that Cameron showed him how CGI could REALLY be used in film.
Could this have been a more morally complex movie? Sure. Maybe when it had another 40 minutes on it (as an initial cut did) it was. Or maybe James Cameron just didn't want to tell that sort of story. Sometimes it's best to judge a movie on what it is and not what you wish it would be. But anyone going into a James Cameron movie expecting moral complexity was asking for trouble. He's never been afraid to have a villain served straight-up evil. I think he's more concerned with eliciting emotions in the audience. He's going for the gut, not the brain. He wants to sweep you along and make you FEEL something. But I think he does so without being witless, brainless and soulless (reference Michael Bay's Transformers.)
There are moments in this movie that made my heart literally jump for joy. It elicited a reaction in me that I haven't felt in a long time. Something about all these crazy mechs and machines fighting these huge dinosaur-like beasts just made my inner child giggle with unadulterated joy. I think you have to have that willingness to just GO there with the movie to really enjoy it. It's a simple pleasure, perhaps, but a worthy one. Only Star Trek has come close to replicating this feeling for me this year but even with a fresh sheen that movie could tread heavily on familiar attachments.
The world of Avatar is new. Pandora is a brand new world and I want to know more about it. The world itself is given life so completely you're almost sad when the plot even has to kick in again to the fateful clash between the Na'vi and the humans. But what a clash it is!
I had read reviews about clunky dialogue or bad acting. I don't think the movie has either. I suppose the Marines come closest to having bad dialogue... but to me they just sounded like Marines to me. Even the voice overs - which I was dreading - came off well, especially since they were framed as log entries. That made it more palatable and they were only redundant once or twice by saying what Cameron was effectively showing on the screen anyway.
I thought the actors did a good job of imbuing their characters with life. This is important because, frankly, there isn't a ton of character development here. Jake and Neytiri are the only characters developed with any depth. Everyone else is really in the background. There's so much going on elsewhere though there really isn't TIME for more character development, and honestly the script doesn't really demand that you care for most of them too much with a couple exceptions.
I was surprised that people like Fike and Wainfleet (who netted action figures) were really just Marines we saw a little more of than others. But do we really want to get to know them better? I didn't, or I wouldn't have enjoyed the ending so much. Morally simplistic? Sure. But satisfying.
It'll be interesting to see if some longer cut comes out on DVD and what that does to the story. There are some gaps that struck me as odd.
I'd also liked to have gotten to know more of the Na'vi beyond Neytiri. It might have been nice to show they had a dark side too. I sometimes get annoyed how natives and native beliefs (alien or no) are always presented in such a shiny squeakly clean fashion. It might have been more interesting if they had a darker side. But again, I don't really begrudge the movie for not going there even if I'd like to have seen it personally.
I definitely want to see the movie again. I want a sequel, just to see where Cameron would take the story from here. I want to see more of Pandora. I hope this fired up the imaginations of the kids in the audience. I hope studios might take more chances on original sci-fi. Is the movie a game changer? A start of a new genre? Nah, that's just marketing hyperbole. But it's a great movie experience. I'd love for someone to pick up what Cameron has started and run with it. Take all the tools he's developed and make that headier, morally complex movie that some people seem to have wanted here. I'd watch it. This is a mainstream audience-pleasing movie all the way. Something a small group of fanboys like to hate on because they want to play backseat writer. I don't worry too much about that though, because I think there are plenty of people who will take (and enjoy) the journey.