Avatar looks cool. Really, really cool. But that can’t make up for a predictable plot with remarkably little emotional connection to the oddly under-developed characters (despite a nearly 3 hour running time). And worst of all, Avatar is filled with preachy, anti-American foreign policy themes. If I wanted that I could just read the New York Times.
I’m surprised more reviewers have not picked up on and been irritated by the heavy-handed politics. It’s right there. Humans have a colony on the planet Pandora to extract the valuable mineral, unobtainium (yes, that is really its name). The alien indigenous people (and in this case they really are indigenous) are in the way of greedy corporate profits because their giant tree home sits on top of a huge mineral deposit, so the military slaughters them. Our hero uses a remote-controlled alien body (his avatar) to spy on the natives but eventually sees their superiority, falls in love, and leads them in fighting against the humans.
Translation for those who are hard of thinking: Greedy oil companies get the military to invade Iraq and kill the native people who are in the way. It’s subtle with a capital B.
While denying that current foreign policy is the “main point” of Avatar, the director James Cameron told the Times of London that “Americans had a ‘moral responsibility’ to understand the impact that their country’s recent military campaigns had had. ‘We went down a path that cost several hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives. I don’t think the American people even know why it was done. So it’s all about opening your eyes.'” He continued: “We know what it feels like to launch the missiles. We don’t know what it feels like for them to land on our home soil, not in America. I think there’s a moral responsibility to understand that.”
Um, I think we know how it feels to have planes fly into skyscrapers. Does that count?
The problem with Avatar is not that it contains a critique of American foreign policy. Apocalypse Now did that and was superb. The problem is that the critique is amazingly heavy-handed and simple-minded. The military leader is so over-the-top evil that they could have put horns and a tail on him if it wouldn’t make him look too much like the purely innocent native people, with their USB port tails and pointy ears. The corporate representative was such a toady that he should have hopped like a frog. These people are not real characters, with authentic emotions, complex ideas, and personal strengths and weaknesses. They are cartoon characters, which I guess some of them really are — at least of the computer-generated variety.
I haven’t seen it yet, but I’ll bet that Matt is right that Black Dynamite is a better film.