What I liked:
- Oh, believe the hype about the visuals. Avatar is a damned impressive spectacle, and every single detail is beautifully realized. The Na'vi don't necessarily cross the "uncanny valley" (and neither did Gollum or King Kong), but things looked real and had substance and weight. The flying sequences alone (on dragon like creatures) are worth the price of admission.
- James Cameron knows his tech. Or at least, how to "fake" his tech. And by "tech," I mean the tech in the world of the movie. The guns, the ships, the computer displays, the vehicles -- everything has just enough of an echo of the real world to make it all seem lived in and completely plausible.
- The 3D is unbelievable. It's not silly "look, it's coming atcha!" gimmicks. It's totally immersive and like being there.
- The world building, while a bit of a simple minded riff on the Gaia myth, is incredibly well thought out.
- Zoe Saldana rocks. But we all saw Uhura, so we know that, right? She's feisty, fierce and kinda hot for a tall, half naked blue cat. She totally sells the character, and you can see emoting and all the subtlety of a performance.
- Sigourney Weaver rocks, too. But we also all know that. In fact, almost all the of the cast gives compelling performances.
- Cameron can shoot some action. It doesn't matter if it's on location, on a soundstage or in a hard drive created out of pixels, the action is muscular, thrilling and edge of your seat stuff. And while there are a few draggy slowdowns, the slam bang set pieces more than make up for the lulls.
What I didn't like:
- Yep, it really is "Dances with Smurfs." For all the high tech and alien trappings, Avatar is a (blue) paint by the numbers retelling of John Dunbar and the Noble Savages.
- I'm not quite sold on Sam Worthington. His American accent is spotty, and I'm not sure he has the charisma to pull off leading roles that require more than gruff and brooding. (I thought he gave a better performance in the latest Terminator flick). He's not bad, and in fairness, Cameron didn't give him much to work with in the dialogue department.
- Speaking of, the script -- other than the high tech concepts and deeply considered world building -- wasn't any great shakes. The lines were tired and cliche, and none of the characters did anything except exactly what you expected of them. There was barely a hint of wit, and certainly not a line I'm thinking of a couple days later. Contrast that with my personal best Cameron film, and one of my favorite and most watched movies of all time, Aliens, and I can still rattle off quotes over two decades later. (Just check out the IMDB "memorable quotes" section for Aliens and see how many still make you smile).
- The score, by frequent Cameron collaborator James Horner (who has somewhat of a reputation for, kindly, "repurposing" familiar elements) is trite and derivative. It was so distracting, that every time the first two notes of a motif used all too often throughout the film played, I half expected Worthington's Sully and Saldana's Neytiri to start making out on the Lido deck while Billy Zane ran around with a pistol and a bad wig.
So, did I like Avatar? Yes, and kinda. As a "spectacle" and ground-breaking piece of visual eye candy, I give it an emphatic A+. As an original, well-scripted and captivating film (technical merits aside), I give it a C-.