I remember watching Avatar in the theaters on the day after Christmas in 2009 and being completely underwhelmed. The film was very obviously bad. For a long time, it seemed like its legacy was going to be making more money than anything else and spawning a truly uninspired wave 3-D cash-ins. But thirteen years later, the first of a planned four sequels from James Cameron will be released this week. So, I did something I thought I would never do. I went and re-watched Avatar. Here are my main takeaways.
1. The dialogue…not great
Listen, great dialogue a great film does not make, and there are clearly great movies over the years where the dialogue does not really work. Unfortunately, Avatar is just a case where an outdated concepts (white man “becomes” native and turns on the whites) combined with hokey and stilted dialogue just becomes too much cringe for a single film to overcome.
2. Stephan Lang was insane in this movie
On one hand, Stephen Lang’s insanity and general demeanor really capture the impact that the military industrial complex has on the entire world (and in this case, the galaxy). But on the other hand, in an already hokey film, Stephen Lang was frankly just a little too much here, and it did not work. There just needed to be a little bit more there.
3. The love story is so half-baked.
To the extent that Zoe Saldana is a character here (and not just a condescending idea), the characterization is paper-thin. She purely exists just as an object to further along Sam Worthington, and her reasons for falling for him are really not established. Her desire to risk herself and her people for him felt taken as fact when it really needed something more tangible to justify it.
4. The visuals are not that interesting.
A lot of people seem to just take it for granted that Avatar looks good. Granted there is no question that Cameron pushed 3-D technology significantly forward and obviously spent a great deal of time and energy on making this film. The problem is the film ran into the CGI limits that so many other films before and since have run into – there is only so good it can look. The world really never comes together as plausible because the look is just too hokey given how seriously it is presented. Based on the goals and the vision of the film, I am not so sure how much better it can get than these mediocre results.
5. The movie is really…not much
Just as I felt back in 2009, my 2022 re-watch of Avatar left me feeling underwhelmed and decidedly unenthused by the prospect of watching more sequels. I find Cameron a fascinating part of film history, and I am glad he exists. But he continuously makes impressive spectacles that I simply do not give a fuck about. Avatar was not an exception.