James Cameron’s films tend to work despite him. The sheer, sweeping power of the maritime disaster in Titanic enabled viewers to ignore the ham-fisted, cliché laden romance of the two young protagonists; similarly, the over-the-top stunts and set pieces in True Lies arrested our attention away from what was otherwise a viciously racist and misogynist piece of junk. The same effect is at work here, with his new, colossally expensive, 161-minute sci fi opus: Pandora, the world he’s created, is so bewitching and visually stunning, you don’t mind quite so much that the script itself is pretty wretched.
The story involves human exploitation of a gorgeous planet filled with some incredibly precious metal known as — wait for it — “unobtainium.” It seems the indigenous populace of Pandora aren’t terribly keen on having humans come and destroy everything in their forest in the procurement of said mineral, so a guerrilla war has been raging between the two species. Our hero is Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic Marine who, for reasons both too complicated and too silly to get into, soon finds himself the consciousness of an avatar — a sort of hybrid of human and native Na’vi, designed to befriend the natives and better allow them to trust us. Jake eventually gets accepted by the natives, including the daughter of the leader of this particular tribe, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), with whom he naturally falls in love. Eventually, he is torn between fulfilling his mission to get the Na’vi to relocate so the evil corporations can ravage their land and helping his new friends rid the planet of the humans.
As a standard, plot-driven narrative, the film fails to hold much water, a simplistic good/evil dichotomy piled on top of an anti-colonialism screed, mixed in with the wrath of the environmentalist essentially renders everyone almost completely devoid of personality, especially the Na’vi, who all seem to have the exact same body type and disposition; but as sheer spectacle it’s far more successful. Pandora is vibrant, colorful and fascinating: The scenery is nothing short of breathtaking, especially experiencing the IMAX 3D version — which I would greatly recommend if you plan on seeing the film in the first place. As a benchmark of Hollywood CGI possibility, it’s a sight to behold, it’s just too bad all those characters and plot elements have to go and ruin a good thing. Perhaps Cameron would have better off making a National Geographic-style “documentary” of the planet and its environs and been done with it.
Piers Marchant is a Philly-based writer and editor, and the EIC (and film critic) for two.one.five magazine (215mag.com). His reviews can be found on 215mag.com and his tumblr blog, Sweet Smell of Success. You can also follow him on twitter @kafkaesque83.
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