2009, PG-13, 162 min. Directed by James Cameron. Starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Giovanni Ribisi, Joel David Moore, CCH Pounder, Wes Studi, Laz Alonso.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Dec. 18, 2009

At 162 minutes and a cost of somewhere between $250 million and $300 million, Cameron's ne plus ultra of futuristic mechanized mayhem and seamless CGI trickery is both a cinematically spectacular slab of virtually nonstop action and an unmistakable diatribe against corporatized American imperialism. There are the usual muscled-up boys (and equally powerful girls) with big-bang toys, crying havoc and letting slip the dogs of war, to be sure, but at its heart this mammoth film is … a chick flick, with all the dramatic keynotes that the phrase implies. Forbidden, interspecies love? Reverence for a planetary feminist godhead? Clandestine dalliances far from the madding crowd? Avatar has all of those romantic tropes and more, and, despite a script that at times leaves its most interesting characters delivering some of the most banal lines in a Cameron film thus far, somehow it all holds together. Avatar is unmistakably the work of a director who passionately believes that untrammeled, Western-style imperialism and its attendant reliance on the rape and looting of foreign cultures and their natural resources is a pivotal societal sin. That said, there's enough white-hot testosterone and Amazonian estrogen to satisfy Cameron's sci-fi fanboy base and then some. Occurring in the year 2154 after the total depletion of all of the Earth's natural resouces, Avatar is set on the planet Pandora, where mining operations have run up against the planet's indigenous people, the Na'Vi. Eleven feet tall, blue-skinned, vaguely feline bipeds who recall both real-world Australian aborigines and American Indians in their spiritual reverence of nature, the Na'Vi are infiltrated by Jake Sully (Worthington), a former Marine grunt who has suffered an unspecified spinal injury. Sully is tasked by the bellicose Col. Miles Quaritch (Lang) with finding a way to remove the Na'Vi, whose social system is complex and matriarchal, from their homeland. This is done by placing Sully's consciousness within a bio-engineered Na'Vi body – an "avatar" – under the guidance of sympathetic ethnobiologist Dr. Grace Augustine (Weaver), who is kept in the dark about Sully's covert mission, the better to lure the Na'Vi to their presumptive doom. But Sully, who regains the use of his paralyzed legs whenever he inhabits his Na'Vi self, slowly comes to appreciate the indigenous world even as he begins to be repulsed by the callow, predatory nature of his true species. Avatar is not without its faults – the dialogue is somewhat less than crackling – but as a purely visual experience, it's like nothing you've ever seen before: a lush, sexy, primal world created entirely by Cameron's legions of CGI masters. For a film with such a lengthy running time, Avatar moves like a rocket (or one of the Na'Vi's wickedly barbed arrows). It's thrilling and lovely and sad and explosive in all the right ways, and it needs to be seen – on the big screen, in 3-D – to be believed.

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Avatar, James Cameron, Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Giovanni Ribisi, Joel David Moore, CCH Pounder, Wes Studi, Laz Alonso

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