Okay. I think we can all agree that James Cameron is a deeply annoying blowhard: something about his face—like a smug, puffy kitten—and his Titanic and his enthusiasm for Bill Paxton and his propensity for announcing that he is like the Thomas Edison of fine wines of Fabergé eggs of filmmaking of the future. He is silly. He drives me crazy. I don't want James Cameron on my phone, or in my hot tub, or—god forbid—next to me on a plane (I would prefer a snake under all three circumstances!). I do, however, as it turns out, desperately want James Cameron in my movie theater. (Except for sometimes. But this is not one of those sometimes.)
I fully expected to dislike Avatar, because I make it a policy to dislike things that deeply annoying blowhards just won't fucking shut up about (see also: Jesus, kombucha, Tiger Woods). However, a curious thing happened when I sat down and actually watched it. That thing was called "THE BEST MOVIE ABOUT GIANT BLUE CAT PEOPLE EVER TO SHOOT INTO MY SKEPTICAL EYEBALLS." Cameron didn't lie: This movie rules.
Here's the situation. The story is as simple as it gets—Cameron really doesn't do subtlety. Avatar is FernGully meets space meets The Air Up There (these cat people totally reminded me of the really tall dude in Kevin Bacon's Africa-meets-sports classic The Air Up There—is that racist?). There's this alien jungle planet called Pandora, where a spunky space industrialist (Giovanni Ribisi) is mining for the world's valuablest nonsense mineral (called, for realsies, "unobtainium") with the help of the U.S. Army and Sigourney Weaver, Reluctant Scientist (and Terrible Actress). It's suuuper awkward, though, because the biggest unobtainium chunk EVAR is right underneath this really, really big tree where the aforementioned very tall magical blue cat people live! So what's a spunky space industrialist to do? Why, have Sigourney Weaver breed some hybrid human/cat-people avatars (called "avatars") to infiltrate the cat people and trick them into moving their entire civilization, of course! Because diplomacy is #1! (Gigantic bulldozers are #2.)
So. The main avatar is piloted (via science pod) by one Jake Sully (Sam Worthington, Hot Australian), a bewheelchaired marine who doesn't give much of a shit about cat people, but who REALLY gives a shit about getting his legs back (they can do that in the future—but apparently in the future, veterans still have shitty benefits). "There's no such thing as an ex-marine," he grumbles hotly. "Even if you're out, you've always got the attitude."
Jake Sully, in his big blue avatar body, goes to the cat people and he's all, "'Sup" (hot), and they're all, "Meow?" (not really), and he's all, "Yup, I'm the chosen one" (or something), and the great Earth Mother is all, "Jake Sully! 'Bout it, 'bout it!" (paraphrasing), and he goes through their complex warrior training and initiation (much like Kevin Bacon in The Air Up There!) and comes out the other side a fully certified cat-person jungle-parkour dino-wrangler. The cat people are all spiritually in tune with the environment and stuff, the human people are all greedy and bulldozey, and Jake Sully still wants his legs back—so what's a human turncoat in a blue cat body to do when the bulldozers come? Awesome stuff, as it turns out. Just a whole bunch of awesome, awesome stuff.
Make no mistake: Avatar is ridiculous. It's the kind of movie where people are always telling other people that they are "not in Kansas anymore" and saying splendidly cartoony things like "I was going to have to take it to a whole new level" and "If there is a hell, you might want to go there for R&R after a tour on Pandora." There's a slightly uncomfortable level of exotification going on—the cat people are your basic noble- savage earth worshippers with African accents and peaceful wisdom. And it's pretty clumsy in the Indictment of the Modern American Military department ("Our only security lies in preemptive attack," says the evil colonel with the 40-inch neck, "and we will fight terror with terror"; the words "shock and awe" are used). But I'm going to have to go ahead and say fuck all that, because of one thing: JAKE SULLY IS CONSTANTLY BEING CHASED BY A MONSTER.
Avatar—at almost three hours—is literally never not exciting. The creatures that inhabit Pandora's stunning glow-stick jungle (it's basically Blacklight Poster: The Movie) will blow your mind up: skinless dogs, dino-rhinos, lizard-lions, everything fast and alive and terrifying AND CHASING YOU. I had the adrenaline shakes for the whole ride home. And even if he's not much for complexity, Cameron knows how to structure a story. Avatar is a magnificent piece of entertainment. I might even allow him in my hot tub for this one. (But DON'T GET USED TO IT, CAMERON!)