I saw Avatar with my friends last night, and it certainly lived up to its hype in terms of technological progress. I was lucky enough to see it in 3D, and I certainly recommend that to anyone who is going to see. However, when the movie was over, my friends began to talk about how it was one of the best movies they had ever seen, and in that respect, I couldn’t disagree more. It had been likened to Star Wars by the hype, and in the special effects I agree. But when I watch Star Wars, I forget I am watching a movie. The story is engrossing enough to keep me from thinking about reality for two hours, and in that respect Avatar comes up well short. My more detailed thoughts follow and contain some spoilers.

When watching Star Wars, one of the things that I love is the chemistry between Luke, Han, Leia, Obi-wan, and virtually every character in the movie. That is my first criticism. I did not like the characters, especially Jake and Norman. Norman rubbing in his superior knowledge, Jake disregarding the mission he had signed up for by running straight out of the incubation room; I was rooting against them for the whole movie. And whereas Star Wars used archetypes in a way that seemed original, Avatar seemed completely cliched. The aforementioned running outside made me think to myself, “groan, they are trying to set him up as the main character who doesn’t follow the rules but has the overwhelming passion.” When Sigourney Weaver was sassing that corporate guy, I thought, “groan, she’s the inside agent who resists the authority to do the right thing.” In the final battle, I was rooting for all the good guys to die! I knew they weren’t going to, of course, but I just didn’t want the movie to continue being a cliched piece of storytelling.

Roger Ebert, who I usually agree very closely with, somehow came away liking the movie. Although he does echo my criticisms, he finds the flaws unimportant:

I’ve complained that many recent films abandon story telling in their third acts and go for wall-to-wall action. Cameron essentially does that here, but has invested well in establishing his characters so that it matters what they do in battle and how they do it. There are issues at stake greater than simply which side wins.

I disagree, although my respect for Ebert makes it hard to be too forceful. I side more with Sonny Bunch from the Washington Times:

It’s impossible to fully consider James Cameron’s long-in-the-making eco-opus “Avatar” without examining the film’s technological wonders and storytelling blunders separately. The picture Mr. Cameron presents to us may be a real achievement, visually, but the story is a total rehash.

I wish as much as anyone that this blew me away, that I could be adding it to my top ten list right now. Unfortunately, that did not happen. I would certainly urge anyone to see it; it is worth the money just for the special effects, for sure. Just don’t expect to be absorbed in the story.