This post will be relatively short, which is ironic considering the gargantuan length of this film.
If you were over the age of five and had a capable brain in 2009, you know what this is. Even if you haven’t seen it, you know what it is. At one point the highest-grossing film of all time—only beaten out by Avengers: Endgame last year—Avatar was insanely popular upon its release. Critics were pretty fond of it (though not blown away), general audiences watched it probably a thousand times in theaters, and I believe I saw one online publication at the time dub it “the greatest-looking film of all time.” I really wish I were more conscious of my country’s culture at the time, as it would’ve been fascinating to see just how expansive this film’s reach was on the modern world.
Nowadays, people consider this the most overrated film of all time.
I get it. When a film of such magnitude, such popularity asserts itself into the mainstream, it becomes a target. Wells of cynicism and enormous expectations pound together in vile fusion to try and bring the perceived pedestal down to ground level. I used to be the same way, and to some extent, I still am.
Billie Eilish? She’s the “it” thing in the music industry right now. She’s broken into the mainstream and just won five Grammy awards for her latest album. Do I think she’s good? No. Will I ever come to enjoy her music? Probably not. Do I think she’s overrated? I don’t really care. All I can say is that when her music plays on my work commute on the radio, I immediately change it. But the entire point of bringing this up is that she’s everywhere. And when something is everywhere, people who aren’t taken by its presence begin to get annoyed.
Avatar has this same influence. At the time, it was everywhere. Over time, people began to grow annoyed, and now when you visit its Letterboxd page, two of the three most-liked reviews are average/negative scores calling it overrated/pompous. Does it really deserve this shunning for being popular? Do they have valid points? Is it actually worth the hype? Whatever the answer to those questions are, I can only speak from a perspective that’s far past any prior loathing for its popularity. And I liked it.
The most common criticisms attached to it include a lackluster story and simple characters. I absolutely agree. There wasn’t any one character where I genuinely anticipated having them onscreen, with some small exceptions allowed for Sigourney Weaver’s, Michelle Rodriguez’s, and Zoey Saldana’s characters. In terms of story, its almost fairy tale-esque. Good guys are good, bad guys are bad. Fish out of water. Personal redemption. Sci-fi fantasy stuff. Pretty accessible writing, tailor-made to appeal to all possible.
What made this work for me was the detail and progression made in creating a new world. When it comes to adventures, sometimes all a film needs to do to hook me is to create an immersive, splendorous reality that I can believe in. Visual effects helped with this tremendously, which still looked pretty good compared to today’s standards, but it was more about the culture of the Na’vi—their customs, rituals, and showcasing of everyday life. Would’ve liked to have seen more of it, but the story of good vs. evil was pretty all-encompassing, unfortunately. By the end, I was fairly invested in what I was watching, pleasantly surprised that my forecasted cynicism decided not to arrive.
Shit, this ended up longer than I thought. Okay! So, this is a pretty divisive film, and you either love it or hate it (as I once said in a review about eight years ago). I’m more on the side of love, while acknowledging that this is a story for children that they would read in kindergarten. Whatever is important to you in film will be the deciding factor of whether this is worth watching in 2020 and beyond. The bajillion planned sequels will all probably be awful.
Final Score: 7/10
The rating for all other films can be found at Letterboxd.
For more, check out the March of the Movies Archive!
Thank you for your time. Have a great day.