James Cameron has succeeded where George Lucas failed.
That was the one phrase that went through my head on the drive back from the theater. What I mean is, the promise of the CGI technology that Lucas sought in the prequels and failed to achieve, Cameron has gone and fulfilled it. The visuals are a hair away from being photorealistic. It never felt terrible to look at. The 3D is the best I've ever seen and really added to the experience. Absolutely worthwhile for the extra 5 dollars on the ticket, I thought.
Story and dialogue... there's some issues. It's not quite up to par with the visual technology. I'm not gonna go and say it's my favorite Cameron film, Aliens is still there. But it's not so far from that level of quality. Certainly closer then Titanic ever was. As a pure cinematic experience, it delivers.
That was the general overview. Now for the in depth stuff:
Ya know, what's most impressive might just be how Cameron's subverted his entire legacy. What do I mean by that? Well, let's see... in Aliens, he made us root for the space marines as they desperately fought against getting eaten and horribly mutilated by giant aliens. In Avatar, he's actually made us root for the giant aliens as they desperately fought to eat and horribly mutilate the space marines. A much greater feat, I think. (In case you were wondering, I was referring to the scene of the Banshees biting marines and throwing em out of the helos.)
The delivery of the story is pretty damn close to the Cameron we've all known and love. The final huge battle scene... just beautiful action setpieces and payoff. It all clicks together. We don't quite have to suffer all summer under a bunch of hacks and one guy named Michael Bay. You could call this whole December tale The Return of the King. Cameron's returned and god bless him, he's still the king of action. I know my action, Aliens is one of my 5 favorite films of all time, and he has not let us down.
That was the delivery of the story. The actual story itself... ugh. This is problematic for me. Maybe it would have helped if I'd been some sorta tree hugging hippie liberal, but despite living in San Francisco, I am not. So the story really uh... didn't work that well for me. I've never watched Dances with Wolves, but I can completely understand what they mean when they say this film is Dances with Wolves in Space. It basically is just this tale about the white man moving in and trying to take the land of the poor Indians. And how we have to fight back. Jake's whole speech before the battle there kinda nailed it. Though I found it funny how he said "They will not take our land!" Our land, Jake? Last time I checked, you were a human. You're not a native. It's not quite your land. But uh... yea, this whole story was just so cliched and predictable and the overall themes were so bluntly put... it did begin to nag at me. It was bothersome. The Naavi themselves seem to be a hybrid of Indians and Africans. When it's about taking their land, it's obviously an Indian reference. But they also have dreadlocks and they do the weird chanting and the music gives us these shrieks and moans... those remind me more of African influences. But yea, the story's about the white man being greedy and taking the land of Indian/Africans. And they have to fight back while riding horses and using bows and arrows. It's just so heavy handed and obvious.
And the fucking lame Bush references... oh my god. It's just Cameron hitting us over the fucking head over and over again. It's just not good. Lines like "We will fight terror with terror" and "Jake, they're planning some sort of shock and awe campaign." I mean, jesus christ. What were you thinking? Aliens was clearly about Vietnam in some manner, but it wasn't that obnoxious about it, was it? Those lines just killed the scenes for me. You could hear the snarky laughter in the audience. Just... ugh, cut it out. We get it dude, you didn't like Bush. We also know you don't like destroying the environment. Thanks for the hints. We should probably also save the whales, right? That's what you're about too, right? Subtlety... more subtlety please.
Okay, let's talk about that one scene... ya know, the uh, the iffy scene. I was totally with the story, going with it up to that point quite well... it was working on me, and I was along for the ride but man... that SCENE. You know the one. Where Jake and the blue cat princess finally... bump uglies. Now, I'd been going along with Cameron but that scene made me feel very very uncomfortable. Like I was watching something a furry would be getting off on. And yea, I know the Naavi don't have any fur. But still... it felt very wrong and disturbing. One of those times where you just manage to let out some nervous laughter.
Sigourney Weaver in this film was fantastic. She shows exactly why we loved her as Ripley and why Cameron brought her back. It was like having an old friend back for a new journey and that's exactly why she was brought back and it worked perfectly. Weaver gave just the right tone to her part and really sold me. When her character left us, it was sad. We didn't want to lose her, we didn't want to lose what she brought to the film.
Michelle Rodriguez obviously plays the Vasquez archetype, though I will say, she's much more likable in this film then she usually is. Michelle Rodriguez usually plays a macho bitch who nobody likes. Ya know, Ana Lucia. Much more sympathetic and understandable this time. A pleasant surprise.
Any great film needs a great villain. Stephen Lang delivers on this old movie axiom. He's the bad guy, but you can't help but enjoy how determined and just... fucking badass he is about being evil. You actually believe a guy like him, with military efficiency, could jump out of an airlock and fire off an entire assault rifle and a pistol clip while holding his breath in a poisonous atmosphere. The look of intensity in his eyes sells the character, and when we get to the final battle between him and Jake, we care about the outcome. We want to see Jake triumph over this military hardass. Again, Cameron succeeds where Lucas failed. Nobody cared about Anakin fighting Dooku or Grievous or whatever. But Stephen Lang is up to the task. Cameron's last film had a giant frozen iceberg for an antagonist. This time, we get something much better, a great menacing actor.
HEY, JAKE SULLY RAPED HIS BANSHEE:
You're probably wondering what I'm talking about. Well, it's quite clear. Jake raped his banshee. When he first tamed it. Yes, you heard me right. That was an act of rape. It's all quite clear to me. You see, Jake was on top of the poor creature, trying to assert his dominance over it. He had it bound with that rope or grass strap thingy and it was all gagged. Then he bent its neck so it was almost choking. You could see the fear and pain in its eyes. It was fighting back. It even knocked Jake off its back. It was trying to get away from Jake's domination over its form. But Jake just wouldn't take no for an answer. He got back and again mounted the banshee. Got right back on top and quickly thrust his ponytail appendage tentacles into the banshee's oozing orifice. Immediately, you could see a change as Jake telepathically took over the banshee's mind with his own through that ponytail appendage connection. The struggle ceased, Jake had conquered the weakened winged victim. That was rape right there, ladies and gentlemen. Jake Sully raped his banshee. It was even worse then Spock's mind meld rape of Valeris in Star Trek VI The Undiscovered Country.
Jake didn't rape his horse, because the horse didn't put up a struggle when he tried to stick his ponytail appendage into its quivering orifice. That wasn't rape. But the banshee was different. The banshee didn't want his appendage. That's the difference, people. Jake Sully is a rapist. Does it count as bestiality? Or is it bestiality twice over, since Jake is actually a human acting through his Naavi avatar raping the Banshee? I dunno, but it was terrible. Not a movie for kids.
Now, the ending. The ending is ridiculous. Preposterous. How can anyone buy that ending? I'm not talking about Jake Sully getting transferred into his avatar, that was just expected and whatever. I'm talking about the humans getting forced offworld by the Naavi resistance with their proverbial tails between their legs. That is in no way a believable ending. Because guess what, even though Stephen Lang and his space marines got defeated, there's still the rest of Earth's military industrial complex. And they're just gonna send in a bigger spaceship, or multiple spaceships. And they're gonna be packing nukes. That's right, what's gonna happen is that the Naavi are all gonna get nuked. Think about it... we humans have learned how to travel interstellar distances, you think all we have are armed humanoid walkers with large gauss cannons and napalm missiles? Hell no, we're gonna have much better equipment. (I was about to say power armor but walkers seems more accurate, they were driven more then actually worn) So the happy ending with the humans just leaving and the Naavi living happily ever after, that's not realistic at all. The Naavi and Jake and all the trees are going to get nuked to kingdom come.
PS: Oh yea... unobtainium? WTF? They actually called it that in the film. Cmon, copying from The Core isn't something you should do.