I didn't expect to like it, but I went in with an open mind. That being said, I didn't hate it, but I found it to be rather mediocre. Let's see if I can break this down constructively and concisely:
Avatar was being billed as the film to change the landscape of cinema. It was shiny and pretty, but I wasn't blown out of the water. Yes, there were moments where completely computer generated imagery seemed real (unfortunately a lot of those moments involved characters overlooking cliffs, which made me a little light-headed). At times the Na'vi did appear to really exist and be present, but for every moment I felt that way, there was another moment where it just seemed like really good CG. I think the technology that Cameron has developed will be very useful for big action films and any movie that needs a Golem or a Jar Jar, and I appreciate that. But I've heard accounts in which the audience member felt like they were completely transported to a whole new world and it didn't feel like a movie. I saw it in 3D, but it still only felt like a really big-budget action film.
I understand the notion behind making the world of Pandora pretty and bad-ass and perfect; it's so the audience will be super-devastated when the idiot humans destroy it. But it was too much for me. It started okay. The animals are bigger and have more appendages than our do, there's a lot of trees, the people are 8 feet tall and blue. All good. But then nighttime rolls around, and it turns into my bedroom circa 8th grade. Did everything have to glow like an acid trip? I make fairy wings and am all over anything bright and colorful and glittery, but this was like being hit over the head with a Myspace page. The grandness of the world reminded me of how fake and imagined it was.
And I was pretty much okay with the Na'vi and how they looked and how agile and ninja-like they are, but then they had weird hair penis things? That was weird, right? Again, I understand it was really to push this idea that a humanoid species can really be in tune with mother earth, but couldn't they just like, use the force, or 'commune' with the creatures? The actual physical connection was too much for me.
So here's where I had big problems with the movie. It's Pocahontas with blue people. I know everyone's aware of that by now, and a lot of people seem to perfectly okay with it. I'm not. It pisses me off. I'm very much in favor of movies pointing out what a terrible species we've become, be it in regards to the slaughter of whomever we don't agree with/have things we want or how we're fine with systematically obliterating the ecosystem so as long we all have iPods. I am for such messages. But I also like good movies, and I think it's possible to get a message across without beating it into the audience's brain with bland storytelling. One of my favorite movies of 2009, District 9, did a really damn fine job of sending a message while telling a wonderfully heart-breaking story, plus it had effects that were kick-ass. Wall-E, another recent film, also hit home with a super strong message that, although it was the basis for the overall plot, it wasn't the direct focus of the film. So it can be done. You can make good movies with a strong message that are enjoyable to watch.
But I just didn't care while watching Avatar. I knew exactly every little thing that was going to happen and every arc that each character would endure. And that's BORING. It makes me not care. There were some great actors in this film, but the material they were working with was so uninspiring that almost everyone fell flat onscreen. The only person I really liked and wanted more from, was Giovanni Ribisi, the evil, sadistic, corporate bad-guy. I'm not saying the movie needed to break the mold from a storytelling angle, but just a little bit more depth and a little less cliche could've helped tremendously. I think Cameron should've written an outline, handed it over to some bad-ass award winning writer, and then used that as a shooting script, instead of writing it himself.
Avatar is raking in tons of money, which makes me think that maybe I'm wrong. Maybe it was a super great movie and I'm just picky. But I have a sinking feeling that people are just easily entertained. They see flashy shiny things and think it's art. And I'm still really baffled by the Golden Globe win. That better not happen at Oscar time.