Action-heavy epic has dazzling effects, familiar story.
Based on 245 reviews
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that James Cameron's sci-fi epic Avatar is about humans colonizing the planet Pandora, home to the Na'vi. The movie is long (at 161 minutes) and intense, with several effects-heavy battle and hunting sequences that show the devastation of imperialist violence and the right that Indigenous groups have to protect themselves and their land. These scenes include missile-launching military aircraft, neurotoxin-laced arrows, scary Pandora-dwelling fauna and flora, and lots of explosions. Salty wartime language includes many uses of "s--t," "bitch," and more. As in his previous films, Cameron infuses the action-driven story with strong female characters who are important to the plot, and crafts a morality tale about treating others with respect centered in a romantic relationship. Main character Jake uses a wheelchair in his daily life and a Na'vi "avatar" body to interact with local populations, and the human-Na'vi relationship in question gets a bit complicated because the human is actually using his Na'vi avatar. Na'vi clothing makes parts of their bodies visible from time to time. The romantic leads have chemistry that's sometimes sensual. (Note: Fans of the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender should know that this movie is in no way connected to that show or the movie based on it.)
Very well done. Make sure you are not only an older teen, but a mature one too. Watch the family edition.
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What's the Story?
In the 22nd century, Marine Jake Scully (Sam Worthington), who uses a wheelchair, embarks on a corporate-run, military-backed experiment in which he and a select group of academics -- led by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) -- can fully control avatars that look exactly like the Na'vi: the lean, blue-skinned native population of a distant world called Pandora. On his first outing as his AVATAR, Jake is saved by Na'vi Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) and then captured by her clan. They decide to spare Jake's life as long as he agrees to learn the Na'vi ways from Neytiri. He does, but then he's told by villainous Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang) that he'll be spying on the Na'vi to make it easier to remove them from their home, an ancestral tree that's rooted above a deposit of an unbelievably valuable substance called "Unobtainium" (pun intended). As Jake becomes more and more involved with Neytiri and her people, he's forced to choose between following orders and respecting the Na'vi's wishes.
Is It Any Good?
James Cameron, director of the highest-grossing movie ever made (Titanic), risked a rumored $500 million on a spectacular futuristic sci-fi epic whose main characters are blue aliens and settings are mostly CGI. The good news for epic movie lovers everywhere is that Avatar was a massive success. It's more like the story of Dances with Wolves crossed with the breathtaking visual effects of Lord of the Rings and the love story of Titanic, with a splash of the assimilation to a native culture aspect of Apocalypse Now thrown in. Even though Cameron seems to have gone to the same hammy dialogue school of screenwriting as George Lucas, he can certainly immerse viewers in a thoroughly enjoyable spectacle. Every shot of Pandora is amazingly detailed, from floating mountains to flying beasts to the feline-featured Na'vi, who are inspired by several Indigenous cultures. The movie's scale is undeniably impressive.
Cameron owes a huge debt to his movie's female characters, all of whom are much more interesting than the stereotypical men -- especially the outlandishly evil Quaritch and Giovanni Ribisi's greedy corporate overseer. Weaver and Michelle Rodriguez (as soldier Trudy Chacon), like Aliens' Ripley or Terminator's Sarah Connor, could take on anything or anyone, and Saldana follows up a memorable turn as Uhura in Star Trek with another strong performance as Neytiri. It's quite a feat to create romantic electricity between fictional alien creatures, but Saldana and Worthington manage it surprisingly well. If you allow yourself to get lost in Cameron's Pandora, it's impossible not to root for the Na'vi (or Neytiri and Jake). Part sci-fi, part romance, all James Cameron, this is the sci-fi epic that will suck everyone in.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about Avatar's revolutionary special effects. Do they overwhelm or support the movie's story? How does the portrayal of the Na'vi affect the movie's emotional impact?
What themes does Cameron consistently work into his films? Compare the strong female characters in Avatar, Terminator, and Titanic. Any similarities?
What political messages is Cameron exploring in the movie? How are its themes relevant to what's going on in today's world? Do you think these messages will stand the test of time?
Why is it important to respect different cultural groups and treat their traditions and practices as valid and important?
How do the Na'vi and human allies use teamwork to achieve their goals? Why is that an important character strength?
- In theaters: December 18, 2009
- On DVD or streaming: April 20, 2010
- Cast: Michelle Rodriguez, Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, Zoe Saldana
- Director: James Cameron
- Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Topics: Activism, Magic and Fantasy, Science and Nature, Space and Aliens
- Character Strengths: Teamwork
- Run time: 161 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: intense epic battle sequences and warfare, sensuality, language and some smoking
- Last updated: February 18, 2023
Our Editors Recommend
Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope
Sci-fi action classic perfect for sharing with kids.
Classic franchise gets new life; OK for older kids.
Exciting space drama has complex adult themes.
For kids who love sci-fi
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