Original Avatar Movie Review

In anticipation of the next Avatar movie, here’s a revisit of the original and why it remains a stand out.

The poster for the Avatar re-release in September

The poster for the Avatar re-release in September


Released: December 10, 2009

Directed by: James Cameron

Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, and Sigourney Weaver

As the highest grossing modern film of all time, Avatar has quite a reputation. With some of the best CGI ever seen, it’s hard to not be impressed by such an incredible work. In preparation for the upcoming sequel, Avatar: The Way of Water, I went ahead and rewatched the first movie, originally released in 2009 and re-released in September of 2022. With a run time of nearly 3 hours, the movie is able to introduce and effectively develop many characters and storylines in a single movie.

The story follows a disabled marine veteran, Jake Sully, who is headed to a distant moon called Pandora in the year 2154. This beautiful moon is home to an array of interesting biodiversity never seen before by humans, including an indigenous species called Na’vi. The Na’vi are intelligent 10-foot tall blue-skinned humanoids that the humans had been interacting with during their stay on Pandora, which was primarily for the allocation of resources. Because of the poisonous atmosphere and harsh conditions, humans developed Na’vi-human hybrids called Avatars. Humans could then remotely link to the Avatars and explore the world. Jake’s brother, a scientist, had originally been headed to Pandora, but after his untimely death, Jake took his place. He found that through the Avatar body he could escape his human disability which bound him to a wheelchair, and finally run again. As the story progresses, Jake interacts more with the indigenous tribe, integrating himself into their society and becoming one of them. He falls in love with the chief’s daughter, Neytiri, who teaches him the ways of her people. When the humans come to destroy their home and people, Jake decides to side with the Na’vi, defending his new family against the invaders. 

Upon my first viewing of the movie, I was astounded by the visual effects, which involved the creation of incredible new motion-capture filming techniques and rendering capabilities. Everything from lush alien forests to cloud covered floating mountains looked so realistic that it’s like they had filmed on location. Interestingly enough, the concept of the movie had been developed by Director James Cameron back in the 1990s, but he believed that the technology available at the time was not sufficient to achieve his vision. The majority of the movie’s praise comes from the astounding next-generation visual effects, which some critics have gone as far to say “this is the evolution of entertainment”.

The film’s plot is an allegory for the invasion and colonization of a foreign power onto a native people. The first instance of this that comes to mind is the invasion of the land of Indigenous tribes in America. The story was executed very well and the devastation left by antagonists on the beautiful world leave you siding with the Na’vi and angry towards the military, which is exactly what the movie aimed to do. Additionally, passive-aggressive behaviors and dialogue between military leaders and economic development directors sets viewers on edge and further defines them as the villains of this story, directly contrasting with the inquisitive minds of the scientists.

The sequel to this amazing movie, Avatar: The Way of Water, is set to release in December, and is one of the most anticipated movies ever due to the massive release gap between the first movie and the second. With the first movie being released more than a decade prior, many fans, including myself, are itching to see what director James Cameron has planned for this sequel in the thirteen years since the release of the first Avatar. Cameron has stated that he has 5 Avatar movies planned out but waited to start production of a sequel until he knew that his first movie was a hit. The plot of The Way of Water is still under wraps and we won’t find out for sure until its released, but from the trailers it appears that we’ll be exploring more of Pandora, mostly focusing on the oceans and the tribes of Na’vi that live in that ecosystem. The aquatic environment was what held back production, because Cameron wished to have the same stunning visuals as his 2009 film, but lacked the technology for underwater motion-capture technology, once again opting to wait until this kind of filming was developed.

Avatar is a revolutionary movie that was years ahead of its time. The movie is best remembered for its astonishing CGI and the creation of a species and environment so realistic that it’s hard to believe that it was created on a bank of computers. The plot is like a roller coaster, with so many twists and turns that you have no choice but to be brought along for the ride. The film expertly avoids the trope of aliens being the villain, and instead focuses more on the bigger picture. As said by a fan of the movie, “Avatar has more than heroes and villains could offer. It’s the story of a habitat, a generation, and a survival. That’s why the film is special.”