Who's In It: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Giovanni Ribisi, Joel Moore, CCH Pounder
The Basics: Disabled ex-Marine Sam Worthington is sent on a mission to the planet Pandora to help convince its indigenous population of blue-skinned warriors that allowing Earth to mine a rare mineral will be good for them too. (It will also save the Earth and/or make Earth people a lot of money. It kind of flew by as exposition and is only touched on again when Giovanni Ribisi is on screen as the evil environment-raping corporate guy with dollar signs for eyes.) Worthington becomes an avatar--a human mind in the blue body one of Pandora's people--to try and make this hostile takeover seem friendly. Then everybody starts dying via giant, flame-throwing, robot battlesuits.
What's The Deal: James "King of The World" Cameron has a good reason for being the reportedly arrogant S.O.B. that he is: HE MAKES MOVIES THAT ARE AWESOME. Because it's such a monstrously dangerous thing, the big-budget mass appeal must-make-a-billionty-dollars-at-the-box-office-or-we-all-commit-suicide-from-the-shame-of-our-failure film. So many things can go wrong and then you wind up with Will Smith and giant mechanical spiders in Wild Wild West. But Cameron seemingly micromanages the hell out of everything until it's exactly the amount of shiny he wants it to be and, consequently, delivers hugely entertaining (and surprisingly moving) spectacles. Like this one.
How Shiny: If you mocked the early trailer and Twitter-scoffed at the blue people, you're going to be thrilled by the finished product. Cameron is the first director to use motion/performance capture technology properly. No dead eyes, no jerky movements, nothing. You forget you're watching a computer generated character. Meanwhile the other animation, invented surroundings and special effects are seamlessly integrated into the live action. In 20years it may look as fake as Bedknobs and Broomsticks, but for right now it's as perfect looking as you could ever imagine. It's a world you've never seen on screen before and it envelops you.
Easily Forgiven Glitches: The heavy we're-all-part-of-nature message is a little "Colors of the Wind" for my taste, no matter how fundamentally true it may be. Something about Sigourney Weaver intoning spiritual environmental messages sends me running for more Skittles, but otherwise there's not a lot to goof on here. Okay, except for Sam Worthington's on-the-clock dialect learning curve. One day, maybe six movies in the future, he will sound as American as he wants to sound. For now, though, Kylie Minogue can do a more convincing yank accent.
Who Needs Linda Hamilton When You've Got: The always under-appreciated Michelle Rodriguez. I don't think she's ever acting. I think she cultivates a non-stop badass presence and gets people to pay her for it, just walking through life actually connecting the barrels of guns to the skulls of tough guys and cracking lines like, "Uh-huh. You know what this is" before leaving him in a bloody heap and stealing his girlfriend. At least that's what I hope she does.