Unfortunately, whenever the action lets up and we’re returned to the piddling story, the picture slumps like a failed soufflé. It’s also heavily laced with political instruction of a most familiar sort. Cameron, who’s now 55, is a self-acknowledged aging hippie, and his boomer worldview is strictly by-the-numbers. Quaritch and Selfridge are evil Americans despoiling the Na’vi’s idyllic planet in exactly the same way that the humans have (we’re told) trashed their own native orb. The invaders are armed with deplorable corporate technology (an odd animosity in a major-studio movie that reportedly cost more than $200 million to make), and they speak the familiar — and here rather anachronistic — language of contemporary American warmongering. (“We will fight terror with terror!” “It’s some kind of shock-and-awe campaign!”)
The Na’vi, on the other hand, with their bows and arrows and long braided hair, are stand-ins for every spiritually astute and ecologically conscientious indigenous population ever ground down under the heel of rampaging Western imperialism. They appear to have no warlike impulses themselves, and they live in complete harmony with their environment. (They even talk to trees.) Why, the movie asks, as if the question were new, can’t we be more like them?