The simplest measure of a film (for me) is whether or not you enjoy yourself at the theatre. In this case, I did. I saw Avatar in Imax 3D, and visually it blew me away. While I realized that the film could be considered 'slow' in places, I found myself not minding at all. I became immersed in the setting and the story and was totally along for the ride.
That having been said, I realize quite well that the story of Avatar was mediocre. It was something that had been seen before in a lot of movies—like a mash-up of "Fern Gully", "Dances With Wolves" and "The Last Samurai". But that didn't matter so much to me, because however predictable the story was, it was still well told and beautiful to watch. Was it my favorite movie of all time? Or even in the top 10? No. But it was one of the best I've seen this year, for sure—and honestly, it was a movie experience unlike anything I've ever had. The 3D was not just a gimmick, it was so fully integrated that it felt 'natural'—but at the same time added a lot to the experience.
I suppose a lot of my positive reaction to the film has to do with the management of expectations. Just from the trailers I had divined that the story probably wasn't going to be too deep. It wasn't, so I wasn't 'let down' at all. That may sound like a bit of a cop-out, but I've found that expectations can really ruin a lot of movies—and I don't think they're always all that fair. I look to Star Wars as an example of this. As a kid, I had NO idea what the movie was about before seeing it. If I were exposed to the same movie for the first time today, I wonder what criticisms I might have. Taken at face value the story line of Star Wars is pretty simplistic, too—Rescue Princess from bad guys. Blow up bad guys' space station. It wasn't THAT original, either—with elements having been taken from various Japanese films and other mythological sources—as well as the whole Nazi thing. It makes me wonder how I would view Avatar today if I were a 7-8 year old. A friend of mine (Todd) said about the same thing when commenting on his experience at Avatar—in fact, that's what prompted me to write this.
In looking back at Avatar, I am pleased to find there are very few plot holes. For the most part, the actions of the characters in the movies were believable, based upon their own experiences. The one argument someone brought up to me was that in the final battle scene of the movie, the humans could have probably avoided a lot (if not all) trouble by simply flying at high altitude to drop their bombs. But my argument against that was that they were overconfident—and based upon battles earlier in the movie, they had every reason to be so. So it made sense within the experience of the movie.
Another strong point of the movie was something I consider a James Cameron hallmark: Strong Characters. I'm not just talking the main characters here (who were all very well acted), I'm talking even the peripheral ones. Oh sure, a lot of time isn't devoted to them, but you at least get an idea of personalities that make them believable as people. I mean, all the folks in the corporate base could have easily been played as corporate drones. But when you see them watch the horrors of battle—of a war THEY brought on a native species—you can see the sadness in some of their eyes, the disgust. And you can see a few who seem to have no problems with it. It just makes things feel 'real'. A real stand-out among the characters in this movie was its villain—the Corporate Military Security guy. He wasn't your typical moustache-twirling villain, evil for evil's sake. He had his own motivations and even some admirable qualities that gave him depth. For instance, when informed that someone is stealing one of his vehicles, he doesn't issue futile orders to his underlings to "Stop them!", then look on impotently as the good guys fly away. Rather, he grabs a gun, kicks a door open and opens fire himself. Hell yeah. Bad ass. Too bad he's the bad guy.
Anyway, I am rambling and could probably go on for quite a while about this. Suffice it to say that Avatar is a movie with a simple story that is told beautifully. What's not to like about that?