Interestingly, the Chicago Reader gives Avatar a rave but highlights not its special effects but its story:
More than a decade in the making, James Cameron’s 3-D fantasy about a colony of human astronauts hoping to plunder an alien rainforest represents a quantum leap in movie magic; watching it, I began to understand how people in 1933 must have felt when they saw King Kong. Motion-capture animation, which transposes actors‚Äô physical movements and facial expressions to digital characters oscreen, has never been executed with such accuracy and delicacy, and the planet’s strange, colorful landscape is so minutely realized, with such careful study of botany and biology, that the movie’s standard eco-parable feels effortlessly sincere. None of this would matter, though, if not for Cameron’s perfectly arcing story line, in which a paraplegic military man (Sam Worthington) gets a chance to inhabit an ambulatory alien body and ultimately must choose between his own people and the tribal community they’re about to attack. With Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, and Giovanni Ribisi.
Finally, Avatar is sitting pretty with an 84 Metacritic (8 scores of 100).
A good summation, I think, from David Poland at Movie City News:
The Seven Avatar Elements That Would Be The Single Key Conceit Of Most Films
It struck me more clearly than before as I watched Avatar again that the film’s power is, in some part, about doing so many things in the story. Some of the positive reviews have taken the position that the film is more action than story. But that’s just insane.
You could certainly argue that there is too much story and that no one part of the story is well served by the density. I would disagree, but you could make the argument intelligently.
In any case, here are the ideas that I noticed that most filmmakers would make as an individual film or at the most, use two of the ideas in one film.
1. A Human Living Inside An Avatar
2. An Alien Planet Filled With Never Before Seen Animals & Humanoids
3. The Massive Machinery of War On A As Yet Unseen Scale
4. Faithless Man Vs Nature/Faith
5. Imperialistic War Against An Indigenous People
6. Nature Vs Machine
7. Fish Out Of Water Love Story