Avatar
4 stars
Written and directed by James Cameron
Starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver

Ever since “Avatar” trailers started making the rounds, flaunting blue-skinned, skinny-necked CGI creatures, the world has issued a collective scoff. People are itching to hate on “Avatar,” James Cameron’s first movie in over a decade. Well, the laugh is on the naysayers, because “Avatar” is a gorgeous feat that will go down in history as a movie that single-handedly raised the bar for CGI wizardry.

“Avatar” is set on a lush planet called Pandora, where a human corporation is tearing down forests — home to an indigenous population called the Na’vi — to mine a precious mineral. Since the atmosphere is unbreathable, the company has created an Avatar program that allows scientists to inhabit, remotely, the bodies of human-Na’vi hybrids. Their function is, ostensibly, to broker peace with the Na’vi and learn more about their world.

Sam Worthington (“Terminator Salvation”) stars as Jake Sully, a paraplegic Marine who joins the Avatar team. Jake loves his cobalt avatar body. It has functional legs, first of all, as well as might, grace and agility. One day his avatar gets captured by a Na’vi beauty named Neytiri (Zoe Saldana). She takes him to her warrior clan, which graciously accepts him as one of their own.

As Jake adapts to the Na’vi’s one-with-nature ways, the local military commander enlists him to become their mole — to help kick the Na’vi off their turf once and for all. The Marine in Jake obliges, but over time, his allegiance to his human brethren wavers.

Cameron wants to immerse you in Pandora, and he succeeds beyond expectations. The Na’vi emotions are visceral and the sense of scale, alone, is awesome. Vehicles the size of a five-story Costco mow across the landscape. When a massive tree falls, it’s almost as epic as watching the Titanic plunge into the ocean. One stupendous scene creates the image of floating islands — if such geological formations existed, you imagine this is what it would feel like to see them up close.

If you can see it in 3D, do it. Until now, 3D has seemed more gimmicky than anything else. Cameron, however, makes tremendous use of the technology. Not a minute goes by where something three-dimensional is not catching your eye and delighting you. Watching “Avatar” in 2D would almost be like watching a movie without the sound.

Cameron’s greatest accomplishment is that he’s created an effects-laden movie that doesn’t feel effects-laden. Too many directors computer-generate the soul out of their films, but not this director. The story on its own may not break any molds, but when it’s told Cameron’s way, it is transcendent.