First of all, the story was ok. A little short on plot, but as much is to be expected from almost any movie these days. The acting was average. Directing was par-for-the-Cameron-course for anyone who has seen Aliens. In fact with the Weaver character, cryogenics, robotic armor, there was so much allusion to Aliens that it was a little tiresome. But it was just as entertaining as any action blockbuster these days (which isn't saying much -- really not my kind of film).
The effects were the best ever in any movie. The art was beautiful. It made the visual effects in Lord of the Rings look like something a freshman animation student would produce. The 3D tech was great and there was fortunately very little "projectile-in-your-face" gimmickry.
This was definitely a political movie with an anti-war message, as well as a pro-environment one. We'll save further discussion on this for later.
Now, Paradigm: Is 3D the new standard for blockbusters? Are we ever going to be able to see a "flat" movie again without calling it boring the same way we can no longer see a movie with any sort of plot or character complexity?
Aliens, Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park forever changed the way we look at film. It's nearly impossible to catch a movie that people don't brand a "chick flick" anymore that doesn't have exploding vehicles and more gun battles than conversations.
Now, all that violence will be brought to you in perfect 3D. Yay.
But... Avatar was a hell of a good movie. The same way Terminator 2 blew you away the first time you saw it, Avatar will have you stunned. If not for the advances in visual effects, it still would have been a good movie. But I'm still waiting for the next cinematic masterpiece, and without the effects, this wouldn't have been it.