All of these other films, like Pocahontas, DWW, or even the Iraq War, are clouded by their historical context. We are the product of the trouncing of the natives. … So the natives had to be civilized and brought forward into the present out of the past, and anyone that fought back wasn’t fighting only the invader, they were fighting civilization, science and progress itself.
What Cameron has done in Avatar is constructed a story in which none of that equivocation is possible. It’s set in the future, so it’s about where we are going, not who gave us the world we have today. So he present a choice for the audience – nothing on the screen is you or your ancestors, it is about who you want to become, where you want society to go.
… Avatar differs from the plot of every single one of those archetypical films in one extremely important way – the forces of civilization/progress/technology lose. So Avatar is the first of these kinds of films to make it clear that the people who represent us as we live today are the losers. …
What unobtainium is is unimportant in the film. … Cameron doesn’t bother to explain any more because he understands that audience knows implicitly that because we can’t get it we will take it. Furthermore, Cameron constructed Navi culture to be completely reality-based. The glowing tree and the interconnectedness of all things is not their quaint unenlightened religion. But it’s not a function of religion, it’s a biological fact. … So the audience now understands that it isn’t simply – stubbornness of fear of change underlying Na’vi rejection of humans gifts to them. It’s that the Na’vi simply don’t need what the humans are offering.
Finally, Cameron does one more to neutralize the typical criticism of this genre (the “going native” genre, not sci fi) – he casts military training in a positive light. Jake, we are told, is a marine, the first to control an avatar. And all of his achievements are couched as a product of him being a trained marine.
More from Mefi and the criticism of it related to Dances with Wolves and Pocahontas, etc: