From 'Avatar' to 'Avengers': Saldana is sci-fi's brightest star

  • Zoe Saldana, left, plays a key roles in several hot sci-fi films, including "Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2."

    Zoe Saldana, left, plays a key roles in several hot sci-fi films, including "Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2." Courtesy of Disney-Marvel

  • Zoe Saldana, left, stars as Uhura opposite Zachary Quinto as Spock in a "Star Trek Into Darkness."

    Zoe Saldana, left, stars as Uhura opposite Zachary Quinto as Spock in a "Star Trek Into Darkness." Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

  • Zoe Saldana's films have racked up big box at the box office, including all-time champ "Avatar."

    Zoe Saldana's films have racked up big box at the box office, including all-time champ "Avatar." Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

 
 
Posted5/4/2018 6:00 AM

Her movies have grossed more than $7 billion at the global box office. In the U.S., they've raked in more money than films starring no less a superstar than Julia Roberts. She was in the highest-grossing film in history and currently appears in the comic-book blockbuster that could challenge for the title.

She's Zoe Saldana, and she deserves to be a household name. Her movies certainly are.

 

The New Jersey native's first big roles came in the 2000 ballet film "Center Stage" and the ill-fated 2002 Britney Spears vehicle "Crossroads." The next year brought a tiny part in Disney's surprise smash "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" -- a preview of the successes ahead.

Saldana was a bright spot in Steven Spielberg's so-so 2004 comedy "The Terminal" as a customs officer who wins the heart of Diego Luna's airline worker partly with her love of "Star Trek" -- how's that for an omen? Saldana has played Lt. Uhura three times in the "Trek" reboot series that began in 2009, the same year she would bring humanity and, dare I say, sexiness to a 10-foot CGI cat person in James Cameron's "Avatar," the undisputed box office champ at $2.7 billion. The long-gestating "Avatar" sequel may reach theaters in December 2020.

But two gigantic sci-fi franchises weren't enough for Saldana, who also plays green-skinned warrior Gamora in the "Guardians of the Galaxy" films within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Her contribution to "Avengers: Infinity War," the franchise's crossover event, is crucial: Gamora has the most tragic, impactful plot thread in a film full of them. (More on that movie in a minute.)

Saldana can also be seen in AMC's six-part documentary series, "James Cameron's The Story of Science Fiction," airing at 9 p.m. Mondays. A quote in an April 9 SyFy.com article sums up her advocacy for the genre: "I feel so proud to be living in space, to be playing green and blue aliens, to inspire, primarily, the younger generations. I remember what it was like to be young and to feel completely excluded out of the mainstream conversation of life because I was just little and unimportant and 'other.'"

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Zoe Saldana has been giving memorable performances in huge, genre-defining films for almost a decade, and makes a terrific argument for those films' place in our culture. Let's hope the kinds of roles that earn Oscar nominations will soon be hers.

Grade: incomplete

I liked almost everything about "Avengers: Infinity War," starting with Josh Brolin's surprisingly nuanced, sympathetic performance as Thanos, a motion-captured CGI villain who believes he can save the universe by wiping out half of the people living in it. I laughed often, thanks mostly to Dave Bautista's deadpan Drax the Destroyer. Even at 160 minutes, this war never feels like it's taking an infinity -- the only parts that drag feature Peter Dinklage's indifferent performance. (His scenes are perfect opportunities for bathroom breaks.)

So why did I feel so empty when it was over?

Because this is only half the story. There's another, untitled "Avengers" film awaiting us next May, one that could potentially undo the finality of certain events in "Infinity War." If there is closure to be had in this first half, our main protagonists (Iron Man, Thor, etc.) don't get it. The result is reminiscent of 2003's "The Matrix Reloaded," which actually ended with "TO BE CONCLUDED" slathered across the screen. "Infinity War" is a better, more satisfying experience, but the ending (or lack thereof) deflates us after two hours of floating on superhero helium.

Ranking it among the 18 previous Marvel movies seems impossible; "Infinity War" keeps topping itself, scene to scene, but doesn't add up to much. If I could summon the power of the Time Stone and watch the next installment right now, I would -- unfortunately, a final verdict on "Infinity War" will have to wait another 12 months.

• Sean Stangland is a Daily Herald multiplatform editor. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanStanglandDH.

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