‘Never doubt James Cameron’: Avatar 2 first critical reactions call it a ‘visual masterpiece’

Avatar: The Way of Water has been hailed as a “monumental filmmaking achievement” in early reactions from critics and influencers alike.

The highly anticipated sci-fi sequel, which lands in theaters worldwide on December 16, had its world premiere in London last night (December 6). And, once the credits had rolled on Avatar: The Way of Water, journalists and other attendees moved quickly to give their thoughts on James Cameron’s latest epic cinematic release.

Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of the sci-fi movie‘s early impressions were hugely positive, with many showering the follow-up to 2009’s Avatar with as much praise as possible.

Uproxx’s Mike Ryan was one of the first to hail Cameron’s newest film, telling people “never bet against James Cameron” before hailing its visuals by humorously saying “sometimes I’d miss plot points because I’m staring at a Pandora fish”:

AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER: Yeah never bet against James Cameron. Trying to spare hyperbole, but I’ve never seen anything like this from a technical, visual standpoint. It’s overwhelming. Maybe too overwhelming. Sometimes I’d miss plot points because I’m staring at a Pandora fishDecember 6, 2022

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Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes scribe Erik Davis concurred, calling Avatar 2 “visually phenomenal” before adding “this is moviemaking and storytelling at its absolute finest”:

Happy to say #AvatarTheWayOfWater is phenomenal! Bigger, better & more emotional than #Avatar, the film is visually breathtaking, visceral & incredibly engrossing. The story, the spectacle, the spirituality, the beauty – this is moviemaking & storytelling at its absolute finest. pic.twitter.com/RicnpDghrxDecember 6, 2022

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Many others felt the same way about the movie’s awe-inspiring 3D visuals and aesthetic. Phase Zero’s Brandon Davis said “there’s no overstating how visually impressive” and “gorgeous” it looks in Dolby 3D, while ReelBlend’s Kevin McCarthy suggested its “48fps 3D experience features some of the most jaw-dropping immersion I’ve ever seen”. 

Collider’s Perri Nemiroff claimed she always had faith that Cameron would deliver a visual feast, but admitted she wasn’t ready for how “mind blowing” it is and that “the technical feats always feel in service of character and world building”:

#AvatarTheWayOfWater is pretty incredible. I had faith James Cameron would raise the bar w/ the effects but these visuals are mind-blowing. One stunning frame after the next. But the thing I dug most is how the technical feats always feel in service of character & world-building. pic.twitter.com/MXeN3z8BnPDecember 6, 2022

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There were even some reactions that hailed Avatar 2 is some pretty amusing ways. The Atlantic’s David Sims said it “absolutely owns bones”, while IndieWire’s David Ehrlich drolly said “imagine being dumb enough to bet against James Cameron. Or teen alien Sigourney Weaver. Or giant whales subtitled in papyrus”.


Others were quick to praise how The Way of Water’s builds on (and is arguably better than) the original. Gizmodo’s Germain Lussier called it “emotionally overwhelming” before praising every performance “especially by all the kids”. Film Inquiry’s Kevin Lee added to that, saying Avatar 2’s story is “the beating heart. It’s more personal, complicated, [and] emotional”.

Finally, Vulture’s Bilge Ebiri called it Cameron’s “sweetest, gentlest, most personal film. Possibly even his most emotional… he loves his family. By the end, I did, too”:

AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER might be James Cameron’s sweetest, gentlest, most personal film. Possibly even his most emotional. It revisits all his greatest hits, but it’s always totally sincere. He is never leaving Pandora. He loves this family. By the end, I did, too.December 7, 2022

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Not every review was as glowing as those above, though. Former Access Hollywood correspondent Scott Mantz suggested its story is “weaker than the first” and that the movie’s three hour-plus runtime “feels drawn out”. Additionally, Next Best Picture’s Matt Neglia said “Cameron’s dialogue still struggles”, hinting at some clunkiness with what the film’s characters say.

Despite lauding everything else about the film, Total Film’s Jack Shepherd said some of the new characters “are underutilized”. Over at Digital Spy, Ian Sandwell also commented on the film’s struggle to balance its plot and stacked cast of characters, even if it is a “visual masterpiece”:

Unsurprisingly, #AvatarTheWayOfWater is a visual masterpiece with rich use of 3D and breathtaking vistas. It does suffer from a thin story and too many characters to juggle, yet James Cameron pulls it together for an extraordinary final act full of emotion and thrilling action. pic.twitter.com/opr6CRyOwkDecember 6, 2022

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If you’re still on the fence about seeing Avatar: The Way of Water, former Variety writer Kris Tapley probably sums it up best. Basically, go and see it for yourself:

I was fortunate enough to see #AvatarTheWayOfWater this morning and listen, whatever that ticket ends up costing you, it’s worth every cent. I could have watched it all day long.December 6, 2022

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TechRadar will be bringing you more Avatar 2 content in the lead-up to release, including whether (and potentially when) it’ll land on Disney Plus. Be sure to check back in with us from December 12 onwards for our full thoughts and more.

In the meantime, check out our picks for the best Disney Plus movies, which includes 2009’s Avatar, and best Disney Plus shows. Alternatively, read up on why we think Avatar 2’s latest trailer proves it’ll be the best film of 2022, or get the lowdown on what’s worth knowing about Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, an upcoming videogame based on Cameron’s latest megahit movie franchise.

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