Reviews for Avatar: The Way of Water, the long-awaited sequel to 2009’s Avatar, the highest-grossing film of all time, have finally started to roll into what is largely effusive praise for James Cameron’s latest blockbuster, though many also note that it is not without its problems.
The one element that has drawn universal praise – and also the reason the sequel has taken 13 years to make – is its visuals, with critics proclaiming that Cameron has done it again! As the title suggests, water is a major part of the production, and Cameron’s narrative goals required technological advancements that did not exist in 2009, and indeed several years thereafter. However, Cameron being the cinematic visionary that he is, correctly deduced that it was just a matter of time before the CGI technology got to where he needed it to be. On the visuals, Nick De Semlyen, writing for Empire, was somewhat at a loss for words, stating that Avatar: The Way of Water “is so dazzling to behold that adjectives like “dazzling” seem too anemic to apply”, while Screen Rant’s Mae Adbulbaki unequivocally noted that the “incredible underwater sequences…put every other film’s technical achievements to shame.”
Avatar: The Way of Water seemingly is not a case of style over substance either. Critics were quick to favourably compare the latest addition to the franchise to its predecessor, with many sharing similar sentiments to io9’s Germain Lussier, who proclaimed it “a sequel that expands and improves upon the original in almost every way”. Particular praise has been centred on the sequel’s continued world-building of the Planet Pandora and its inhabitants, the emotional (albeit standard) family-centric story and themes, as well as its environmental commentary, with The Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney calling that particular element “stirring”. Conversely, Keith Uhlich of Slant Magazine intriguingly points to “the perversity of preaching for a small footprint with a production this inordinately large” in what was otherwise a positive review.
This is far from the only criticism levelled against Avatar: The Way of Water, however, with the most consistent complaints being its length – which clocks in at three hours and twelve minutes – and the pacing that suffers as a result. In spite of his overall praise for the picture, Chris Evangelista of Slashfilm calls it “a lopsided, meandering film”, lamenting that “Cameron is more focused on the beauty and grandeur of Pandora”. In one of the most scathing reviews of the film, Adam Kempenaar of Filmspotting dismissed the film as “Overwritten, when it isn’t underwritten. Overwrought. Overblown.” Renowned Variety critic Owen Gleiberman, meanwhile, wittily quipped, “The only part of me that was moved was my eyeballs.”
While most reviews are nonetheless positive, certainly more so than Kempenaar’s take, Avatar: The Way of Water, as of writing, is sitting at 83% on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 133 reviews with an average score of 7.30 out of 10, which is certainly solid for a blockbuster of this ilk. What’s interesting is that even the most negative reviews do not deny its groundbreaking spectacle, while the most positive write-ups generally concede that the film is too long and can feel overstuffed. Whatever the case, we will not have to wait long to form opinions of our own, as the blockbuster is slated for wide release on December 16th.