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SYFY WIRE Avatar: The Way of Water

Critics say James Cameron's 'Avatar: The Way of Water' is a jaw-dropping, surprisingly personal spectacle

The reviews are in, and James Cameron is ready to blow your mind with his return to Pandora.

By Matthew Jackson
Avatar: The Way of Water (2023)

In just a few days, audiences everywhere will finally get to see Avatar: The Way of Water, James Cameron's return to Pandora that's been more than a decade in the making and stretches to more than three hours across the big screen. Now the reviews are in, and though not everyone is convinced, it sounds like Camerson's sequel was something worth waiting for.

Set more than 10 years after the first film, The Way of Water follows the Sully family as they leave the forests of Pandora for the planet's oceans and reefs while a new human threat lands on the planet. With a cast that includes returning stars Sam Worthington, Stephen Lang, Zoe Saldana, and Sigourney Weaver, as well as newcomers like Kate Winslet, it's a movie packed with story, universe building, and a sense of unrestrained cinematic awe that comes from Cameron's enthusiasm for his creation. But is it a good movie?

Let's take a look at what some of the top critics from around the web had to say on the matter. 

"While not quite on the same level as Aliens or T2 (at least on a single watch), The Way of Water is a sequel that expands and improves upon the original in almost every way. It’s an enthralling, exhilarating, emotional story of a family in peril, with the most advanced digital effects in the history of cinema. Is it a little bit overindulgent? Maybe too drawn out at times? Sure. But the scope, ambition, and heart of the film more than make up for any of its flaws," Germain Lussier wrote at io9.

"For starters, the effects work is unbelievable; I still haven’t entirely wrapped my head around the fact that none of this stuff actually exists, that it’s all a meticulously rendered digital environment. But, more important, Cameron hasn’t lost the ability to convey his dorky-sweet enthusiasm to the audience. It’s hard not to lose oneself amid the gentle, flowing cadences of this exquisitely created undersea universe, where the water enveloping the characters gradually becomes a metaphor for the interconnectedness of all living beings," Bilge Ebiri wrote at Vulture.

"Avatar: The Way Of Water not only delivers upon everything its predecessor established, but advances them in ways gleaming and ocean-deep, through the eyes and heart of a cinematic storyteller with a passionate and well-documented love of the sea," Tomris Laffly wrote at The AV Club.

"This is circa-2022 James Cameron, which is to say he makes it seem a lot like 2032 — a world so immersive and indubitably awesome, in the most literal reading of that word (there will be awe, and more awe, and then some more) that it feels almost shockingly new," Leah Greenblatt wrote at Entertainment Weekly.

"Even more than its predecessor, this is a work that successfully marries technology with imagination and meticulous contributions from every craft department. But ultimately, it’s the sincerity of Cameron’s belief in this fantastical world he’s created that makes it memorable," David Rooney wrote at The Hollywood Reporter.

But of course, not everyone was quite so impressed with the film. For some critics, The Way of Water still felt shallow, even if the visuals were stunning.

"It’s truly a movie crossed with a virtual-reality theme-park ride. Another way to put it is that it’s a live-action film that casts the spell of an animated fantasy. But though the faces of the Na’vi and the MetKayina are expressive, and the actors make their presence felt, there is almost zero dimensionality to the characters. The dimensionality is all in the images," Owen Gleiberman wrote at Variety.

"And what do we find aside from the high-tech visual superstructure? The floatingly bland plot is like a children’s story without the humour; a YA story without the emotional wound; an action thriller without the hard edge of real excitement," Peter Bradshaw wrote at The Guardian.

Avatar: The Way of Water is in theaters Friday.

​​​​​​​Looking for more epic adventures? Check out The Day After Tomorrow, Green Lantern, True Lies and more, streaming now on Peacock.