‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ Draws Rave Reviews From Critics: ‘Miles Better Than the First’

“Never bet against James Cameron,” was the common takeaway ahead of the film’s Dec. 16 premiere

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20th Century Studios/Disney

Early viewers of “Avatar: The Way of Water” are just about unanimous in their emphatic praise of the James Cameron epic.

The film, which debuts in theaters this Friday, is already being lauded as one of the best films of the year and a vast improvement to its 2009 predecessor.

“Avatar: The Way of Water is miles better than the first,” said writer Eric Vespe in a tweet. “The ocean environment is incredible and Cameron clearly is wearing his environmentalist heart on his sleeve here. I connected to this one in a way I couldn’t with the original.”

TheWrap’s William Bibbiani said the “dazzling” and “overwhelming” blockbuster has its uneven moments, but ultimately ties it all together in the third act.

“By the time it crests, whatever the film’s many other flaws may be, we are invested, and we are ultimately rewarded with a truly spectacular, awe-inspiring finale,” read his review.

The Atlantic’s David Sims said the film is “proof that cinematic wonder still exists” in a review arguing that “The Way of Water” is “exactly what moviegoers need.”

“… As with ‘Avatar’,” he wrote, “the real draws here are the creatures and the environments, all bursting with imagination.”

The Los Angeles Times’ Justin Chang praised the immersive effect of the film, writing that “James Cameron pulls you down so deep, and sets you so gently adrift, that at times you don’t feel like you’re watching a movie so much as floating in one.”

Opinions were slightly split when it came to the film’s high frame-rate (HFR) format. Vespe deemed it “an assault on the senses,” as well as “repugnant, the opposite of cinematic, and I hope it never becomes the norm.” The L.A. Times’ Chang praised the “stunning hyper-clarity” afforded by 3D and HFR, but noted that the “overly frictionless, motion-smoothed look” worked better in the underwater sequences than on dry land. And TheWrap’s Bibbiani noted that “the extreme attention to detail in every single frame, and the tendency to depict those scenes in deep focus, can make the film’s visual language unnecessarily difficult to interpret.”

Much of the praise was directed at Cameron himself, who took 13 years – and a budget so large he’s said it needs to gross $2 billion just to break even – to make it.

“James Cameron talked a big game. And he damn well delivered,” tweeted critic Courtney Lanning.

Though IGN’s Tom Jorgenson doesn’t consider it the director’s best, he said it “was nothing short of a good old-fashioned Cameron blockbuster, full of filmmaking spectacle and heart, and an easy recommendation for anyone looking to escape to another world for a three-hour adventure.”

Slashfilm’s review concurred that it was “pure movie magic.” “I don’t know how much longer Cameron can keep ‘Avatar’ going, but I know he’ll have a lot of fun trying, and we’ll probably all go along with him,” Chris Evangelista’s review concluded. “Who knows what new worlds he has in store for us?”

“Avatar: The Way of Water” premieres in theaters Friday, Dec. 16.