Avatar: The Way Of Water Reviews Are Here, And Critics Can’t Stop Talking About James Cameron’s Story

Avatar took the movie world by storm in 2009, eventually earning — and then re-earning — the honor of highest-grossing movie of all time. So it really can’t be overstated how high anticipation is for its first sequel, Avatar: The Way of Water. Over a decade later, audiences are finally set to return to Pandora and continue the story of Sam Worthington’s Jake Sully and Zoe Saldaña’s Neytiri, among others, when the film hits theaters on December 16. The reviews are in, and it’s no surprise critics are lauding the incredible animation, but what are they saying about the story?

First reactions to the Avatar sequel had many saying the ground-breaking technology surpassed the stunning visual effects of the first movie, but there were some concerns about the story. As for what we know so far about Avatar 2, the plot wasn’t revealed too much through the trailers, so let's take a look at what the critics have to say, starting with CinemaBlend’s review of Avatar: The Way of Water. Our own Corey Chichizola rates the sequel 4.5 stars out of 5, saying the legendary director expertly expands the world of Pandora, while also keeping the story centered and family-driven: 

But while Avatar 2’s story features a time jump and a cast of new characters, it remains a grounded story because it’s ultimately about family. By focusing on the two families of Na’vi, James Cameron makes sure that the visuals of The Way of Water never overtake the plot. He uses the movie’s long runtime to allow the audience to truly understand each of the main characters of Pandora. This includes the Na’vi, humans, and the creatures of the sea whom we come to know.

CinemaBlend managing editor Sean O’Connell also praises the sequel, saying it’s got a better story and develops the characters much more fully than the first film. While he says he felt the 3-plus hour runtime toward the middle of the film, everything pays off, and the final hour is James Cameron at his finest. He also rates the movie 4.5 out of 5 stars. Check out more from O’Connell’s spoiler-free video review of Avatar 2

Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times gives a similar rating — 3.5 out of 4 stars — but that’s based much on visuals that are “some of the most dazzling, vibrant and gorgeous images I’ve ever seen on the big screen.” The plot, however, is relatively thin and would garner just 2.5 stars without the visual portrayal of Pandora. He says: 

That’s more than enough to forgive a borderline corny, frequently repetitive, cliché-riddled storyline that features elements of everything from Free Willy to Titanic to Die Hard to Apocalypse Now and I swear there’s even a sequence that reminded me of that scene in the Karate Kid where poor Daniel gets jumped by those bullies in the Halloween skeleton costumes.

Some critics point out some similarities in plot between the first and second movies, but USA TODAY’s Brian Truitt says the younger characters breathe new life into the story when it starts to feel repetitive. He rates the film 3 stars out of 4, saying: 

The second Avatar brings back most of the first film’s main characters plus a swath of newcomers, yet it’s the youngsters, especially Kiri and Lo'ak, who really drive the sequel’s strong coming-of-age story. They bring a sense of freshness when Way of Water leans familiar running the original movie’s plot points back, such as Quaritch 2.0 learning to jibe with Pandoran creatures a la Jake or humans going to extreme lengths for a precious resource.

IndieWire’s David Ehrlich says when the first movie ended 13 years ago, he didn’t think he’d care enough to sit through one Avatar sequel (or six), but his reaction to The Way of Water seemingly proves the movie's boost in storytelling. The critic says the sequel’s ending left him champing at the bit to see what happens next, grading the film an A-: 

An out-of-body theatrical experience that makes its predecessor feel like a glorified proof-of-concept, Avatar: The Way of Water is such a staggering improvement over the original because its spectacle doesn’t have to compensate for its story; in vintage Cameron fashion, the movie’s spectacle is what allows its story to be told so well.

Tom Jorgensen of IGN rates the movie a “Great” 8 out of 10, also noting improvements over the first movie. The critic uses words like “simple” and “cliché” to describe the plot, but says it’s well worth the price of admission to escape to Pandora for a few hours. More from this review: 

Avatar: The Way of Water is a thoughtful, sumptuous return to Pandora, one which fleshes out both the mythology established in the first film and the Sully family’s place therein. It may not be the best sequel James Cameron has ever made (which is a very high bar), but it’s easily the clearest improvement on the film that preceded it. ... The simple story may leave you crying “cliché,” but as a vehicle for transporting you to another world, it’s good enough to do the job. This is 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.

Most of the critics seem to agree Avatar: The Way of Water is an upgrade from the 2009 blockbuster — great news for excited fans. Many are praising the improved story of the sequel, but even those who find fault in the plot give high recommendations to see this film, and to see it on the biggest screen available. The sequel is set to hit theaters on Friday, December 16, so you might want to buy your tickets early, as there are high hopes at the box office. Also be sure to check out what’s coming in the new year with our 2023 Movie Release Schedule

Heidi Venable
Content Producer

Heidi Venable is a Content Producer for CinemaBlend, a mom of two and a hard-core '90s kid. She started freelancing for CinemaBlend in 2020 and officially came on board in 2021. Her job entails writing news stories and TV reactions from some of her favorite prime-time shows like Grey's Anatomy and The Bachelor. She graduated from Louisiana Tech University with a degree in Journalism and worked in the newspaper industry for almost two decades in multiple roles including Sports Editor, Page Designer and Online Editor. Unprovoked, will quote Friends in any situation. Thrives on New Orleans Saints football, The West Wing and taco trucks.