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

A still of two Na'vi embracing from the Avatar: The Way of Water movie
Avatar 2 has been universally praised in early social media reactions. (Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

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":

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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":

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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":

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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":

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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":

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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:

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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.

Senior Entertainment Reporter

As TechRadar's senior entertainment reporter, Tom covers all of the latest movies, TV shows, and streaming service news that you need to know about. You'll regularly find him writing about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Star Wars, Netflix, Prime Video, Disney Plus, and many other topics of interest.

An NCTJ-accredited journalist, Tom also writes reviews, analytical articles, opinion pieces, and interview-led features on the biggest franchises, actors, directors and other industry leaders. You may see his quotes pop up in the odd official Marvel Studios video, too, such as this Moon Knight TV spot.

Away from work, Tom can be found checking out the latest video games, immersing himself in his favorite sporting pastime of football, reading the many unread books on his shelf, staying fit at the gym, and petting every dog he comes across.

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