No one can agree on Avatar: The Way of Water as reviews are wildly mixed

(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

Avatar: The Way of Water reviews are in – and they're wildly mixed as it seems no one can agree on James Cameron's follow-up to the groundbreaking original. 

The new film arrives 13 years after the first Avatar and sees the likes of Kate Winslet and Edie Falco join the cast, while returning actors include Zoe Saldaña, Sigourney Weaver, Sam Worthington, and Stephen Lang. 

Reviews for the film range from low to high scores, but a common thread seems to be that, while the movie's visuals are spectacular, the plot is lacking. We've rounded up a selection of reviews below to give you an idea what critics are saying about Avatar: The Way of Water. 

Total Film – Kevin Harley – 4/5

"The stop-start plotting is also slightly problematic, with some characters and their struggles seemingly vanishing for stretches. Yet when the plot strands converge for the climax, Cameron channels previous career highs into a blast of full-bore, high-stakes spectacle, reminding you who’s in charge. T2's tech, Titanic's watery horror show, Aliens' child peril, The Abyss' weird wonder: it's all here, maximized for tension, action, and emotion. When the flames clear, some dangling story strands leave more questions than answers. But three follow-ups are planned… Even at three hours-plus, Cameron's comeback leaves you ready for more."

Variety – Owen Gleiberman 

"This tale, with its bare-bones dialogue, could easily have served an ambitious Netflix thriller, and could have been told in two hours rather than three. But that's the point, isn't it? The Way of Water is braided with sequences that exist almost solely for their sculptured imagistic magic. 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."

The Independent – Clarisse Loughrey – 3/5 

"Avatar: The Way of Water is, once again, a gauntlet thrown down at the feet of the industry. I can't say that I cared all that much about its story, its themes, or its characters, but its unimpeachable effects work made it feel like I'd locked eyes with the future. It's an achievement of such technological clarity that I'd instantly buy any flatscreen TV that was showing it in Currys. The plot, if anything, is an inconvenient distraction from the real pleasure of looking and guffawing." 

The Guardian – Peter Bradshaw – 2/5 

"Drenching us with a disappointment that can hardly be admitted out loud, James Cameron's soggy new digitised film has beached like a massive, pointless whale. The story, which might fill a 30-minute cartoon, is stretched as if by some AI program into a three-hour movie of epic tweeness."

The Hollywood Reporter – David Rooney 

"In terms of narrative sophistication and even more so dialogue, this $350 million sequel is almost as basic as its predecessor, even feeble at times. But the expanded, bio-diverse world-building pulls you in, the visual spectacle keeps you mesmerized, the passion for environmental awareness is stirring and the warfare is as visceral and exciting as any multiplex audience could desire."

Nerdist – Kyle Anderson – 2.5/5

"So, for days now since I saw the movie, I've fought with myself. Is Avatar: The Way of Water a movie I would call 'good?' It certainly has a lot to recommend on the filmmaking side of things. It really is an overwhelmingly beautiful movie to look at. But as a story, as characters you can attach yourself to, it's very two-dimensional. It works much more as a theme park attraction, a journey to a world of wonder and grandeur. But then we have a great deal of unfortunate stereotypes and graphic (though fake) violence."

Deadline – Todd McCarthy 

"Many scenes, above and below the waterline, are stunningly unlike anything you've ever seen before; humans, wildlife, water and nature, often in beautiful sync with one another, at other times in conflict, are gorgeous and play an important role in the overall impact of this long (192 minutes), occasionally indulgent but pioneering film that excites by bringing something to the screen that has never been seen in quite this way before." – Liam Crowley – 5/5 

"With an abundance of theatrical treats over the past decade, the magic of Avatar (2009) has been somewhat overlooked. If there was any doubt, James Cameron reminds audiences exactly what he's capable of. Words don't do Avatar: The Way of Water justice. While this film has all the makings of a once-in-a-lifetime theatrical experience, audiences should relish in the fact that there is much more to come."

Avatar: The Way of Water is in theaters this December 16. In the meantime, check out our roundup of all the upcoming major movie release dates for everything else there is to get excited about. 

Molly Edwards
Entertainment Writer

I'm an Entertainment Writer here at GamesRadar+, covering all things film and TV for the site's Total Film and SFX sections. I previously worked on the Disney magazines team at Immediate Media, and also wrote on the CBeebies, MEGA!, and Star Wars Galaxy titles after graduating with a BA in English.