Right after the first media screening of Avatar 2 I said for the 157th time that you can’t trust fanboys. The only reactions you can trust are those from “grumpy” critics, which is to say discerning types who don’t immediately drop to their knees when confronted with next-level CG.

I wouldn’t call Variety‘s Owen Gleiberman a grump or a grinch, but he’s no easy lay**. His assessment of Avatar 2, therefore, has value.

Key Gleiberman passage: “At its height, it feels exhilarating. But not all the way through. Cameron, in The Way of Water, remains a fleet and exacting classical popcorn storyteller, but oh, the story he’s telling! The script he has co-written is a string of serviceable clichés that give the film the domestic adventure-thriller spine it needs, but not anything more than that.

“The story, in fact, could hardly be more basic. The Sky People, led again by the treacherous Col. Quaritch (Stephen Lang), have now become Avatars themselves, with Quaritch recast as a scowling Na’vi redneck in combat boots and a black crewcut. They’ve arrived in this guise to hunt Jake down. But Jake escapes with his family and hides out with the Metkayina. Quaritch and his goon squad commandeer a hunting ship and eventually track them down. There is a massive confrontation. The end.

“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.”

** Except when it comes to the late Whitney Houston and I Wanna Dance With Somebody.