I fall somewhere in between. I am a fan of Malick's. I've watched his movies well into double digits. Each of his previous films, no matter how few, spread out over 3 decades, significantly built on what had come before both in technique, scale and concept. In my opinion, The New World, while perfectly fine, did not feel like a progression -- it felt, if anything, more like a summary of what he'd previously done. A neat marriage of the period setting/love triangle/class critique of Days Of Heaven to the machinery of progress/culture clash/cycle of life ruminations of The Thin Red Line.
There was nothing in the first 3/4 of the movie that terribly impressed me in perspective of his other films. I already knew the images. The moments. The rhythms. He could've done it all in his sleep. Not to mention how bad the VO was -- it never struck me as existing within the vernacular of the people who were thinking it, unlike the uneducated fractured thoughts of Linda in Days Of Heaven. Furthermore, Colin Farrell seemed totally lost and miscast. He has yet to give a performance that seemed as natural as in Minority Report, where he blew off the screen. As well, and this is more the result of censorship, the relationship between Smith and Pocahontas was portrayed as a cute, cuddly puppy love. No kissing. Nothing mature about it. And while the movie created a conceit through this (she kisses her husband at the end), it was glaringly obvious why this underaged romance was depicted as it was. (More explicit scenes had been shot, but they were forced to reshoot to pass muster with child pornography statutes.)
The filmmaking only got interesting to me once it moved to England in the 3rd act. Only in that setting did the juxtapositions attain a level of wit -- even if the raccoon in the cage was a bit of a sledgehammer. It was also nice to see Malick move his camera into a setting that he'd never been before. And yes, the final 3 minutes were a brilliant use of montage. But it seemed the only genuinely inspired section of filmmaking in the movie.
The New World, by most standards, would be a great movie. It was beautifully designed, and I appreciated its visual representation of the stages in life -- from a pool of unmuddied water, to fields of freedom, to the trees (reaching upward) being used to build a civilization, to the strict manicured lines of England as adult responsibility, back to the flowing water as one's life gives way.
With a few exceptions, it's probably as good as anything Malick has done previously. It just doesn't feel new, inspired or important. And for that, I'm just not terribly excited about it.