‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ Is Way Too Long

Avatar: The Way of Water clocks in at three hours and ten minutes without any intermission. It's a bold runtime for any movie, but especially one that is a sequel thirteen years in the making to a film that may or may not have had any cultural impact.

Whether or not the general public remembers Avatar, the sequel is here, and it's desperate to be an epic on the scale of writer/director James Cameron's previous outings like Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Titanic, and of course, Avatar. Sadly a bloated runtime does not make an epic.

Are We Really Still Doing This

The Way of Water picks up some years after the first film's end and re-introduces the audience to the lead couple from the last movie. The human-turned-Na'vi Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) have made a life for themselves after the expulsion of the colonial humans from the resource-rich moon of Pandora at the end of the first film.

The couple has four children, two boys, and two girls, and live their life in harmony and balance with the flora and fauna of Pandora. Until the “sky people,” as humans are called, attack again. Not only are humans attacking again, but the film's main villain is once again Stephen Lang's Colonel Miles Quaritch, who has been resurrected because, as Cameron says, “it's a science fiction story after all.”

But even though the main plot is a simple retread of Avatar‘s already rote white savior story, The Way of Water takes its time getting started. The film spends its first third on set up before we finally move to an island village of a water clan of Na'vi known as Metkayina.

But it's not just the storyline that begs the question of a seemingly endless repetition of poor decisions. Aside from The Way of Water being another story in which outsiders bring war to a population only to “save” them, some more specific inclusions feel like they should have been left behind with the first film (or even before that).

The only “good guy” human is a white boy with dreadlocks, an aesthetic that has been acknowledged as culturally insensitive, or at least ignorant, for years. And the film also doubles down on the rape imagery inherent to the concept of Na'vi using their neural connective braids to subdue and take control of animals. It was a bizarre choice in the first film, but including several scenes here where characters force these neural connections on unwilling animals in a world where “braid rape” has an entry on Urban Dictionary is shocking.

Sometimes Beautiful, Always Too Long

As with the first film, defenders will argue that the film's story is secondary to its spectacle. And there is undoubtedly spectacle here, but Cameron's priorities feel all wrong. For a movie titled The Way of Water, there is remarkably little time spent marveling at the beautiful world that Cameron and his colleagues have created under the oceans of Pandora.

The film's middle third offers a travelog of the Sully family's new island home that includes the best images in the movie. From seemingly bioluminescent sea creatures to an entirely new set of plant life under the water, these images deliver on the promise of a gorgeous spectacle from a legendary filmmaker.

Not necessarily detrimental to the power of these images, but worth noting is that these scenes look more like the next generation of Square Enix's high-definition cutscenes than anything resembling reality. It’s unclear whether the decision to shoot action scenes in 48 frames-per-second contributes to that unreality or not. Cameron's frequent camera movements, from large-scale action to a particular struggle, also feel drawn from the world of video games.

What's more detrimental than the unreality of these images is that there are not enough of them. The film focuses not on this underwater visual feast but on bombastic action scenes that overwhelm the water with human vessels of gray steel and fiery explosions. Some of these action sequences are thrilling, but even these overstay their welcome.

Whether it's the film's hour-long final battle or earlier scenes of guerilla warfare in the forests, The Way of Water delivers even more action. This overabundance of action would be great if the action were all exhilarating and visually stunning, but it's not. Instead, the oversized action becomes numbing at some point, pushing the film from entertainment to a patience test.

4/10 SPECS

Avatar: The Way of Water releases in theaters nationwide on December 16.

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This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.


Kyle Logan studied philosophy and now constantly overthinks music and movies.

He’s a film and television critic and general pop culture writer who has written for Cultured Vultures, Chicago Film Scene, Castle of Chills, and Filmotomy. Kyle has covered virtual film festivals including the inaugural Nightstream festival in 2020 and the 2021 Fantasia Film Festival. Kyle is interested in horror films, animation, Star Wars, and Adventure Time, as well as older genre films written and directed by queer people and women, particularly those from the 1970s and 80s. Along with writing, Kyle organizes a Queer Film Challenge on Letterboxd.