Avatar: The Way of Water is way too long to easily enjoy

The Way of Water’s storyline is not deep enough for the three-hour run time

Avatar: The Way of Water is a stunning visual film, the action scenes are spectacular, and the performances are great. But the plot and pacing is too similar to the first film to really justify the three-hour run time.

James Cameron’s second film in the Avatar series sits in a weird position culturally. It has been thirteen years since the first, and much of the momentum from the record-setting blockbuster has dissipated. But a new Cameron film remains an event. Anybody with high expectations would be supported by his remarkable track record.

The Way of Water has all of the Cameron trademarks that have delighted cinema fans for decades. The world-building is detailed, and the heroes and villains are well-defined. As with Aliens, The Terminator films and Titanic, the theme of military or industrial hubris is explored again.

This is the first film since Terminator 2 [1991] that is a direct sequel to one of Cameron’s other films. With that Schwarzenegger classic, the plot of the first was basically repeated. Although, in that example, the character development of both Sarah Connor and the T800 were enough to keep things interesting. The still incredible special effects of Terminator 2 were also a huge advance from the original film.

The Way of Water does not really have these things going for it.

The visual effects still look amazing. It is easy to become immersed in the world on screen. But the wonderment that accompanied the 2009 film is no longer there. It looks cool, but it is nothing new. That is no sin in itself, but the plot needs to draw the audience in.

Beyond more Pandora world-building, it is pretty simple. Jake Scully [Sam Worthington] is on the run with his family while the Marines of Earth hunt him down.

The film’s focus remains largely on the kids, and this works, even though the dialogue sometimes feels like an adult’s impression of teenagers. The use of “cuz” and “bro” brings to mind John Connor’s “Hasta La Vista” or “No problemo."

The second act basically repeats the beats of the first film. Scully’s children learn to adapt to their aquatic surroundings as he adapted to the forest. Again, it is visually arresting, but we have been told this tale before.

The first movie was recently released in the buildup to The Way of Water. Anybody who watched it would have instantly noticed the repetitiveness. Sequels do not have to have vastly different plots. Indiana Jones films are at their best when they stick to the formula. But at three hours, is it all really necessary?

When the final action sequence arrives, it is worth the wait. It is explosive, unpredictable, violent and tense. This is where Cameron excels. Zoe Saldana as Neytiri is incredible, and it puts the entirety of Marvel's latest phase to shame.

It contains some of the best large-scale battles since Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the best shipwreck sequence since Cameron's own Titanic [1997].

Because we all know that this incredible sequence is inevitable, it makes all of the steps that lead up to it all the more cumbersome. Everything that happens has a point or payoff, but it needed to get done quicker.

If half an hour was cut from this movie, it would be another Cameron classic. As it is, it is simply too long to be truly enjoyable as a whole.