James Cameron, the director of Avatar: The Way of Water, alleges that tension in the studio was brought on by run time. The duration of Avatar: The Way of Water is a monstrous 3 hours and 12 minutes. This is shorter than other recent epic action movies like Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2 hours, 41 minutes), Avengers: Infinity War (2 hours, 29 minutes), and the hugely successful Top Gun: Maverick sequel, which clocked in at a relatively short 2 hours and 10 minutes. Before the release of Avatar: The Way of Water, Cameron made fun of the film’s length in response to a question about when viewers should take a bathroom break during the sequel’s lengthy running time. He told fans they could do so “anytime they want” and would be able to “see the scene they missed when they come to see it again.”
Even though Cameron made jokes about Avatar 2’s length, he talked about his battle to maintain Avatar: The Way of Water’s three-hour running duration. According to Entertainment Weekly, Cameron first proposed Avatar 2 to 21st Century Fox as a three-hour film. There was apparently “a lot of stress” when Disney acquired Fox in 2017, as Cameron felt “morally bound” to maintain his original plan for a three-hour sequel. The studio and Cameron struggled to balance “maintaining engagement” and “saving beauty.” See Cameron’s full statement below:
I think there was a lot of tension around length. And because it’s a complicated linear narrative, which is the worst scenario for trying to shorten, you’ve got a complex story servicing a lot of characters, and it’s like dominos falling: This has to happen for that to happen. You’re not following a bunch of parallel plot lines in a way that you could take a lot out. The hardest thing when you’re trying to shorten a film is to hold onto the things that don’t advance the plot, that are beautiful or scary or suspenseful for their own sake. Things came out, and then if I felt the pacing was off, we put things back in.
Was the almost three-hour running duration of Avatar 2 worth it?
The length of Avatar: The Way of Water’s running time has generated a lot of controversy since its debut. The common theme across these reviews is that the Avatar sequel is overlong and has a weak storyline despite its enormous visual spectacle. Admittedly, Cameron does prioritize “keeping beauty” onscreen more often than story developments. Avatar: The Way of Water viewers spend several minutes watching the blue people and the wildlife around them swim, whether it’s the tulkun’s reappearance or Kiri’s first time diving.
These comments, however, fail to mention how much character growth there is in Avatar: The Way of Water. While it is true that the movie’s second third features few action scenes and the development of an event-driven storyline, more than an hour of that time is devoted to developing fascinating characters with oddly intertwining relationships. It introduces Kiri, a Na’vi adoptive looking for a relationship with her biological family, and Lo’ak, the outcast sibling searching for a connection with his surroundings.
Cameron has now made a lot of crucial considerations as he develops his plans for Avatar 3, Avatar 4, and Avatar 5 with three more sequels on the horizon. It is highly likely that Cameron will maintain this pattern and lean toward these lengthier, extended tales given that Avatar: The Way of Water is already 30 minutes longer than its predecessor. Early reports from the Avatar creative team indicate that the sequel screenplays are becoming longer, but viewers wonder if this is because they are getting better. Only time will tell as Avatar 3’s production moves toward its premiere in December 2024.