WARNING: The following review contains spoilers, I’m telling you now so you don’t pretend to be outraged later.
It’s time for me to check out another movie based on another book that I didn’t read. If you are getting tired of me mentioning that in every review, now you know how I feel about Hollywood’s creativity. When I first saw the trailer for the movie Arrival, It seemed like they kept much of the plot a secret on purpose. A story about an alien invasion without knowing their intentions seems like an interesting idea with the hope they can pull off a good idea. However, after watching the movie I can’t say they did. I can tell you now that this review isn’t going to line up with the critics consensus which I was admittedly surprised at the positive reviews. None the less, let’s dig into the mystery of Arrival.
Arrival begins as twelve alien spacecraft land in different locations around the world. Unsure of what the aliens intentions are for the planet, An elite team of Lois Lane (Amy Adams), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and Major Payne (Forest Whitaker) are assembled to communicate with the aliens before China fucks things up for the entire planet…most of that is true BTW. If you are expecting some crazy Independence Day adventure, you won’t get it. The core of this film is spent on deciphering language to understand the aliens and build a relationship with them. This doesn’t make for a very exciting story however when the runtime is about 2 hours. I spent much of the first half of this slow pace film hoping that the ending would make the journey worth it.
Technically the film pretty sound, however, the story is very flawed in its approach. There are scenes thrown in that are seemingly flashbacks of Louise and her daughter who passed away due to an illness. What we discover later is that these are actually glimpses into the future and this is where the film starts losing the plot. The more contact Louise has with the aliens, the stronger her visions of the future gets, why this is? It’s not really explained even though her visions end up playing a major role in the films ending. They also don’t put much into character development. Characters are written based on stereotypes with no context. Of course in the film, the Chinese and the Russians are our enemy because of…reasons. Their hawkish attitude puts the safety of the entire planet at risk but they don’t care because they have guns and communism and stuff. There’s even a scene where a couple of army goons get the bright idea of sneaking a bomb into the ship and risking an attack on US soil because they listened to too much Right Wing radio (that’s actually how they explain it). Even our main character isn’t very thought out because you know nothing about her. What you think are flashbacks is actually a twist for later in the film so when you reflect, they really didn’t give you anything about who she is as a person and why she was so important to the military outside of working with the army one time in her life. Why is she the only linguist in the country who can figure out alien code?
Hawkeye is given even less to work with as he is a theoretical physicist that barely shows his worth. There is a love story angle between the two characters but it was given zero time to develop outside of one scene where they admit they are single, so that means that they are going to have a baby soon I guess. The conflict is very tame because there really isn’t one here. We discover the alien just want to teach earth their language and bring us together by giving it to us. The only sense of tension is them trying to stop China from blowing up the ships which is solved in the most plot convenient way ever. Louise who is bouncing between the present and the future is trying to stop China from attacking so suddenly she has a vision of the future where she talks to General Shang and tells him something his dead wife said and then he immediately calls off his attack…and the movie ends. No Seriously, it ends. General Shang is literally given no screen time prior to this outside of showing that he is evil, so the fact they went this route to end the film was really confusing. Confused was exactly how I felt watching this film. Visually you can only do so much when your story is just hard to follow and I felt like I spent too much time questioning what the film was trying to say and what message they were trying to get across.
Arrival is muddy narrative mixed with a confusion plot dipped in some nice visuals. A film that tries to be too smart for its own good while making political undertones but can’t even cover its own plot holes to come to a satisfying conclusion. Amy Adams give a good emotional performance but honestly she can only do so much with what she is given. Director Denis Villeneuve does the best with what he haves and almost is able to salvage a passable movie but I put the blame on the screenwriter for coming up with a poor adaption to a short story.
OFFICIAL RATING: *
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