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. 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 screws things up for the entire planet.
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.
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.
The Chinese and the Russians are our enemies because of of…reasons. Their hawkish attitude puts the safety of the entire planet at risk but they don’t care because they have guns, 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 Conservative talk radio. 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. 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. 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 confusing 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. I put the blame on the screenwriter for coming up with a poor adaption to a short story.