Ever since I stumbled on the trailer for this movie, I’ve been looking forward to it’s release. Being a Science Fiction fan, clearly the subject matter appeals to me but having director, Denis Villeneuve attached sealed it for me. Villeneuve’s last two films, Siccario & Prisoners, were both strong, especially Siccario. Would Arrival live up to the standard? Let’s dive in. Possible spoilers ahead. You were warned.

 

Story:

In my opinion the foundation to any good science fiction film is a strong & thought provoking story, and Arrival does not disappoint here.

It takes a fairly standard basis for a plot and makes it unique. If you’re a fan of the genre, a movie about aliens having first contact with humans is not a new thing. Sometimes they come and peace and sometimes not, and that is the crux of this film, at least at the beginning.

As always should be the case, the questions that come up are why are they here? What are their intentions? How did they get here? Fear almost always dictate why such questions are asked. You can’t really blame the countries in this film for asking these questions.  History has demonstrated that things don’t always end well when new and perhaps, more advanced races meet each other for the first time.

Naturally to answer any questions communication is key. In an attempt to make any sense of what the aliens are saying, the U.S. army’s Colonel Weber,( Forest Whitaker) enlists the services of Linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly ( Jeremy Renner). The most diffiult thing to achieve in these films is often revealing a reason as compelling as the mystery it presents. My girlfriend mentioned to me that she feared this being the case in this film. It’s a fair concern. That’s the draw for pretty much everyone isn’t it? Is the reason the aliens are here or what they look like really going to be as cool as you imagined it?

The story keeps his in mind but interestingly enough focuses more on the scientist’s deeper journey. Their journey allows for an intriguing exploration into language and understanding among other ideas such as being hardwired to fear what we don’t understand, or even our basic understanding of time itself. despite some of the grandiose ideas the message of the film is a fairly human one. ( possible spoilers ahead) Enjoy the time you have on this earth because chances are if you could do it all again differently, you wouldn’t anyway so don’t disparage that time.

Linguistics professor Louise Banks basically acts as our tether to humanity and the meat of the film focuses heavily on her. It’s a character study as much as it is anything else but make no mistake, it’s a slow burn. You must be willing to be patient and pay attention. It’s dialogue heavy and there is almost no ” action.” This may prove to be a welcome change for those growing weary of the endless barrage of high octane action movies Hollywood continues to churn out.

I must confess that while I was intrigued and invested throughout the whole movie, it was hard to follow. It’s slow pace didn’t help either, but being a vigilant and patient viewer will reward you at the end.

Acting/Directing:

amy

Very strong throughout. Often times I watch films like this and I don’t find the reaction to encountering alien life to be believable but here I did. Amy Adams was particularly good in that respect. She emoted various complex emotions with true sincerity which allowed me to live the events in the film all the more. Of course, full marks have to go to fellow Canadian Denis Villeneuve sure handed direction. If you saw Sicario, you know that Villeneuve can build tension among the best directors out there. If you ever find yourself watching a film and thinking” man, I’d be scared shitless in that situation” then you know the direction has done it’s job. Especially if that happens in the buildup to anything big, but I digress.

Special Effects:

While not being a green screen frenzy, the effects play an important role in this film. If the ship doesn’t look right or the aliens don’t look real, you’ve lost the audience. This is not the case here. The effects are top notch and the ship has a uniqueness that won’t e easily forgotten. Despite the effects being good the film cleverly avoids showing you TOO much of the aliens themselves, but what you do see is very well done and unique.

arrival

Conclusion:

Arrival proves to be one of the most interesting and ambitious films I’ve seen this year. It’s certainly a film that benefits from repeated viewings and I will be watching it again soon. It may even e a contender for the est film I’ve seen this year, I’ll let you know.

Arrival respects it’s audience and does not try to dumb down anything or give easy answers and as one of the audience, I appreciate that. If you like thought provoking Science fiction then make haste and go see this film. If you aren’t that big a fan of this genre then I would still encourage you to see this film because it transcends the genres tropes and gives you a very human story that if appreciated, is relatable.

 

 

 

 

Right – let’s get the negative stuff out of the way first shall we?  Was this the best movie in the world?  No, I guess not, it had some flaws which I’ll detail below.  However, it definitely was not the horrible pile of steaming tripe that other reviewers are painting it as.  To be clear, I’d in fact normally agree with the opinions expressed on some of these sites & by some of these reviewers – one of them is our very own Valentin & his post: Batman vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice: Review.  Their thoughts and opinions generally echo my own, however, I think this time they were perhaps being a bit too harsh and critical and I think that might be a function of their own choice of fandom – DC or Marvel – vs. the quality of the film itself.  As an avowed Marvel fanboy, I have only a passing familiarity with the DC Universe so if I get anything blatantly wrong, please don’t hesitate to (politely) correct me!

  • The Dream/Fore-shadowing Sequences – OK I’ll agree here with the commentary that these were somewhat unnecessary.  I’d be the first to admit that I almost groaned out loud when the movie started with Batman’s backstory once again.  I really didn’t feel that it was at all necessary to watch his parents – once again – get gunned down in the street.  While I understand the juxtaposition of the names (now) it was annoying to see it as we’d already seen it so many times before and it just felt painful to go through it all once again.  Batman-V-Superman-Trailer-Flying-ParademonsMoving on from this is more visceral fight sequence in a destroyed world that sees Superman & his acolytes carving up Batman and his group of resistance fighters.  Now I’m not sure if the flying bug things are meant to be in actuality the minions of Darkseid?  I think they are & they are obviously presaging his eventual arrival as DC’s answer to Thanos in the Justice League Movie.  While we are led to believe that Batman’s dream is all about Superman, in reality based on the appearance of the Parademons – it’s really about Darkseid.  As the foot soldiers of Darkseid their participation in the battle clearly tells fans one things: Darkseid is coming. Now were they (the dream sequences) necessary for THIS movie?  No, probably not … they did however serve as a good tie-in to the larger DC Universe though which is I think the overall intent and purpose.
  • Lois & Clark – While this show from the 90s had our TV screens almost melting with the chemistry between the characters, the love story between our modern day iteration of Lois & Clark is nothing more than tepid.  Here too I’d have to agree with the sentiments voiced by others as surprisingly the most wooden elements of this film were the portrayals by Adams and Cavill.  Considering how vivacious Amy Adams is as a character and how she can literally bring the screen to life, it’s a real pity that she wasn’t given that opportunity here.  Henry Cavill definitely LOOKS the part of Superman … it’s just somewhat disappointing that in this movie he was not given an opportunity to portray a normal human being also.  In all honesty – DC could have gone the route of Marvel here quite easily when they removed Thor’s love interest in between movies instead of having her act as just a bit player.  While Lois’ role had some importance in villanizing Superman, the task could have been accomplished just as simply through another plot device, reducing the number of characters on the screen and also tightening the movie as a whole.

Parademons are the foot soldiers of the space tyrant Darkseid – think of them as the orcs in Lord of the Rings, a marginally intelligent, fiercely loyal to their overlord troop that’s bred only for war.  Either way, this is clearly saying one thing to fans: Darkseid is coming. 

  • Conflict but not enough  This was perhaps my own personal hate point and the one that I really think needs the most focus.  The whole movie was a set piece about how much Batman doesn’t trust Superman and fears that he is going to become a despot.  Despite Alfred’s continued insistence that he’s not actually done anything wrong, Batman states that his legacy will be the destruction of Superman.  When the actual conflict happens though … its stupid!  Not the fight itself – that seemed to take some elements from the classic Frank Miller book, but rather how and why the fight happens.  Superman travels to Gotham (by the way, did you know that the two cities are on opposite sides of the Bay?) to persuade Batman to help him search for his mother and after initially stating that he needs Batmans’ help, the instant that they are actually face-to-face, he proceeds to shove Batman across the roof?    They hadn’t actually even started talking yet and he’d already jumped into fisticuffs??  Proceeding further in the fight, Batman has Superman on the ropes and the instant Superman mentions his mom’s name (another aside here … I’d not really put the two Mom’s names together before … nice juxtaposition), all hatred against Superman is forgotten and they are instantly on the same team?
  • Wonder WomanLaughter is the best medicine! – Not really mentioned by too many reviewers, but something that I thought worth speaking to was the lack of humor in this film.  While the films in the DC Universe seem to (generally) be darker in tone vs. the Marvel films, I think a smattering of jokes sprinkled throughout the movie help keep the audience engaged.  They need to be the right ones of course and unfortunately the only one that I recall (“Superman asks Batman if he brought Wonderwoman and he replies that he thought Superman did”) just didn’t work for me.  It was forced and considering the threat they are facing, it didn’t make sense at the time.  I guess you could also include the introduction of Clark and Bruce by Lex but I feel that this was ruined by the trailers more than anything else.  By contrast the interaction between Iron Man and Captain America in both Avengers movies was flawless.  Guardians of the Galaxy had a ton of jokes and don’t even get me started on Deadpool!

Now to the positive!  While I think I’ve spoken to some of the complaints mentioned by others, I think the key here is to realize that DC really had no choice.  Marvel has created a Universe of films and is able to call upon all of their characters from decades of comics for stories.  If DC wants to remain relevant, they NEED to somehow bridge the gap between stand-alone features to a more cohesive and larger story arc.  Could they have done this slower over the course of many years?  Yes they could have, but in some ways they alluded to it by Batman witnessing the destruction caused by Superman in his most recent incarnation/debut in the 2013 feature Man of Steel.  I think that particularly, was well done as there have been many movies – Marvel included – where you’re left to wonder where all the other superhero’s are during the course of a massive slug fest.  When this movie had Bruce witness the destruction that Superman caused and in fact, be personally impacted by it – well that for me was one of the high points of the movie.

The other high point of course was Wonder Woman!  Portrayed amazingly well by Gal Gadot the scenes that contained her were excellent.  Her fight sequences with Doomsday were particularly well done as she attacked not just with strength but also with intelligence.  I loved the fact that she didn’t try to stab with her sword but rather sliced through tendons and muscles to weaken her foe.  I also loved the fact that when she got knocked down – she seemed to relish the challenge.  She almost had me grinning with her when she jumped back into the fray and her enthusiasm for the battle was infectious!  I could only wish that Lois had the same joie de vivre!

As an (already stated) Marvel Fan, I don’t know the DC Universe as well, however I think there are elements to this movie that could let DC have something special when they eventually build out their own creation. Affleck actually made a decent Batman and a particularly imposing (elder) Bruce Wayne.  While he doesn’t have the same brooding nature as Christian Bale, I think he’ll do well in the future as the leader of the Justice league and while we’ve so far only seen him as a fighter, perhaps we’ll eventually get to see him as the intelligent Detective he is also.  It’s a pity for DC that the Green Lantern didn’t do as well as it should have – although I guess in some ways I’m glad as if it had, we’d never have had the Deadpool we’ve all fallen in love with!  It does make me wonder though how the Justice League is going to fight Darkseid and all of his minions with only 5 members (6 when Superman returns)?  I mean from what I know he’s not HYDRA but rather more akin to a God!  It should be an interesting little tussle is what I say!