By Ethan Magee
I personally feel that the slew of big-budget fall sci-fi films that have been coming out annually since Gravity in 2013 have only been above average. They’re imperfect, but still plenty enjoyable to where I don’t mind the time or money spent watching them (with maybe the slightest exception of Chris Nolan’s Interstellar (2014)). This year’s outing, Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival, perhaps unfortunately falls into this category.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I enjoyed The Martian enough and Gravity and Interstellar were both striking visual feasts. Arrival is sort of a step in the right direction for these films, combining different aspects of some of these movies while throwing in a little Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Independence Day for good measure, which might be why Arrival has a very familiar sounding plot. Aliens arrive to earth in giant spaceships all over the world and linguistics expert Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is brought in by the military to decipher the ET’s language to help figure out their intent.
Where the film excels the most is where it has taken from its contemporary predecessors. Much like The Martian, the movie is heavily carried by its lead. As one of the few people that actually liked American Hustle, I knew from that movie that Amy Adams could really stand out in a role and carry a movie. In Arrival she knocks it out of the park. Despite her character not being the most nuanced, she meshed with the role quite well and gave it its own air of charisma, which was well supported by an emotional back story that gets you on her side from the moment the movie starts. Not only this, but the cinematography by Bradford Young is really top notch and makes the movie look as big and beautiful as its budget.
Where the film can lose someone is honestly in the story itself. I wasn’t kidding when I compared Arrival to Close Encounters and Independence Day because the plot feels just as silly and derivative. Amy Adams is the only genuinely smart character in the film and is forced to work with wise-cracking but virtually useless Jeremy Renner and answer to Colonel Forrest Whittaker, who manages to unrealistically not understand enough of what Amy Adams is doing so she can explain it to the audience. Arrival does still deliver on the pseudo-realistic sci-fi theoretic and intellectualism but this doesn’t completely make up for the head-scratching writing that forces the plot forward. The mystery element involved will still engage you to where you will enjoy the ride the movie takes you on through the sci-fi alien intrigue. Most importantly, the movie’s message is a very optimistic and uplifting one, showing the audience and its characters what good can come from putting aside our reactionary fear and working together. That’s the best trend to come out of these sci-fi films: the idea that we can come together for the greater good and bring each other to mutual salvation. With that being said, Arrival might be the kind of escapist entertainment you need.