Humans never deal with aliens showing up on Earth very well, but in "Arrival" I think we manage ourselves surprisingly decently. Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner show up to investigate a giant spaceship in the middle of a giant field and what proceeds may be one of the slowest building first acts of any science fiction film ever produced.
The payoff is worth it, I think, but my goodness that first act. As someone who doesn't complain much about pacing in films, "Arrival" nearly dies en route. Adams and Renner are fine together, but thanks to the twistedness of the plot aside, they need to be better than that. They need to be great.
Much of the acting involves Adams interacting with a) aliens, b) some military guy or c) Renner. That works fine, but we want to get back to Adams trying to figure out how to communicate with the aliens, right? That's the entire film: communication. How to talk to a species we share (as far as we can tell) no common language and no common, well, anything.
That's when "Arrival" is at its best: Adams with her hair up trying to solve a mystery. She brings in toys and tools and art into the ship's screening room to communicate with aliens to the best of her ability to try and figure out why the heck these giant monsters showed up to begin with. I won't spoil the ending, but it's (mostly) worth the agonizingly slow beginning.
All this doesn't make "Arrival" one of the best films of the year, nor does it make it a particularly great science fiction film. It looks great, sure. But it doesn't say much about the human condition, nor the human race. Hell, it doesn't even try. Say what you will about "Interstellar," but at least it tries to say something about who we are as a species. I'm not convinced "Arrival" ever does that.
Instead it plays the role of thriller with the trappings of Sci-Fi. If that's more your cup of tea, fair enough. I'd like to see some more introspection, but I'll settle for supersleuth Adams if that's what I'm getting.
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