Arrival ★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

It's amazing how impossible Mars Attacks! made it to watch movies like this without laughing. You can map it, beat by beat, character by character, at least up to the point when we learn the human race is going to be the villain in this story, when it relaxes into a listless variant on another much better movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which was more rigorous in its treatment of communication. I have to admit I'm jealous of you if you can really sincerely get wrapped up and moved by this without feeling like it's playing you for a fool: the exposition cancer cycle, the lazily injected montage-heavy "science" stuff as dead-eyed and unimaginatively presented as the same kind of material in The Martian, and the introduction of hollow characters whose only point of human clarity is something that turns out to be negated by a plot gimmick. (I'm referring to the manner in which we're led to believe that Louise is entering this job having lost a child fairly recently. To me the most interesting thing about the opening half-hour was how effectively it captured the feeling of trying to throw yourself back into work while dealing with that level of grief, which I thought was magnificently captured by Adams, and it didn't need to be explicitly stated or laid out by anyone which was all the better... but then it turns out that's not really what's going on anyway, what I thought was subtlety was just not even there in the first place, and just as in The Prestige, something potentially insightful gets subverted in favor of a comparatively superficial "gotcha.") Time is a flat circle. Louise is like Bill and Ted. "Trash can, remember? The trash can." Denis Villeneuve likes Persona a lot, and at least this subscribes to the Interstellar-Gravity theory of big-budget sf with an emotional, humanist thrust.

But OK. I can sort of respect the neat symmetry of the story, even if it becomes obvious as soon as the circle motif is introduced -- we both practically recited the "Hannah is a palindrome" exchange in unison with the movie, because come ON, and if that reveal of Jeremy Renner was supposed to be a shock it came about an hour too late -- but I don't see how any affection you have for this as an emotional Eternal Sunshine-like story of living life to its fullest with foreknowledge of the consequences can excuse the fucking abysmal, Armageddon/Inception-level dialogue that starts in as soon as Forest Whitaker shows up in Louise's office and spouts off a bunch of "America needs this yesterday, I don't understand linguistics and I don't HAVE to" bullshit. Everything Whitaker is forced to say is embarrassing, from "Remember, we need answers as soon as possible: what do they want? where are they from? why are they here? This is the priority" to referring to the indigenous people of Australia as having been wiped out by "a more advanced race." We meet the always-intolerable Jeremy Renner -- why does every character in every movie have to sound like a fucking Marvel Comics hero now? "That just happened," hyuck -- during a painful, groan-inducing meet-cute on a military plane as he and Adams conveniently banter with exposition cheerleading for their respective fields of study, while even Adams is not immune from a Team America moment with the "kangaroo" exchange. (No matter what they do for a living, people DO NOT FUCKING TALK LIKE THAT. [as someone is turning to walk away] "Kangaroo." "What?" "[twenty-minute expository speech]" etc.)

Like, I come away thinking "maybe I really do hate sci-fi"... but what about Melancholia and Children of Men and Another Earth (which I beg you to watch if you thought the pathos in this was well-done)? Maybe I just don't like Villeneuve, who really doesn't have much of a sense of modulation judging from the four films I've seen, all of which look and feel rather drab. Or maybe I just don't like lackluster movies! Who's to say! Basically I think everyone who liked this but complained about the "twist" (which wasn't even the point) in The Village should have their driver's license revoked.

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