Arrival (2016) Review


When I started this “10 Decades” marathon, I did it thinking about giving me a good excuse to finally watch Arrival, which I’d been meaning to get around to since it came out. Well, it added an extra bunch of months compared to if I’d just sat down and watched it, but it’s been a fun ride, and I’m happy to report, it was worth it. Arrival was great! Let’s see why…


Linguistics professor Louise Banks leads an elite team of investigators when gigantic spaceships touch down in 12 locations around the world. As nations teeter on the verge of global war, Banks and her crew must race against time to find a way to communicate with the extraterrestrial visitors. Hoping to unravel the mystery, she takes a chance that could threaten her life and quite possibly all of mankind.

*spoilers appear from here on out!*

Cast of Characters:

Arrival 1

Two of our main characters, one of which is an alien… Can you tell which one?!

Louise Banks (Amy Adams) – Louise is a linguistics specialist so widely regarded that she soon finds herself having to translate the language of an alien species… Quite the turn around, really…

Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) – Ian is a world-renowned physicist who is also brought on board to try to make sense of the alien craft that suddenly appeared in the middle of the US, and elsewhere.

Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) – Colonel Weber has the pleasure of leading the group of soldiers and scientists that are investigating the alien craft.

General Shang (Tzi Ma) – General Shang is in charge of overseeing the Chinese effort to communicate with their ship, but is soon becomes more inclined to blow it out of the sky than to talk to it…

The Heptapods – The mysterious aliens that inhabit the 12 ships spread across the globe.

Plus more!

The Good:

Arrival 2

“Wait, I think I just told them to have sex with their mothers… Wait, do they even have mothers? Wait… They didn’t seem to mind. Let’s move on.”

This is definitely one of those things where if you any desire to watch it, please avoid all spoilers. Don’t read this review, watch the film and then come back and compare notes, so to speak, but if you know the big twist it will take away a lot of what made the film so great. I came in with a blank slate, and I was all the better for it.

With that out of the way, this film was GREAT. The first hour was pretty much two things: a “realistic” depiction of how nations and the general public would react to alien craft just suddenly appearing, and our lead duo of Louise and Ian slowly communicating and learning the language of the alien species. That might not sound exciting, but it was so well done, it felt as if this really would be the consequence of 12 spaceships just appearing out of nowhere, the internet gossip, the news stations and radio DJs spreading rumours and stoking the fire, certain countries leaning towards destroying them rather than learning from them after they start talking about giving weapons. It was great!

Then the big twists start coming. Throughout the film we see flashbacks to Louise’s daughter, who died of a terminal illness when she was only in her teens… except we soon hear that she hasn’t ever been married or had a daughter. Eventually she directly talks to the Heptapods and they reveal that learning their language gives humans the same non-linear perception of time that they do, and that those flashbacks are actually flashforwards that she had been dismissing as weird dreams until recently. The Heptapods can see that in 3,000 years’ time they’ll need the help of the humans, so them giving them the gift of non-linear perception is so they can get a favour in return a long ways down the line. It was such a brilliant twist, one that is then used by Louise to stop China from bombing their ship, as she sees a future conversation with Chinese General Shang where he says that a phone call on >this number< stopped him for going ahead with the bombing, because she said >these exact words<, in other words they both now know the secret of non-linear perception, so had that conversation specifically to make the one in the present happen. Kind of a head scratcher, but a brilliant one!

There isn’t much else to talk about, the core of the film is several visits with the aliens and slowly deciphering their language, which was really engrossing.

The Bad:

Arrival 4

“I’ll protect you forever with my bulging Science muscles!”

The only negative I can think of is that they went from barely understanding the symbols to having a computer program that can successfully translate it rather quickly, even if there was a passing of time montage. I’ll wave that off as a necessary evil, though…

Oh and after so many action roles, it was a little hard to buy Jeremy Renner as a nerdy physicist, even if he is wearing specs…

Overall Thoughts:

Arrival 3

There were some truly great sweeping shots during the film.

Arrival is one of those films I’ll always remember fondly, and probably watch again one day, though it’ll never be the same. The twist was so fun and clever that knowing it going in will take away from the film, but it was still professionally made and really well told, acted and shot, so it’s not like it’d be boring to watch or anything! Either way though, I have to give this a 5, it was a properly great experience, and a great end to this ten film, ten decade marathon!

5 Star Watch

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