(WARNING: This article contains major spoilers for the movie Arrival.)
The Oscars have been and gone, and — despite the ardent support of a vocal group of critics and fans — Arrival failed to snag the Best Picture gong (that went to La La Land…I mean, Moonlight). While this will no doubt disappoint the many fans of Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi thriller (it has a 94 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, suggesting near-universal acclaim), there’s also a less vocal group of naysayers, myself included, who question whether Arrival really deserves the heaped praise it has received.
Caveat: There Is Plenty To Love About 'Arrival'
First things first: I’m not saying Arrival is a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination. On the contrary, it’s a decent flick. The premise — a linguistics expert is brought in to assist in communications between humankind and a newly arrived alien race, in part to determine whether our new guests are friend or foe — is a novel one, and the cast — including #AmyAdams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker — are strong across the board (particularly Adams).
Arrival is also a refreshingly cerebral take on the sci-fi genre, and its intelligent script tells a story that is — for all its fantastical elements — grounded in real human emotion, and has something hopeful to say about us as a species.
It also uses Max Richter’s “On The Nature of Daylight” to devastating effect, although in fairness, that particular piece of music could probably be used to accompany an insurance advert and still manage to elicit tears. So yes, there’s a lot to love about Arrival, so why did it leave me (and others) cold?
A Victim Of Awards Season Hoopla
The real issue with Arrival — like fellow critical darling La La Land — isn’t that it’s a not a good film. No, the problem is that it’s a solid outing that has, with every five-star review and “Best Picture” nomination, been held up as one of the best examples of filmmaking in 2016, if not all time. And yet, if you like past the film’s many positive qualities, at least two significant flaws begin to materialize.
Firstly, there’s the film’s twist-laden plot. While several of these reveals are fairly easy to anticipate if you’re familiar with time travel stories in particular and fiction in general, the major surprise during Arrival’s climax — that Louise’s (Adams) deceased child has actually yet to be born, and what appeared to be flashbacks were in fact flashforwards, the product of her yet-to-occur relationship with fellow academic Ian (Renner) — relies on scripting and editing gymnastics so deceptive that the audience isn’t played entirely fair (something that also plagued Villeneuve’s Prisoners), marring the impact of the revelation when it lands.
Then there’s how “on the nose” Arrival can be. For a film praised for its cleverness, it doesn’t really return the compliment to its viewers, regularly spelling out plot points and character motivations rather than trusting audiences to put two and two together (never has the line “You wanna make a baby?” been more cringeworthy than it is here).
Does It Really Matter If 'Arrival' Is Overrated?
Now, ordinarily it would be easy to dismiss these as mostly immaterial quibbles. After all, if Arrival is still a mostly entertaining movie, who cares, right? But the thing is, because viewers (like me) walked into the theater with the overwhelmingly flattering critical buzz and award nominations feeding our expectations, the end result is that we were bound to hold it to a higher standard than your typical film, and therefore a much greater degree of disappointment was ultimately inevitable.
So I suppose to those of who were disappointed with Arrival, yes it does matter that it has been over-hyped, because we were promised a game-changing sci-fi experience and instead were delivered an entertaining (if uneven) yarn instead.
All that being said, if you were in the majority of filmgoers who did enjoy Arrival, I’m not here to change your mind. If you loved it, the notion that the film is overrated is at best a non-issue and at worst a source of irritation (as the comments section will no doubt show). But for those of you to whom this does matter, take heart knowing that — much like humanity in Arrival — you are not alone.
That's it from me, now it's your turn! Agree? Disagree?