Review: Arrival + New Article

I’ve always had a soft spot for the Jodie Foster movie Contact. It’s actually kind of a boring film in some ways, but I always find it so thought-provoking. I enjoy where my mind goes after the movie more than the movie itself.

An alien ship in the movie ArrivalWhen I saw the first trailer for Arrival, I got excited. I hoped it might be a similarly thought-provoking piece of sci-fi. It didn’t seem like a theatre movie, but I resolved to see it as soon as it came on Netflix.

Now that it has, though, I find it’s not nearly as compelling as I’d hoped.

Arrival begins with a dozen massive alien vessels landing at various random points around the globe. When the aliens make no immediately hostile actions, efforts begin to open a dialogue with them. The film follows a linguist (Amy Adams) as she attempts to learn the aliens’ language and what their mission on Earth is.

Great premise, but it’s got a lot of problems.

For one thing, this is an extremely slow movie. I wasn’t exactly expecting Arrival to be a breakneck thriller, but there’s slow, and then there’s tedious, and this is definitely the latter. A great deal of this movie is taken up by nothing but long, long shots of the actors staring morosely into the middle distance.

Something else that really got under my skin was how “AMERICA **** YEAH” the story is. While the ending rectifies this (a little), most of the time this is a movie about enlightened Americans saving the world while evil or incompetent foreigners risk ruining everything.

Sigh.

I would have expected a movie like this to be a bit more open-minded, a bit more forward-thinking, but no.

The alien written language in ArrivalI mean, I realize it’s an American movie, so they focus the story on American characters for the audience’s benefit. I can live with that. But did they really have to make it so the Americans are literally the only people on Earth who aren’t either miserably ineffectual or actively sinister in their interactions with the aliens?

I mean, America is a relatively homogeneous country linguistically. If anyone was going to excel at talking to aliens, you’d think it’d be one of the countries with multiple major languages. And I’m not just plugging Canada here, because at only two official languages, we’re still lightweights compared to some places.

It should also be noted that this a long way from the cerebral science fiction I had expected. It’s really pure science fantasy — pretty much just space magic. Now, I like me some space magic, so I’m not opposed to the idea on principal, but it’s not what I was expecting, and even as far as space magic goes, it doesn’t add up very well. This is one of those plots that only works if you don’t think about it too much.

There is some merit to Arrival, though. Mainly, the aliens are very well done.

For all the plethora of aliens and other non-humans in fiction, it’s really quite rare to find any truly well-executed examples of the idea. Arrival, I’m glad to say, is one of them.

Unfortunately, to explain what makes the aliens of Arrival so interesting in any detail, I would have to pretty much give away the entire plot of the movie. Figuring out how they think and what makes them tick is the core arc of the film. I can say that there’s some genuine cleverness here (even if, again, it’s best not to think about it too much), and that their art design is fantastic.

For me, the aliens saved what is otherwise a pretty bad movie, but I’m still not going to class Arrival as a must-see.

Overall rating: 6.9/10

In other news…

For my latest article at MMO Bro, I look at alternative progression systems to gear. Because seriously, this treadmill is exhausting.

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Review: Wonder Woman

I’m not the biggest super hero fan to begin with, and Wonder Woman ranks near the top of the list of super heroes that I’m just not interested in, alongside Superman, Captain America, and Aquaman. But the trailers looked surprisingly good, and the buzz has been excellent, so I decided to take a chance.

Gal Gadot as the title character in Wonder WomanFor or better or for worse, Wonder Woman has become an icon of feminism to the point where it’s impossible to discuss the movie without also discussing its significance as such. This is troublesome because any criticism of the movie could potentially be viewed as sexism — and I have no doubt that there are plenty of people criticizing it purely for its feminism — but at the same time it would also not be fair to avoid criticizing it.

I understand why my feminist friends are so in love with this movie, but I can’t bring myself to fully share their enthusiasm. Allow me to explain, and as always I will say that I am a guy and that you have every right to dismiss my views on women’s issues as worth less than nothing at all.

So basically Wonder Woman is a power fantasy. Diana is infallible in every conceivable way. She has nothing resembling flaws of any kind, she embodies every virtue you can possibly imagine, and she’s pretty much omnipotent.

My knowledge of the character is minimal, so going in I wasn’t entirely sure what all her super powers actually were. Based on this movie, the answer appears to be “all of them.” She’s indestructible and seems to be able to do basically anything. She effortlessly defeats every challenge she encounters throughout the entire movie.

Here’s where it comes down to perspective. This kind of power fantasy story is not  uncommon in our culture, but it rarely if ever features a woman. It’s always a guy who has the privilege of being this perfect and unstoppable. Superman is the best example I can think of — this does feel very much like a Superman movie.

Gal Gadot as the title character in Wonder WomanSo from that perspective I totally get why so many women are over the moon about this movie. It must feel incredibly refreshing to be able to see yourself in that kind of larger than life heroic role, and if we are to have a fair and equal society, then women should be able to indulge in power fantasies, too.

So in that way, it is a win for feminism, and I respect what this means to people.

But the thing is I’m just not a fan of this kind of power fantasy, regardless of gender. This is why Superman is one of my least favourite super heroes. He’s totally infallible, so there can never be any real drama.

In the same way, the Wonder Woman movie has no real drama, because Diana is simply perfect in every way, and there are no limitations on her power whatsoever. Never for a moment does it seem remotely possible that she could fail.

I’ll also mention that Wonder Woman is a bit of a role reversal in that the male characters are often forced into the kind of reductive roles women usually get. They tend to be quite incompetent and rarely contribute meaningfully to the plot, and Chris Pine’s character in particular is pretty much the archetypal shallow girlfriend boyfriend character that’s always shoehorned into these movies, gratuitous skin scene and everything.

There are lots of movies where men get to be the heroes, so it’s not the end of the world for us guys to get a taste of how women are so often ill-served by writers, though — maybe that was even the point. Maybe it was meant to be an education in how women feel when female characters are just props in stories.

A shot from the Wonder Woman movieNow, all that being said, this still isn’t what I’d call a bad movie. There is a lot to like, despite its flaws.

Something I absolutely was not expecting was the ruminations on the dual nature of humanity, our potential for both incredible tenderness and shocking brutality. For all that it can be quite mindless in some areas, Wonder Woman can also be incredibly smart in others.

I was also greatly impressed by how the film pulls no punches on showcasing the tragedy and brutality of war. In addition to being smart, this movie can also be very powerful.

And despite their sometimes poor writing — Diana’s over-perfection and everyone else’s incompetence — the characters still manage to be pretty likable and draw you in, helped in part by strong acting from pretty much every cast member. The quieter moments when the cast is at its most human are often the highlight.

Aesthetically, Wonder Woman is also excellent. The fight choreography, while wildly unrealistic, is gorgeous, and the special effects, art design, soundtrack, and cinematography are top notch.

As a mythology fan, I was worried I’d end up cringing over the film’s treatment of Greek myths, but while it heavily departs from the original mythology (unsurprisingly), it doesn’t do so in a way that feels cheap or disrespectful, which is more than can be said for many similar movies. My one complaint would be that in a movie about Greek gods and badass warrior women, there was somehow not a single mention of Athena. Missed opportunity there.

The Amazons in Wonder WomanFinally, I think the best part of the movie for me was the villain. Hard to say too much without getting into spoiler territory, but he is charismatic and surprisingly nuanced, and a major contributor to the surprisingly smart social commentary within the film.

As a comic book movie, I’d say Wonder Woman is okay but not great. As a milestone for women’s portrayal in the media, I’d say it’s a step in the right direction but that feminism deserves better champions in the long run.

Overall rating: 7/10