Plunging us into an apparent alien invasion, pausing briefly to introduce Amy Adams' introspective linguist Louise Banks, Villeneuve dangles potential, familiar threads which may or may not have red herrings attached. The mysterious appearance of a dozen extraterrestrial crafts around the globe suggests all-out Independence Day-style war might be on the horizon, while the recruitment of experts in their field (including a maths boffin called Ian) to assist with the kind of scientific breakthrough that only happens in the movies recalls Jurassic Park with tentacles. On the flipside, Banks' melancholy - and Villeneuve's deliberate, measured pacing - evokes Tarkovsky's Solaris. But Arrival is none of these things; sitting somewhere between arthouse and popcorn, it's refreshingly and joyously original, though it takes its sweet time explaining how.
"I speak aylien very wail, I lairn eet from ay boook"
Arrival has so much to recommend it - Adams is restrained yet captivating; her character's story is as vital as the global crisis at the centre of which she finds herself; aliens are well cool - but its USP is the kind of narrative chicanery that blows away even the most deep-rooted cynicism of audiences who think they can't be surprised any more. It's reminiscent of Christopher Nolan's faux-Kubrickian efforts in Inception and Interstellar, but benefits from not being as wildly overambitious or unnecessarily complex. More than that, though, Villeneuve and Heisserer take a century of established cinematic storytelling and use it against you to create something so ballsy, it's almost as if you've been introduced to an entirely new language. Look very carefully and you can see what they've done there.
Probably worth mentioning that Jeremy Renner's in it too
Were it not for that somewhat protracted mid-section, Arrival would easily perch atop any sensible cinemagoer's (i.e. mine) top ten of the year so far. It's rescued by its dazzling finale, but there's still plenty to love about its freshness, its elegance and its refusal to cram in a car chase or ten. Almost certainly Denis Villeneuve's best film, the success of this sci-fi lullaby bodes extremely well for his next film: 2017's tantalising Harrison Ford / Ryan Gosling-starring Blade Runner sequel. Here's hoping to see more things you people wouldn't believe.