If the Marvel movies are great at one thing, it’s casting. So much so that sometimes its hard to imagine their actors ever weren’t Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Thor and the myriad players to take the screen since. Maybe they always were and the universe just didn’t know it yet. So, with Avengers: Endgame a week away, let’s take a look at some Avengers in other roles. This week, Covert Avengers features Jeremy Renner, in 2016’s Arrival.
Fittingly, getting to Arrival was a bit of a journey. See, there are Jeremy Renner movies and characters that I love. I adore Hawkeye and really hope he gets good screen time in Avengers: Endgame. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, cheesy though it may be is a perennial fave, and Tag was one of my favorite movies of 2018. If you want a deep cut, Monkey Love, 2002’s weird little love-triangle film co-starring Seamus Dever and Amy Stewart was interesting, and that’s coming from someone who despises love triangles tropes as a general rule. And for an even deeper cut, I really enjoyed Somnambulist, Renner’s lone episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer spinoff Angel.
But beyond that, I was looking through IMDB trying to pick the next movie for this series and just not feeling very inspired. Gave Bourne Legacy a try, but my complete and utter disinterest in the Jason Bourne franchise made it almost a non-starter. And then I landed on Arrival, the movie about a linguist trying to talk to some mysterious aliens. I vaguely remembered previews and still wasn’t super excited, but I figured if nothing else, I could throw it on and watch while doing housework.
No housework was done.
I was riveted the whole damn time.
For starters, it was a beautiful movie. I loved the way that it looked and the time and care that it took with its scenes almost as much as I loved the people and the story. And really, that’s kind of saying something. Because let’s just say I’m not known for my cinematic patience. I noped out of Alien pretty fast, and for as much as I love Star Trek, I was barely hanging in there for all the lingering, loving shots panning the length and breadth of the Enterprise in the original motion picture. But Arrival just got me in so many regards.
In it, Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is a linguist dealing with the life and death of her daughter and tasked with figuring out why some aliens have parked their gravity-defying spaceship in Montana as 11 other sites around the world do the same. Jeremy Renner plays Ian Donnelly, the astrophysicist providing a mathy counterpart to her language arts as they try to communicate with the aliens.
My initial thought as the aliens started landing their ships was that this was going to be like an Independence Day or a Signs but less blockbustery, but it became evident pretty early on that this wouldn’t be the case. They spend months just trying to break down the walls of communication with the aliens and the 11 other governments who are doing the same in their areas, and its way more fascinating than you might imagine.
If anything, the more unbelievable aspect of the film was that the US government would spend so much time prioritizing knowledge and fact-finding and uncertainty over charging in guns blazing, especially when fear starts to sway the public. But before you look at me all squinty-eyed and disbelieving like “So…it’s a movie about teaching aliens to read?” let me just say that it has great atmosphere and can be incredibly tense.
And the most interesting thing to me was that the bulk of the tension doesn’t come so much from the aliens but from the people. As an ambiguous translation gets everybody spooked, all the governments that had been working together isolate themselves. The world can’t hold back its panic and as Louise and Ian keep trying to talk to their people, the other governments and the aliens themselves, scared men with big bombs make their move and the dread is palpable. Were they going to ruin first contact with a peaceful, helpful race? Were they going to spark a war they would almost surely lose?
I didn’t know, but I surely couldn’t stop watching everything unfold. There’s a mysteriousness to Arrival that really aids the overall atmosphere and as all the pieces start to fall into place it becomes an incredibly satisfying story. And I really loved that it wasn’t all just backdrop for a meet-cute romance between Louise and Ian. They’re not there to gaze into each other’s eyes and fall in love, they’re there to talk to some aliens, yo, and that just made it all the better.
Renner doesn’t get a ton to do. He’s definitely a supporting player in a story that’s largely Louise’s, and that’s okay! He still has ample screen time and absolutely makes the most of every bit of it.
So, yeah. Overall I started this chapter of Covert Avengers a little wishy-washy, but I ended up loving it just as much as Gifted. Check them both out! Arrival is currently streaming on Hulu and Amazon Prime Video.
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