I was recently watching Movie Bob’s review of the Doctor Strange movie, and in it, he lamented the fact that all comic book movies are action movies. Which got me thinking: do all genre fiction movies, in general, really have to be action movies? Especially when it might not entirely serve the narrative? Are we missing out on a ton of interesting movies just because writers are afraid to take science fiction and fantasy outside of the actionbox?
With this in mind, there are some recent movies whose plot and character development would definitely have benefited from not being action movies.
Sometimes talking about diversity in media seems like a really bad game of “spot the minority.” Countless TV shows and movies have had just one visible person of color in their casts, if at all, and we’ve currently reached the point where a number of movies have one white woman and one Black manand are content to call that “diversity.” Whatever little progress we’ve made, it’s become clear that even if we include people of color in our stories, we’re still not dedicating ourselves to telling their stories.
If there’s a token minority in a story, it used to be that they were the villain or helpful sidekick; nowadays it’s more likely that they are the leaders of the group. At first glance, that sounds like a good thing—showing that people of color can be competent in places of authority can only be good, right? Maybe so, but we inevitably see a large number of Black leaders, not Asian or Middle Eastern or Latinx leaders, and, again inevitably, these Black leaders are often the only Black characters or characters of color in the story at all. This phenomenon ties into a number of tropes and poor writing choices that highlight the insidious problem of having your single solitary Black man or woman be the boss or leader for your ultimately white protagonists.
Normally I’m a spoiler hound, but while some experts argue that spoilers can enhance enjoyment of a story, I’m not sure if that’s the case for Arrival. Saika reviewed the trailer, but I’m not sure I even saw that one, and I’m almost glad I didn’t. Not knowing anything much beyond “aliens invade and someone tries to talk to them” made the movie more suspenseful. Arrival is the most original sci-fi movie of the year. It’s based on Ted Chiang’s short story “Story of Your Life”, which was nominated for and won a handful of awards back in 1999. It’s no wonder it was turned into a movie. Most alien movies are about humanity fighting off the evil alien invaders. Arrival is different. It’s a story of a linguist trying to help humanity establish peaceful relations with alien visitors. Arrival is probably going to end up on the list of movies all the cool philosophy professors show to get their undergrads to think about the nature of memory and free will. Wrapped up in suspenseful alien invasion trappings, Arrival is really about how a human may cope once her experience of time is no longer linear. If you could see into your own future, what would you do?
As a bit of a language nerd, I was beyond thrilled when I first stumbled across this trailer. A sci-fi movie where the real enemy is ignorance, and the protagonist is a linguist and translator who’s just been tapped for the most important ethnography of her life? Sign me up.