I'm not 100% sure what I thought of this movie. It is a great movie, but where does it stand in the great science fiction films of all time? It has touches of Contact, Solaris, and Slaughter House Five. The aliens come but the movie doesn't go into space, the aliens don't invade and the main character's challenge is to decipher the aliens's language.
The movie opens with a child dying of some kind of disease. When I saw that I thought "really?" Guardians of the Galaxy opens with Star Lord's mother dying of cancer, while they are shot differently it sure made me think sci-fi thinks it has to kill someone with terminal illness early on to give the viewer a connection much like Disney films killing off the parents to give the child more independence.
The aliens come and the incident is treated in a way that would be expected with cable news in a frenzy. Jeremy Renner and Amy Adams's characters are brought into the first contact as a scientific expert and a linguist. Renner plays his character in a way I haven't seen from him very often. He's warm and smiles playfully, in awe of the whole occurrence. Forest Whitaker's character is more of a stereotypical overreacting type. That type is now seen in sci-fi movies to give a conflict to the story but it's most stereotyped as an '80's police chief trying to control a renegade cop.
Not everything is explained or given to the viewer. The ending is almost as up in the air as the end of Inception. Will Amy Adams's character use the "weapon" to fix her personal issues or will she leave them to play out naturally? One joke that's thrown away is that Jeremy Renner's character names the two aliens they speak to Abbott and Costello. It's more than naming them after a comedic duo and that the two humans are possibly dorky enough to be fans of those comedians from the early 20th century. The whole movie is about coming to understand words, their dual meanings and misunderstandings and grammar, and that is the crux of what seems to be the only piece of the comic duo's work to survive in the popular consciousness.
Who's on first? What's on second? Why have you come to Earth? Hilarity ensues until Jake Busey screws it up for everyone else.