With Darren Aronofsky at the helm, audiences should know not to expect their typical bible story with Noah. The film has generated controversy leading up to its release, due to the creative liberties that Aronofsky has taken with the classic story. But the story that is written in Genesis chapters 6-9 lacks the details that are required to make a quality film. Some religious groups may not approve of the changes that Aronofsky has made to the story, but these are the moments where the film excels the most. With these changes, Noah is a thought provoking character study; without them, the film would have been a dull, poorly paced biblical epic.

The film begins with a written out exposition describing the story of Adam and Eve and their sons Cain, Abel and Seth. Cain slew Abel and all the descendants of Cain had wickedness in their hearts. Only the descendants of Seth were truly good. The last living descendants of Seth include Noah (Russell Crowe), his wife (Jennifer Connelly) and their three sons. After receiving a vision from God telling him that the world is going to end and all of the descendants of Cain will be killed, Noah travels to visit his grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins). After visiting Methuselah, Noah becomes convinced that God will flood the world and that Noah needs to build an ark to save all of the animals and his family.

This first act of the film feels quite standard, setting up the bible story that we have all heard multiple times. It causes one to question why Darren Aronofsky, controversial director of Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream, chose to adapt this tale. Initially, the only aspect of the film that could be considered even remotely controversial is the inclusion of The Watchers, fallen angels that have become encased in stone because of their attempt to help man. They’re well designed, but it feels like they were only added to give the film a more Lord of the Rings-esque feel.

Aside from this, the film’s first act is also poorly paced and sloppily edited. It lacks a certain flow that should enrapture the viewer in what is happening on screen. Scenes feel strangely detached from one another, perhaps because the film jumps into the action too quickly. Noah’s wife and sons are underdeveloped characters, so it is hard to empathize with the journey to Methuselah that they are making.

But once the film enters its second act, Aronofsky’s true vision begins to form. Noah realizes that there is wickedness in everybody and begins to question whether his family deserves to survive the flood. He becomes convinced that his family deserves to die as much as everyone else. Certain that this was God’s plan all along, he decides that he will even risk putting his family in danger in order to completely destroy the human race. This inner conflict is what makes the film truly interesting, but it will also anger religious groups who want Noah to be portrayed as a complete saint. In fact, in the film’s final hour, there are numerous instances where Noah’s strict adherence to faith makes him appear to be a villain. It’s a bold move to put a critique of religious faith in a biblical epic, but without it, Aronofsky’s Noah would have lacked a certain vigor.

Although most of the minor characters are underdeveloped, the film’s final hour is still very exciting because of strong direction and stunning visuals. It’s ultimately this final hour, where we get to explore Noah’s psyche and experience his troubles, that makes the film worthwhile. Despite a lack of characterization, practically every cast member shines: Ray Winstone is frightening but also surprisingly sympathetic as Tubal-cain, the film’s primary antagonist and Emma Watson successfully gives her character a feeling of sweetness and vulnerability that allows the audiences to fear for her safety and well-being in the film’s final hours. With a score from Clint Mansell that is suitably epic without becoming clichéd and arresting visuals from cinematographer Matthew Libatique, this is sure to be one of the most divisive biblical adaptations ever made. Aronofsky’s Noah may differ from the tale told in Genesis, but its ultimate message of universal love couldn’t be more biblical.

Noah receives 2.5/4