Noah is a dark, imaginative, thought-provoking and not so faithful re-telling of the biblical tale everyone's familiar with- but maybe that's not such a bad thing. You may go into this movie wanting a certain kind of traditional epic, and if you do you will likely be confronted with some major challenges to your belief system, especially if yours is a literalist take on popular Bible stories.
Darren Aronofsky is a director who likes to challenge an audience, and usually brings his own, bold ideas into his films, which range from Requiem for a Dream to Black Swan and The Fountain- given that filmography, the tale of Noah's Ark may not be obvious material for him to tackle, but that's likely exactly why he did it. Always a visual filmmaker, the images in Noah are some of its best qualities, which show off desolate landscapes and bleak skies painted in bold, striking colors. There's always something to see onscreen in this version of the story, and that's a good thing, because the approach to the subject matter takes on a harsh, bleak tone that really borders on depressing for much of the running time.
In some ways that's appropriate- in this universe, the Creator is one who reigns punishment and death down upon mankind, and all of it is the fault of weak and selfish humans who must be obliterated for their sins. As someone who's almost entirely unfamiliar with all but the most basic of Bible tales, in this movie God comes across as a real hardass who hates everything he's created. And Noah, as played by Russell Crowe, is a tortured, soul-searching man who must find it in himself to let all of humanity vanquish except for his own family members (and the animals of course, who still look impossible to fit onto that boat), and then goes through an evolution that sees him become first a dagger-wielding maniac and then a drunken bum. Those passages are actually more entertaining than the early slogs through the building of the ark, and Crowe gives a very convincing turn as a sort of anti-hero forced to do God's bidding.
Other elements in the film that no one will be expecting, and some of my favorite things about it were the fantastic and surreal touches, such as the fallen angels who watch out for Noah taking the form of gigantic rock monsters. The leader of the stonehenge gang is voiced by Nick Nolte and they're reminiscent of creatures who might have walked off the set of Lord of the Rings. Other neat moments are the colorful montage of Creation as explained by Noah and the magic inexplicably pulled off by his wife (Jennifer Connelly) and Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins, who else?) The performances are good all around, especially Logan Lerman as Noah's conflicted son Ham and Emma Watson as adopted daughter Ila. But while I liked and appreciated parts of Noah throughout, the film overall was a heavy and quite dreary experience. It may be appropriately so- this an apocalyptic depiction of a vengeful God and his suffering servants after all- but it takes an unpleasant toll on an audience as far as entertainment value is concerned.