ALIEN: COVENANT review

My first thought: Just be better than ALIEN: RESURRECTION (1997)!

What can you say about the Alien franchise? Well… a little bit of everything actually, so let’s do some quick reviews.

ALIEN (1979) was a landmark film in the sci-fi horror genre and is one of my favorites to this day. Perhaps a little dated now with it’s semi-dumb characters, but I personally give it a pass as it’s the movie that took those clichés, but perfected it. Not to mention it’s chilling atmosphere, incredible practical effects, claustrophobic setting, it’s a must-see if you’re a fan of horror films.

ALIENS (1986) took what made ALIEN great and cranked it up to a high octane level that I can’t possibly calculate. It brought some bad-ass action, memorable characters with memorable quotes, truly one of those movies that if you haven’t seen it, you’ve done yourself a disservice. And can we just agree that James Cameron is the king of sequels? But then the series took a turn for the worst.

ALIEN 3 (1992) was probably not a bad movie, by any means, but coming off the heels of its predecessors, which were staples of sci-fi, action, and horror, this sequel was met with a ton of disappointment by both critics and fans. Of course, there’s a ton of speculation as to what went wrong. Studio interference, David Fincher was out of his element, all of the above, none of the above, either way, it’s bar-none the least memorable of the franchise. But the movie supposedly ended the story presented to us, so that should be the end to Alien movies, right?

Well, some asshole in Hollywood declared, “No! We can milk this franchise for all it’s worth one more time!” Well, that milk came out powder because if you were wondering how a bad Alien film would look, look no further than ALIEN: RESURRECTION. A prime example of a movie that didn’t understand its own franchise, sucking out all dignity and reverence. ALIEN 3 may not have been great, but it wasn’t… this. It had campy acting, terrible characters, and essentially made a movie that perfectly encapsulated what I hate about horror movies in general: stupid characters making stupid decisions getting other stupid characters killed. To be fair though, depending on what angle you’re coming from, this is one of the more memorable Alien films, in that it’s so bat-shit insanely bad that there is some entertainment to be found. It’s neither a good Alien movie, nor a good movie in general, but it’s so stupid that it’s cinematically fascinating. Of course, we got half continuations with two Alien Vs. Predator movies, but we won’t get into them because… just no.

But now fast forward to 2012 with the highly anticipated PROMETHEUS, a spin-off film of the Alien franchise intending to explore the origins of the xenomorphs. It was met with… mixed reception to say the least. It was hated, it was beloved, it was everything in between. Personally, I liked it. But that’s because I love the talent presented. Michael Fassbender was riding high on his X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011) popularity, Charlize Theron cemented herself as a must-see actress for me, and by God do I miss Noomi Rapace. But it’s hard to deny that you’d barely associate this with an Alien film and for every question it answers, it raises a hundred new ones, making a very unsatisfactory story. I said it’s not bad, but it’s on an ALIEN 3 level of disappointment.

And now we’re here. 2017, and we’ve got two Alien movies on the way. Yeah, two. Bet some of you didn’t know that. While Ridley Scott is working on developing the story he created with PROMETHEUS, DISTRICT 9 (2009) director Neill Blomkamp has been trying to get his own Alien film going that would supposedly retcon the events after ALIENS. Yup, he’s trying to make a movie that’s a sequel to ALIENS, but ignores ALIEN 3 and RESURRECTION. We’ll see what comes of that.

For now, we have this movie to hold us over. And what’s the initial impression? Um… so long as it’s better than RESURRECTION, I think I’m good. I’m not expecting it to be great or anything, but I’ll accept something that’s passable.

Here’s a look at the cast. Starring, we have Katherine Waterston (FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM [2016], STEVE JOBS [2015], TV show BOARDWALK EMPIRE, and the upcoming FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM 2 [2018]) and Michael Fassbender (SONG TO SONG [2017], THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS [2016], and PROMETHEUS [2012]). In support, we have Danny McBride (THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE [2016], THIS IS THE END [2013], and TV show EASTBOUND & DOWN), Billy Crudup (20TH CENTURY WOMEN [2016], WATCHMEN [2009], ALMOST FAMOUS [2000], and upcoming films JUSTICE LEAGUE [2017] and THE FLASH [2020]), Demián Bichir (LOWRIDERS [2017], THE HATEFUL EIGHT [2015], TV show THE BRIDGE, and the upcoming THE NUN [2018]), Callie Hernandez (BLAIR WITCH [2016] and LA LA LAND [2016]), and Carmen Ejogo (FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM, SELMA [2015], THE BRAVE ONE [2007], and the upcoming IT COMES AT NIGHT [2017]).

Now for the crew. Directing is Ridley Scott, known for THE MARTIAN (2015), GLADIATOR (2000), and BLADE RUNNER (1982). Co-writing the screenplay are John Logan (007 SPECTRE [2015], 007 SKYFALL [2012], and THE LAST SAMURAI [2003]) and Dante Harper, making his writing debut. Congrats, sir. Composing the score is Jed Kurzel, known for ASSASSIN’S CREED (2016), MACBETH (2015), and THE BABADOOK (2014). Finally, the cinematographer is Dariusz Wolski, known for THE MARTIAN, all of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and CRIMSON TIDE (1995).

Overall, and I know I’ve said this a lot now, just be better than ALIEN: RESURRECTION, and I’ll be happy enough.

This is my honest opinion of: ALIEN: COVENANT

(SUMMARY)

The Covenant is a space-faring vessel carrying thousands of people on their way to a new world to colonize. Walter (Michael Fassbender), the resident cyborg, keeps an eye on them as they are in cryo-sleep. Unfortunately, just seven years away from their destination, they hit a random electromagnetic storm that wakes everyone up prematurely and some even perish in the accident. Trying to fix the ship’s damaged systems, they happen across a nearby planet that is sending out a signal. That same planet might be even more ideal a new home than their prescribed one. The new captain, Oram (Bill Crudup) orders an investigation of both the planet and the signal, despite the opposing ideas of his new second in command, Dany (Katherine Waterston). A team touches down on the planet and discovers human vegetation and mysterious spores begin infecting the group, giving life to monstrous creatures with only one desire: kill.

(REVIEW)

I’m still processing it, but early into this review, I’m saying that I am indeed happy that it’s better than RESURRECTION, but no, it’s not better than the original two. Not even close. In fact, it’s only barely better than RESURRECTION.

I think first and foremost, it’s should be mentioned that the movie is definitely trying to combine the two best elements of the original films: focus on one xenomorph at a time, playing into the horror, like the original, as well as leaning more into action with guns ablazing, like in the sequel. However, the approach on all factors is pretty bland. First off, while there are some jump scares here and there, the movie doesn’t seem to be too concerned with being a horror film, so you’re never really sitting uncomfortably. Dark rooms and wide eyes doesn’t automatically mean the audience feels the same. The action is done a little bit better. There’s a scene that with the colonists trying to survive against a young xenomorph as it scurries around some tall grass. I’d say that THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK (1997) did it first, but this was done better in the sense that these colonists at least fired their guns instead of shouting and running. There’s another scene where Dany is fighting a xenomorph on a moving spaceship, but most of the action is pretty standard and not all that memorable.

The characters aren’t even very memorable either. There’s no real charm to them. Dany is just a standard protagonist who doesn’t do much other than be what the camera follows. You have your standard optimist and coward, and… well, lets face it, appetizers, entrees, and desserts and probably not always in that order. Some of them aren’t even smart and flawlessly transition into stupid people by trotting off somewhere alone, multiple times, which will obviously result in someone’s death. In a lot of ways, this movie is almost akin to a B-movie, which isn’t how you want an Alien movie to be described. In fact, and this is really painful to say, this movie is in some ways worse than RESURRECTION. Give the characters in RESURRECTION some credit, they rarely wandered off stupidly to get killed. They stayed in a group and fought back. Yeah, they were still annoying characters and seriously didn’t fit the tone of what an Alien movie should have been, but again, these characters were smart enough to stay together at all times. Even COVENANT, with superior filmmakers holding this project up, failed to get that right. Hell, the only reason why this movie is still technically better is because… er, well, the technicals. The film at least looks like it belongs on the big screen, whereas RESURRECTION looks like it should be on the Syfy channel. But even that isn’t saying too much because the CGI is somehow worse than the effects in ALIEN.

And, oh my god, the movie even has scenes that rip off from other movies. Without giving too much away, there’s a scene where the xenomorph is hunting some victims through a series of corridors that someone from a computer console can close off doors to herd it around. You know a movie that had this very same idea? LIFE (2017), the movie that I declared was an Alien knockoff had this very same scene! Ironically, I think that movie was much better. Slightly more memorable characters with better comradery and an hostile alien that was much more mysterious and intimidating than the actual alien it’s ripped off from.

So… is there anything positive to say about this movie? I guess. It’s not boring, I give it that. I was intrigued by the direction some of the characters were going, even though it doesn’t pan out in a satisfying way.

***SPOILERS***

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***

About the only character that does stand out is David, who is significantly more interesting than when he was in PROMETHEUS. He apparently found the “creator” homeworld and unleashed the spores that gave birth to the xenomorphs that we know and love has seen himself as a father figure to them as he creates more. There’s a bizarre and wonderfully psychotic edge to this character that’s clearly better developed than in its previous film.

***

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***END SPOILERS***

Remorsefully, this was a disappointment. The movie is not good. It lacks scares outside of cheap jumps, failing to live up to atmosphere of ALIEN, and the action and characters are by the numbers, failing to live up to ALIENS. If you were waiting for the next great Alien movie, this isn’t it. It took the entirety of this review to realize that I had few positives to say about it, and what positives I did have aren’t enough to keep it from being a sad reminder that we still haven’t had a decent Alien film since ALIENS, or even arguably ALIEN 3. What we get is a stale, near-B-horror movie masquerading as an extension of one of the most cherished pair of films to come out of the 70’s and 80’s. All we can hope for now is that Blomkamp’s Alien movie will get made sooner than later and we’ll finally that authentic Alien movie that fans so desperately want to see. I can’t recommend this even to the most die-hard fans of the franchise. I know it’s crushed the souls of many fans so far. I know the film’s gotten a fairly warm reception. RottenTomatoes has it at a 73%, certified fresh (as of 5/20/2017) and IMDb has it at a 7/10 (as of 5/20/2017), so I guess my opinion is in the minority. I say pass. You’re only going to disappoint yourself.

My honest rating for ALIEN: COVENANT: 2/5

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