Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Alien: Covenant

***DISCLAIMER*** The following review is entirely my opinion. If you comment (which I encourage you to do) be respectful. If you don't agree with my opinion (or other commenters), that's fine. To each their own. These reviews are not meant to be statements of facts or endorsements, I am just sharing my opinions and my perspective when watching the film and is not meant to reflect how these films should be viewed. Finally, the reviews are given on a scale of 0-5. 0, of course, being unwatchable. 1, being terrible. 2, being not great. 3, being okay. 4, being great and 5, being epic! And if you enjoy these reviews feel free to share them and follow the blog or follow me on Twitter (@RevRonster) for links to my reviews and the occasional live-Tweet session of the movie I'm watching! Ah yes, the franchise with creatures that have phallic-looking heads literally born from rape.  Everything about these movies are terrifying.

Alien:  Covenant – 2 out of 5

There’s no denying the cultural importance of the Alien franchise.  Sure, most of the sequels are passable at best but that first film and the action packed second one with the Marines are classics.  Then there’s the actual design of the xenomorphs.  The sexual assault overtones and the darkness represented in their design by H.R. Giger is a Freudian nightmare that made for some truly memorable movie monsters.  Well, the man who started it all, Ridley Scott, is back for another installment of the prequel trilogy that explains where the xenomorphs came from and how we got to the film where we see Ripley having to fight one while in her underwear (it’s like that nightmare where you go to school naked but way, way worse!).  It turns out that you still can’t scream in space in Alien:  Covenant but this time it’s more of a scream of boredom.

                                                                                                         20th Century Fox
The symbolism was never subtle in this franchise.

In 2104, the crew of the Covenant transports thousands of colonists and embryos to the planet Origae-6 but after an accident messes with the ship, they stumble upon a transmission from a nearby habitable planet.  Acting on the command of acting Captain Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup), it’s decided that they will take the detour to examine the planet and try to locate the source of the transmission.  Despite objections by the crew’s terraforming expert; Daniels Branson (Katherine Waterston), the team sets out to uncover this new mystery that has stumbled into their path.  Pretty soon, the team learns that this mystery involves the Prometheus, a ship that disappeared several years earlier, and on that vessel carried a secret in the form of a horrifying creature that brings with it death.

                                                                                                          20th Century Fox
I'm sure he'll be fine.

I enjoy the Alien films quite a bit.  Even when they are at their worst (like the vs Predator films, Resurrection and Prometheus—which I openly admit I did enjoy) I still find some level of entertainment with them.  It goes without saying that I was pretty excited for this one—and really dug the idea of Danny McBride having a role in it (love that guy!).  Well, I caught it this weekend at the theater for a matinee and, I’m sad to say, it wasn’t worth the 13 dollars to see a showing of it and it should have been something I rented from Redbox or even waited to see when it aired edited on Syfy.

                                                                                                          20th Century Fox
"Yes, this is, in theory, a habitable planet so I don't see a single reason why
we should enter the environment with some sort of protective suits.  It's not like
there will be viruses or other type of microscopic threats."

I will admit that there are some really great things going on in the film that didn’t completely kill the feature for me.  I really loved the set and costume design because it felt true to the already established Alien universe.  The performances are great—to an extent but I’ll get to that later.  Finally, the story as a concept is a fairly cool one that offers up a lot of promise (although, it does leave me wondering how on earth they are going to be able to tie it to the original film without it looking lazy).  The problems that come have entirely to do with how the story is executed and it was done so in a way that made for a really bland, ho-hum, and even out-right boring feature.

                                                                                                           20th Century Fox
Not even the presence of a Jedi could rescue this film.

One thing this film desperately needed was further development of the characters.  I realized that the studio released a “prologue” clip online in the months leading up to its release but you shouldn’t have to release a clip in order to establish characters and their motivations and personalities.  As the film stood (without the prologue clip), we learn basically nothing about these people other than they are a crew on a colonization mission and they’re all married (and weirdly only refer to their spouses by their titles of “husband” or “wife”).  Even the film’s hero Branson is given almost nothing to identify her as anything that should stand out.  I can’t even recall any character being referred to by name with the exception of Danny McBride’s character Tennessee.   

                                                                                                         20th Century Fox
I'll throw this out there, McBride really felt perfect for his role.

                                                                              20th Century Fox
Every time Crudup speaks, I keep expecting him to
mention how certain things are priceless and for
everything else there's Mastercard.
Without any development, these characters are just faceless nobodies who all feel like they are expendable at any minute and I was unable to get invested in any of the turmoil and conflict they were subjected to.  I’ll overlook that the entire setup of their problems come from really, really bad judgment on their part when they travel to an unknown planet if it meant that I would have gotten some insight into the inner workings of the people in the story.  Honestly, say what you will about the bad decision making seen in Prometheus but the set-up in this one shows some really horrendous decision making.  This lack of development also had an adverse effect on the acting.  While no one in the film is giving a bad performance, it was difficult to really invest in what the actors are putting out there because the characters are so dimensionless and lack any real and palpable depth.

                                                                                                         20th Century Fox
I appreciate how this franchise likes to have female protagonists but
you gotta at least develop them a little bit.

Ridley Scott stated that this film was intended to bring the franchise back to its horror roots and, while the potential is there, it wasn’t very successful at accomplishing that.  The setting, the lighting, and, of course, the creature all are ingredients that have the reality to translate into horror (there is a historic precedent for it and we’ve seen work) but while the atmosphere is primed and ready for this there never are any thrills or tension done.   In fact, it was hard to really figure out what type of tone this film was going for.   Limitations such as budget and a bad costume resorted to the horror tension being created in the first film but with those limitations are gone thanks to special effects and a large budget.  What we are left with is a film that leaves nothing to the imagination.  The xenomorph’s attacks (and the attacks of the new alien we see in the film) are telegraphed too obviously that it kills all shock and surprise and it makes the death scenes more about just getting some gore in rather than getting some horror in—and, to be honest, I wasn’t even that impressed with the blood and guts.  That element felt very mundane to me (man, have I become that burned out with gore in movies?).

                                                                                                          20th Century Fox
I'm sure he'll be fine.
The final element that really killed Covenant for me is the weak ending.  In theory, the ending isn’t terrible but in execution it is a bit silly and really easy to see coming.  However, the biggest problem I have with the ending is how it will eventually tie back to the beginning of the film that started it all and how the Nostromo finds the shipwrecked vessel of the Engineers with all the eggs onboard.  Obviously, it will get resolved but this ending has me fearing it will be done so in a way that might be silly, lazy or incredibly contrived.

                                                                                                          20th Century Fox
With all my complaints, the xenomorphs are still really cool monsters.

Now, I don’t want it to sound like I completely hated Alien:  Covenant because I didn’t.  I saw the potential and promise that it held but was, sadly, unimpressed and kinda bored with the final results.  From a storytelling perspective, I like the pace it offered because the whole time it felt like it was building to something (sadly, it didn’t).  The performance from Michael Fassbender is absolutely outstanding and the rest of the cast is doing fairly well with the terribly underdeveloped characters they were given.  Finally, the special effects for the aliens are very good.  Unfortunately, these elements just couldn’t save a film that felt like it was both incomplete and squandering its time and potential.

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