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MOVIE REVIEW: FTN reviews Alien: Covenant (again)

May 13th, 2017 by Mark McCann Comments

Alien: Covenant (15)
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride
Release date: May 12, 2017
Running time: 123 minutes

Bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, members (Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup) of the colony ship Covenant discover what they think to be an uncharted paradise. While there, they meet David (Michael Fassbender), the synthetic survivor of the doomed Prometheus expedition. The mysterious world soon turns dark and dangerous when a hostile alien life-form forces the crew into a deadly fight for survival.

On a press tour for the fifth Die Hard, the franchise star Bruce Willis is quoted as saying that with every subsequent Die Hard they are trying to recreate the glory of the first. It’s a lesson in the law of diminishing returns, that the efforts seem to fall so far from the goal-posts with each sequel. This seems to be the same with every subsequent Alien or ‘Alien universe’ film, except in that the original auteur, Ridley Scott, seems bent on creating something different, in a sense something radically more philosophic and poetic than the original Alien film. Will the law of diminishing returns haunt him further you ask? In this spoiler free review, we shall endeavour to find out.

In order to understand where Alien: Covenant begins, we need to examine where Prometheus left off, with Elizabeth Shaw and the android David in search of the Engineer home world, and an explanation for human existence. There’s plenty of connective tissue in the form on mini-film primers that have been put out to act as tendons between Prometheus and Covenant, but more obviously is the connection between this film and the original Alien. It says as much in the title, but everything from some of the original aesthetic, to the set-up, to the soundtrack to the prototypical heroine are in place.

And that serves as at least part of the films long list of problems. Where Prometheus wound a B-Movie plot around some beautiful visuals and cinematography, Covenant seeks to revisit the well of Alien, albeit with the grandeur of Prometheus. It is a glove that while splendid to look at, simply doesn’t fit.

The script by John Logan and D.W Harper merges the ideas behind each franchise well, and while both writers have a patchy record in the hits department, this is a reasonable synergy of ideas, if not actual execution. The cast, with the exception of the always entertaining Michael Fassbender, playing both the original android David and the Covenants new android Walter, are intensely glib and disposable. Even Katherine Waterson’s Daniels, set up as the prototypical action-heroine in the well-worn mould of Sigourney Weaver, fails to be anything other than the ‘wet lettuce’ latest of a long line of dewy eyed heroines to stand their ground against the xenomorph. Noomi Rapace’s Shaw was more compelling, albeit in a much lesser plotted movie, even if her motivations were at times crazed and erroneous.

But let’s return to the films real strength’s; Fassbender and the films aesthetic. With the dual roles of David and Walter, Killarney’s favourite son does some stellar acting in the exploration of those bigger themes Scott seems so intent on exploring; Humanity, love, duty and ultimately – legacy. It is a pity then, that his character becomes such a clichéd and telegraphed plot device as the film gushes to its conclusion.

The look of the film is also a pleasure, with Dariusz Wolski, the man behind Prometheus and The Martian’s sprawling alien vistas making the most out of Fiordland National Park and New Zealand’s amazing Milford Southland locations. Even Jed Kurzel soundtrack nicely references the original Alien in a deliberate reminder to the fanboys who hated Prometheus, that this one has Alien’s in it. It’s a nice throwback, but that’s as good as it gets, sadly.

That claustrophobic horror, the perfect canned heat of the original Alien, is betrayed here, not only by a demystifying origin that drives home the damage that the Deacon hinted at, at the end of Prometheus. But by the almost comical unveiling of the Alien, who I immediately expected to don a top hat, produce and cane and do a song and dance number. Gone are the days of ‘less is more,’ instead we witness the reverse; ‘more is less.’ The more I saw of the CGI rendered alien, the less it affected me. How could it be that Bolaji Bodego in a black rubber suit is infinitely more terrifying than the best computer generated technology Hollywood can muster? I don’t know, but he was.

So, in the end, that’s maybe what Covenant was lacking. For all the epic themes of life, death, creation and the morality of the gods, constantly referenced as the philosophical framework for the film, Peter Weyland as the vouchsafing creator, David as the scorned creation, and the Alien as the bastard child of both. For all of that, these earnest Covenant colonists involved could never be as compelling as a small group of pissed off miners, compacted into the beat up, terrifying innards of the Nostromo mining vessel and bound together with an unknown alien quantity and the most human of all emotions: FEAR.

Alien: Covenant, or Prometheus 2 if you prefer, confirms that you can’t go back to the well. Of not one, but two films. One critically adored, the other critically panned. And while Prometheus 2 is the best bits of both, neither manages to recreate the effects of the originals in either definitive sci-fi horror or beautific B-Movie badness.

It is somewhere in between, which is unfortunate for a director who at his height has defined genres. At his depths, has muddied the genres he has so deftly defined. Covenant is the latter, though for the splatter fans amongst you, that may be enough to forgive it it’s shallow philosophy, predictable set pieces and cardboard characters, who are for the most part meandering through the motions.

2 out of 5 Nerds

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I came here in a time machine from the 1980s. The time machine was called childhood. I'm getting back there at all costs! (I also live, love, write, lift & pet cats wherever I may find them.)

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