This is a big year for me. My three biggest fandoms are Star Wars, Planet of the Apes, and the Alien films. I have been twitchy to get started on these releases this year and was very much anticipating a new Alien film and a follow-up to Prometheus, which I’m a fan of (not an apologist, an out-and-out fan).
Well my itch has been scratched. So there’s that.
Spoilers below so….go see it first.
So this weekend we were given Alien: Covenant from director Ridley Scott. He’s gotten his fingers back in the franchise pie and he’s going nowhere anytime soon so we might as well get used to it. Me? I’m fine with it, I’m one of the staunch defenders of 2012’s Prometheus despite knowing its obvious flaws. There are ways to have a good, interesting, and yet flawed film. This is along similar lines and we’re given a good movie that manages to sort of scratch your desire for more Xenomorphs as well as giving those who want a true sequel to Prometheus something to gnaw on, but the film is not wholly both – it’s a hybrid creature, much like the titular monster itself; I kind of like that thematic tie-in, even though it is blatantly unintentional.
In Alien: Covenant we’re given a colonization ship, the Covenant, that is headed to Origae-6 (a habitable-ish planet for colonization and terraforming). The ship is damaged while Walter, our new-model synthetic (played wonderfully by Michael Fassbender) is awake and overseeing the voyage. The crew is awoken, with the captain burning alive in his cryotube before he can be saved. This gives us our first big shakeup in the film, as James Franco’s appearance was moderately advertised. Turns out that this is for a good reason, because he is never alive on screen except for the couple of minutes when he gets nicely toasted.
The shakeup leads to the crew dynamic that we get for the rest of the film – Billy Cudrup’s character Christopher Oram is now captain, unsure of himself and supported by his wife (played by Carmen Ejogo) as he tries to navigate leading these people while maintaining his relationships with them. Daniels Branson (Katherine Waterston) is our lead here, playing Franco’s wife and seen in grief throughout the film. From here on out the chemistry of the main trio is set and they bounce off of each other wonderfully, with Walter discovering things about his character and Oram showing his desperation against Daniels’s heartache and none of it manages to wreck the film, as all of these things easily could. This is wonderfully balanced in the cast.
On-planet a couple of major events happen – two crew members are infected by a spore, popping like zits and spewing out little pale Neomorphs. These new creatures are actually kind of terrifying, but the blatant CGI kind of takes away from some of the fear. The monsters are pale, smooth, lacking the acid blood, but faceless until a small pucker opens and razor teeth leap out. They also walk upright in a very human fashion, which is the most unsettling they get to be. My issue lies with how obviously computer generated they are. In a world where Andy Serkis can play a chimpanzee that not only looks real, he feels real, this is frustrating. The creature things in this film are making me long for the days where it was obviously a man in a vinyl suit, and that’s saying something. I honestly believe the xenomorphs in Alien: Resurrection look better (yes, I rewatched them all in the build-up to this release and I have no regrets).
On to what everyone is really here for – Fassbender. That’s right, David is back and guess what…he’s completely insane! At the end of Prometheus we see that he’s in pieces but that Noomi Rapace’s Dr. Elizabeth Shaw is going to repair him so they can navigate the stars together, finding the Engineer planet. After arriving at this unknown world she has died and David is all alone. His hair has grown out, his roots are showing (after that
wicked dye-job to look like Lawrence of Arabia in Prometheus this gives him a manic appearance), and he has been studying the entire time. He researched the virus, he developed emotionally into something beyond a synthetic but not quite human, and he has become a mad scientist. His Dr. Moreau-esque work is one of the most quietly frightening sections of the film, and his dialog is incredibly nerve-wracking. There’s something freaky about this robot, who was clearly emotional in the first film despite everyone treating him like garbage, learning not only that he feels but embracing that he also loves. He is able to reconcile this with his curiosity, and these things combined just make him more dangerous. Whether it is Shaw haphazardly split open on a table or he is weeping over her false grave, we see that he truly does mean all of these things.
David’s weird experimentation gets me back to one of the more frustrating things that continues from Prometheus – stupid characters. Luckily, in this film, the idiocy is contained to one character. Captain Oram is a moron, but it works in-context of his character. He’s not a leader, he’s a follower, and his desperate attempts to seem bold or like the head of a crew come off as insufferable (they literally call him this in the film) and he is the reason for all of the death and destruction. He makes the decision to check
out the very habitable world that David is broadcasting from. Fair enough, that’s not a horrible decision, but in-universe it frustrates me because making a bad decision by following an ominous transmission is so cliche at this point that it’s nigh-on eye-rolling. Then, after he discovers that David is evil, he still sticks his face down by an open Xeno egg even though this is a stupid idea. I watched that frustrated that this pretty decent movie needed to do this to get it done. I get it, Prometheus was a “god” movie while this is a “Satan” movie, but the devil isn’t that captivating. He isn’t going to convince you to kill yourself accidentally, at least not in a film.
This did give us a couple great moments with Fassbender though, with the newborn Xeno raising its hands into the air as it mimics David doing so, relishing his moment of creation in the perfect organism.
I’d like to touch on Danny McBride’s character Tennessee for a moment, if you would indulge me. The character is one of the leads but receives the least screen-time, which I think is smart and also lacking. This character really gives McBride something to chew on, rather than improving comedic one-liners. Not that he isn’t great at that, he is, but here he gets to make something of a real character and have dramatic moments. This really is one of his better performances and I enjoy it. He also loses a spouse (thematic, right?) and in this he gets to prove that he’s not just part of the Seth Rogen/James Franco jokesters but a real actor with range and nuance. It isn’t a mind-blowing performance, but he’s great. He left me wanting more and that says something.
At the end of the day I’ve already decided I’m buying this when it comes out. I enjoyed
the film and I see its flaws, but the film delivered on a follow-up to Scott’s previous offering as well as allowing the fans of the Xeno some of what they wanted on top of delivering new creatures and imagery. Scott deftly displays sci-fi landscapes, something he does wonderfully, and the film is gorgeous to look at. I know not everyone will be happy and on many notes I’m frustrated, but this really is a solid entry into the franchise. Even its ending, with David smiling as he walks away into the Covenant after putting a terrified Daniels to sleep, will stick with me long after the film has left theatres. Scott is back and has truly brought us something wonderful with the promise of more to come.