Saturday, May 20, 2017

Alien: Covenant Review

The "Alien" franchise is one that I've been meaning to catch up on for a while now, but I never had a perfect excuse to do so until now with the release of the eighth movie in the "Alien" universe, that being "Alien: Covenant." When the trailers for this movie first came out, "Alien" fans freaked out in excitement and I just sat there and told myself that I need to do my homework on this franchise and I was excited to dive. Yes, it's true. I haven't seen every movie ever made. In fact, I didn't grow up watching a ton of movies, so certain franchises I simply missed. Unfortunately the "Alien" franchise was one of them. But I've now repented. Well, for the most part. Out of the eight movies in this franchise, we have four "Alien" movies in the regular timeline, two "Alien vs. Predator" movies and now two "Alien" prequels with "Prometheus" and "Alien: Covenant." In the last month or so, I watched "Alien," "Aliens" and "Prometheus." I didn't care to watch "Alien 3," "Alien: Resurrection" or the "Alien vs. Predator" movies. Perhaps if the fifth movie in the "Alien" timeline comes out I'll catch the former two. The latter two I don't care about, especially since they aren't even cannon. But now that I've watched four "Alien" movies recently, let's talk about them!

First and foremost I get the pleasure of officially adding my voice to the "Alien" or "Aliens" debate. I mean, both of them are phenomenal movies, so it's like picking between "A New Hope" or "Empire Strikes Back" when it comes to my favorite "Star Wars" movie. But I do have a clear favorite here and thus I'm happy to announce that I am officially a member of team "Aliens." The James Cameron sequel in the late 80's, years before he got obsessed with blue people. But really, Ridley Scott's original "Alien" is a pretty darn good sci-fi horror movie. I wouldn't necessarily call it my favorite horror movie or favorite sci-fi movie, but the simplicity of the movie is what makes it so great. The land on a foreign planet and one of their crew members gets infected with this thing. They could've, and probably should've, chosen to follow protocol and keep away from the ship, but they don't. And the consequence to that is they have this giant Xenomorph wandering around the ship, killing them off one by one. That's our movie. And it's an extremely suspenseful movie for the entire run time that makes you fall in love with Sigourney Weaver and how awesome she is in dealing with this disgustingly awesome creature. That simplicity I missed in "Alien: Covenant," but we'll get to that.

"Aliens," though, was the movie that blew me out of the water. I was told by many people that while "Alien" was a horror movie, "Aliens" was a straight-up action movie, which made me excited and curious. But after watching it, I would still call it an action horror movie. There's moments in the movie where it was still a suspenseful movie. Much more suspenseful than anything that happens in "Prometheus" and "Alien: Covenant." But again, we'll get to that. The suspense in "Aliens" combined with the increased level of action made this phenomenal. Because they're not out to explore space or colonize. They set out for war. Sure, the moments in the beginning where no one believed Ripley were dumb and the team of soldiers were annoyingly cliche in how mean and stupid they were, but when we got the the action, it was thoroughly entertaining. When the red coats started getting killed off and we were essentially down to Ripley, Hicks, Newt and Bishop, I loved this family dynamic that was developed, thus we had emotion, suspense AND action. For me it was very comparable to "Jurassic Park" and thus practically a perfect movie. And they decided to kill Hicks, Newt and Bishop off-camera at the beginning of "Alien 3"? Super lame. And you wonder why I skipped that one.

"Alien: Covenant," though, has less to do with "Alien" and "Aliens" and a lot more to do with "Prometheus," which is a heck of a lot more controversial than those previous two. In fact, while it is accurate to call "Alien: Covenant" a prequel to "Alien," it's much more accurate to say that it's a sequel to "Prometheus," which itself is more of a completely different movie set in the same universe as "Alien," 28 years before. Quite honestly I didn't know what to think of "Prometheus" going in because half of the people out there say it's the greatest movie ever while the other half think it's the worst movie ever. So I just turned it on with no expectations and waited to see what happened to me. Well, hyperboles aside because I don't literally think it's the worst movie ever, I side with the negative here. "Prometheus" is nothing more than a big pile of dog crap. Listen, I didn't go in expecting a sci-fi horror film or an action film, because it's certainly not either one of those. But what this movie is labeled as by it's lovers is a thought-provoking sci-fi film. Well, to me it asked a few semi-interesting questions, but it provoked no thoughts. My brain wasn't invigorated. I just watched a group of dumb idiots wander around on a boring planet.

But enough about that. I could go into a lot more depth about each of those movies, but that quick background should suffice. Let's talk about this movie that you actually clicked on to read about. "Alien: Covenant." Without looking into any behind-the-scenes interviews or anything like that and purely try to read between the lines, I would make a guess that Ridley Scott had a lot of interesting ideas in his head about questions to explore in this universe, but when people reacted violently in opposition to his attempt to do so in "Prometheus," he literally or mentally threw a bunch of scripts in the trash and went back to the drawing board to try to listen to fans and give us the "Alien" stuff that everyone wanted. Because outside a little cameo thing at the end, there was nothing "Alien" about "Prometheus." But now we have "Alien" back in the title with "Alien: Covenant" along with the promise that we're actually going to see Xenomorphs terrorizing a crew of dumb idiots again. I was worried that we were just going to get a repeat of "Alien" all over again, but I was happy that we were at least going to get another "Alien" movie. And hey, maybe we'd even get a good "Alien" again, since we haven't had one of those that everyone's loved since "Aliens" in 1986.

But put all of that "Alien" stuff to the side because first we have to do the "Prometheus" stuff all over again. Outside a few small teases, we don't get the "Alien" stuff the trailers advertised until the final third of the movie, so I'll thus get to it in a second. While I did hate "Prometheus," I actually enjoyed the "Prometheus" follow-up that we got here. To me it was like a better version of "Prometheus." Instead of trying to answer all the complex questions in the universe, or rather ask all of these questions without giving us any answers or any entertainment, "Alien: Covenant" focuses on the troubles of one man. Or one android, rather. Because, yes, Michael Fassbender's David is our one returning character from "Prometheus" and this is his movie. And he is one troubled, messed up android and I loved every second of it. I also love that his best match was kinda himself, because Fassbender also plays the android named Walter, who is an upgraded version of David flying around with our new Covenant crew. Walter is upgraded in the sense that he's less human and more android, because we all know that androids thinking for themselves is always bad news. And if you've ever watched any movie portraying artificial intelligence, you know what I mean.

Speaking of the Covenant crew, that's one huge problem with this movie. The best horror movies are the character-driven horror movies where you actually care about the cast and thus are terrified when they are getting hunted down by whatever monster is out there. That's the brilliance of both "Alien" and "Aliens." You care about the crew. In "Alien: Covenant," I think I was on the side of the Xenomorph. I wanted to see what cool and gruesome ways he could kill them all because I didn't really care about any of them. We have no one as awesome as Ripley and no supporting characters as awesome as Hicks and Newt. They were all a bunch of red coats to me. In fact, there were actually one or two red coats that I was HOPING they would focus on more, but they became red coats too fast and the characters they did focus on I thought should've been red coats. So that sucked. But thankfully we did have the Walter vs. David stuff. I loved Walter and I loved David. Every time one or both were on the screen it was gold. This was essentially the second act of the movie, which I really enjoyed. The first act was them finding the planet and doing dumb things "Alien" crew members always do. The second act is all David and it was great.

Then we have the third act. And I suppose that I shouldn't say too much about the third act. There were elements that I loved and an ending that I thought was phenomenal, but unfortunately the Xenomorph stuff kinda felt tacked on and it wasn't even in the same ball park as "Alien" or "Aliens." Even though I enjoyed the second act of the movie, I did miss the simplicity that was "Alien." It was just a Xenomorph wandering around on the ship for most of the movie terrorizing the whole crew. That was awesome and extremely suspenseful. That happened here for like 10 minutes and that was it, so I felt short-changed. And then after that, the movie tried to be an action movie like "Aliens" by them fighting the Xenomorph. That also wasn't super entertaining. Thus it didn't actually feel much like a horror movie to me and it was only barely a sub-par action movie for a few minutes. It was really lame. And to heck with creativity. Let's just do the exact same things that every "Alien" movie does to try to hunt down and fight the Xenomorph. I think we've ran out of ideas for different premises with these movies, so part of me thinks that we should maybe stop. Or maybe we postpone until someone comes up with an idea that actually brings something new to the table.

In the end, this movie unfortunately falls into a bit of an awkward territory where Ridley Scott tried to make this both a "Prometheus" movie and an "Alien" movie and kinda failed at both. Yes, personally I enjoyed what they did specifically with the "Prometheus" angle here because I didn't like "Prometheus." They took the most interesting aspect of "Prometheus" and ran with it, leaving all the other things in the the dirt. Thus if you actually did love "Prometheus," I can actually see you being angry at what they did here. Or what they didn't do, if that makes sense. And if you went in wanting a pure "Alien" movie, you're going to be underwhelmed because all of that is put on the back burner and is kinda just thrown in on the end as more of an afterthought at the end out of obligation. I enjoyed the Michael Fassbender stuff enough to give this movie a pass. The Xenomorph scenes are kinda cool and no one on the crew gives a bad performance, so this is decent. But if we're going to do another movie in this franchise, I want it to be an all-out "Alien" movie and I want them to bring something new to the table. I'm not going to give grades to all four movies I've talked about. I think you can figure that out. But the important number here is that my grade for "Alien: Covenant" is a 7/10.

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