Let’s have a brief recap of the last movie in the franchise, shall we?
It was shit. Unmitigated, irredeemable shit. I mean, I suffer from appalling low self-esteem and when I’m in one of those moods, I genuinely believe its the only movie I deserve. I had a dream where I went to the cinema to see the directors cut with commentary and Ridley Scott spent the entire movie apologising. It. Was. Rank. It’s the only movie I’ve seen where I was so incensed and so furious that I couldn’t speak for about eight hours after – although Man of Steel came close – and it took me nearly three days to calm down. Well. I say calm down. The mere mention of the name sends me into spasms of anger even now.
So up against that and up against such incredibly low expectations and abject hatred of its predecessor, was Alien Covenant actually any good?
It was orders of magnitude better than Pr*meth*us without a shadow of a doubt, but it was still not entirely satisfying. It had many good things going for it that were countered by the stupid. And there were many raisings of the eyebrow.
Of the good, there were pleasing elements of both ‘The Island of Doctor Morreau’ and ‘The Tempest’ that gave the movie some weight. Had it been a stand alone movie and not of the Alien franchise, this might have been a cool take on both works and worth a view for it’s pot-boilery b-movie chops. As part of the Alien franchise, it didn’t really hit the mark.
We know there are to be more in the series and given the ending of Covenant, you can see where it’s aiming. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really mesh with what has gone before and in trying to ascertain the origins of the titular xenomorph, it loses much of the mystique that made the alien so terrifying in the first place. Of course, this is an argument that can be levelled at every movie post-3, including the ones with the Predator. This one goes out of its way to demystify the beast, though. Again, as a stand alone, non-Alien movie, it would have been fine, but in context, it was an exercise in sucking the life of a franchise whilst trying to appear clever.
Scott seems to have forgotten the art of getting a decent performance out of his actors. He’s brilliant with visuals, but it’s telling that in both Pr*meth*us and Alien:Covenant, the most rounded and believable character is David/Walter the almost human android. The other characters are thinly – or barely – realised and entirely interchangable.
I think part of the reason the crew was made up of couples was to make us feel more for the survivors of the various catastrophes, but given that the characterisation was so lacklustre, you’d be hard pressed to give a toss. Apparently, there was a same sex couple, but really given the affection between the various crew members, I couldn’t tell you it it was a male or female couple.
Strangely, the most affecting death was the one right at the beginning when we hadn’t met him. We just got the reaction of the partner and that was enough, really.
Somethings that didn’t add up:
- the alien ‘virus’ that David experimented with could infect anything that was ‘meat’. So why were the first two victims infected by fungal spores?
- It seems odd that the only religious character was vehemently opposed to a funeral service.
- It seemed odd that the promoted Captain – raised after the death of the original one just decided to go to an uncharted, untested planet to colonise, rather than one that had been researched to within an inch of its life. Okay, he apologised, but so what.
- Why only one city and one cultivated field on the entire planet?
There were more, but you take the point.
The film seems a little unbalanced. The first half – with the exception of the opening salvo – is slow and tedious, but when it does kick off, it kicks off in style. The first two deaths, though entirely expected, are still quite shocking and have a fairly high ick-factor, the rest are just canon fodder.
To be honest, though, I would have been happier with two hours of conversation between David and Walter. Michael Fassbender is mesmerising as both characters and there is an uncomfortable resonance with the conversations between Dr Frankenstein and his creation from Mary Shelley’s novel. These are the movie’s killer moments as they size each other up for the final act.
There was a strange moment where the Engineers were dispatched with vindictive haste in a moment that has ‘Magneto’ written all over it and learning of the indignities heaped upon Elizabeth Shaw was pretty creepy, I guess.
If anything wholly rankles – as opposed to just the odd annoyance – then some of the versions of the alien are poorly rendered and look bloody awful. The first two pale creatures just don’t work, they have no weight and flap around looking far too ephemeral. There’s a scene where one of them bites the head of one of the characters that is frankly embarrassing. Another where a tiny newborn alien stand up and imitates David’s gesture and looks more like ‘Acid Groot’ than xenomorph. Over egging its themes of death and resurrection, we even see a crucified Alien.
But the best I can say about this movie is that it thinks its a lot more profound than it is; it passes a couple of hours well enough but doesn’t really achieve anything approaching the greatness of the first three. For all its faux-profundity, it’s pretty lightweight monster of the week stuff.
But it’s not bad.
It’s just . . . there.