Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Alien: Covenant Review (2017)

Though it may not appear to be the case, Ridley Scott’s “Alien: Covenant” could very easily be called “Prometheus 2.” So if you haven’t seen the first one (also directed by Scott) or haven’t seen it in a while, it’s best to give it a look before going into this new film. “Prometheus” was an ambitious, if also clunky, Sci fi blockbuster (a prequel of sorts to both “Alien” and “Aliens”) that explored the potential origins of mankind as well as the turbulent relationship between gods and their creation; what if you came face to face with your creator and they wanted to destroy you because they were ashamed of you?

“Alien: Covenant” traverses similar territory, expanding on the mythology introduced in “Prometheus” and further developing that film’s most interesting character, a mysterious android named David (Michael Fassbender) in a satisfyingly pessimistic way. At the same time “Alien: Covenant” is an “Alien” film, meaning the iconic Xenomorphs are back to cause mayhem in cramped spaces and kill foolish humans. As an “Alien” film, “Covenant” is perfectly solid— yielding a handful of bloody, visceral kill sequences but it can also feel stale and repetitive, especially when juxtaposed with the more compelling “Prometheus” material.

The picture gets off to a slow and redundant start. We meet yet another crew of space explorers led by Oram (Billy Crudup) and Daniels (Katharine Waterson, who gives a sturdy performance even if her character isn’t given much to do beyond moving the plot forward). The crew is prematurely awakened from their hypersleep and they decide to answer a distress call from an unknown planet. Things pick up a bit when Oram, Daniels and a few others touch down on the alien planet, which is covered in temperate forest and mountains. Then, just like “Alien” and “Prometheus,” the crew is terrorized by the alien virus in both proto and Xenomorphic forms. This leads to a pulse pounding, superbly crafted action sequence, set on an alien marsh and within the confines of the crew’s transportation vessel, that’s giddily ultraviolent.

However, it isn’t until the crew, now stranded on the planet, encounters David that “Alien: Covenant” really finds its stride. The film pivots into a tense, twisted and philosophical mad scientist narrative that has much more on its mind than simply rehashing familiar “Alien” thrills. If “Prometheus” asked: what if your creator wanted to destroy you, “Alien: Covenant” asks the inverse: what if your creation wanted to kill you? Charming yet devious, passive yet dangerous, compliant yet reckless and unpredictable, David was the MVP of “Prometheus” and he’s the MVP here as well. Fassbender gives a brilliant, multifaceted performance. “Alien: Covenant” is at its best when the focus is on David and his sinister ambitions rather than the Xenomorphs. The smooth talking, handsome megalomaniac android proves to be more terrifying than the aliens ever could be.

Unfortunately, “Alien: Covenant” wants to be an “Alien” movie too, which has a tendency to undermine the David/”Prometheus” material, particularly towards the end. The climactic Xenomorph fight (that’s reminiscent of both “Alien” and “Aliens”) feels underwhelming—tacked on to appease the disappointed audience members who went into “Prometheus” expecting more of an “Alien” film. In fact, pretty much all of the crews encounters with the Xenomorphs themselves are simply bland. After six or so movies the menace of those drooling, snarling jaws has waned. Ultimately, the film’s insistence on adhering to the classic “Alien” formula/structure and Xenomorph fatigue hold “Alien: Covenant” back somewhat.

And yet I would gladly watch a third “Prometheus” film in a heartbeat, just as long as Scott and co. move away from the “Alien” blueprint and make it more David-centric. He’s the X factor in this new series. Sorry Xenomorphs, there’s a new monster in town.