Horrific Beasts and How to Avoid Them.
I seem to be in a bit of a minority in quite liking Ridley Scott’s last Alien outing – 2012’s “Prometheus”: a heady, if at times ponderous, theory to the origins of man. The first hour of that film is really good. But for me, what made the original 1979 film so enthralling was the life cycle of the ‘traditional’ Xenomorph aliens through egg to evil hatchling to vicious killing machine. This somewhat got lost with “Prometheus” with a range of alien-like-things ranging from wiggly black goo to something more familiar… and frankly I was confused. Some – repeat, some – of the explanation for that diversity of forms in “Prometheus” is made clearer in the sequel “Alien: Covenant”.
“Covenant” (named again after the spaceship at its heart) is a follow-on sequel to “Prometheus”, so it is worth re-watching it if you can before a cinema trip. At the end of that film we saw Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) and a reconstructed android David (Michael Fassbender, “Steve Jobs“) flying off in an alien craft still loaded with its cargo of nasty alien black goo. Shaw had a mission to seek out The Engineer’s home world – named “Paradise” – to find out why after creating man they were intent on going back to finish them off with a WMD. A neat prologue has been released which documents this… here:
We pick up the action 10 years later in a totally improbable 2104. (Give us a break writing team! [Story by Jack Paglen and Michael Green; screenplay by John Logan and Dante Harper]. We know they won’t have got through planning permission on the third Heathrow runway by then, let alone invented interplanetary travel…! 2504, maybe!)
Daniels (Katherine Waterston, “Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them“) has just suffered a sudden bereavement (an uncredited James Franco – – blink and you’ll miss him). She has also been rudely awakened from hypersleep due to a sudden system mishap: no, not to find Chris Pratt there like “Passengers“, but by the ship’s android Walter (also Michael Fassbender) who’s also revived the rest of the crew. While effecting repairs they receive a garbled John Denver track mysteriously beamed to them from an earth-like planet not too far away. As this might be a suitable homestead, and as spending weeks more in hypersleep is unattractive, Captain Oram (Billy Crudup, “Spotlight“) votes to check it out, against Daniels’ strong objections. Needless to say, this proves to be a BIG MISTAKE as the new film neatly links hands with the first film.
There’s a limit to what more I can say about the film without delivering spoilers (so I have added a few more comments in the spoiler section BELOW the trailer). It’s a far more action-oriented film than “Prometheus” and has enough jump scares and gore to please most Alien fans. (In fact, it’s a surprise to me that it got a UK “15” certificate rather than an “18”: how much more violence do you need to show in the film?) A shower scene towards the end of the film is particularly effective and will likely put an end to relaxing shower sex for many people for good!
It also looks visually stunning (cinematography is by Dariusz Wolski (“The Martian“, “Pirates of the Caribbean”) with location shooting in Milford Sound in New Zealand. The special effects are also a cut-above the normal CGI with a devastated Pompeii-like city, a picture of blacks and greys, being particularly effective.
In the acting stakes it is really all down to Waterston and Fassbinder. I wasn’t a great fan of Waterston in “Fantastic Beasts” – a bit insipid I thought – but here she adopts Ripley’s kick-ass mantle with ease but blends it beautifully with doe-eyed vulnerability. Some of her scenes reminded me strongly of Demi Moore in “Ghost”. Fassbinder is fascinating to watch with his dual roles of Walter and David, both slightly different versions of the same being. And the special effects around the Fassbinder-on-Fassbinder action, tending somewhat towards the homoerotic in places, are well done.
Unfortunately the rest of the crew get little in the way of background development, which limits the impact of the inevitable demises. They are also about as clinically stupid as the spaceship crew in “Life” in some of their actions; I guess you could put some of this down to the effects of panic, but in other cases you might see it as a simple cleansing of the gene pool in Darwinian fashion.
Also making uncredited guest appearances are Guy Pearce as Weyland (in a flashback scene) and Noomi Rapace.
Music is “by” Jed Kurzel, but to be honest he does little than wrap around re-versions of the original Jerry Goldsmith classics: not that this is a bad thing, since those themes are iconic and a joy to hear again on the big screen.
My expectations for this movie were sky-high, as it was hinted as a return to form for the franchise. And in many ways it was, with a “man, Gods and androids” theme adding depth to the traditional anatomical-bursting gore. But to be honest, some of the storytelling was highly predictable, and I left slightly disappointed with the overall effort. If my expectations were an 11/10, my reality was more like a 7/10. It’s still a good film, and I look forward to watching it again. But perhaps this is a franchise that has really run its course now for Mr Scott and he should look to his next “Martian”-type movie for a more novel foundation to build his next movie “log cabin on the lake” on.
Fad Rating: FFFf.
Note: Red Band trailer:
Spoiler Section: You have been warned!
There are a whole heap of holes in this story you can pick at if you try. Much of the chronology seems out of whack with earlier films (or rather, later films, chronologically). For example, the gestation of Oram’s “baby” from conception to “birth” is a matter of minutes compared to John Hurt’s experiences.
Although the final denouement (“Night night. Don’t let the bed bugs bite”!) is satisfyingly chilling, the whole David/Walter twist is so obvious as to take any surprise out of it.
As a study of David’s natural Darwinian progression (Man creates machine; machine kills creator; machine become God) it’s a good story, and his ruthless destruction of the welcoming hosts on the planet (an horrific scene of biblical proportions) is chillingly done. An Oscar nomination for Fassbinder for this role would be well deserved (though unlikely).
Finally, and as the biggest spoiler of all (did you like my cheeky comment above that Noomi Rapace is “in the film”?), am I the only one to feel particularly cheated that Elizabeth Shaw didn’t re-appear (properly) in this film? In “Prometheus” we were on the edge of our seats hoping Shaw would survive: Would she get through the self imposed “auto-caesarian” on herself? Would the stapling machine run out of staples like it always does for me at a crucial time in the office? Would the big crashing alien spacecraft that she is running away from (note: at 0 degrees rather than 90 degrees – Derrr!) fall on her? Then, one film later, “Oh, she died”!!! Having a long haired and bedraggled Elizabeth Shaw emerging from the forest would have added a different perspective and more continuity to the film which (other than Fassbender) was rather lacking. But above all it’s a betrayal of trust by the film-makers of the past emotional investment that you as the viewer has made in the character. This is the second time the Alien franchise has done this of course, most grievously in the first five minutes of “Alien 3” where they bumped off “Newt” – the little girl you had been willing to survive all the way through “Aliens”! Not cool Ridley, not cool.