★★ out of ★★★★★
Stunning visuals can’t overcome Ridley Scott’s sloppy narrative in the latest Alien franchise movie.
It’s time to close the door on the Alien movies. This was a movie that had promise, due to Ridley Scott’s visual mastery, and a couple of genuinely very scary scenes, but in the end, it is a sloppy addition to a franchise that really hasn’t had a strong narrative since James Cameron’s revered Aliens (1987). In an era where it seems that movies like this end up costing so much money, that the production companies meddle with the direction of their films (like Warner Brothers/DC films, Universal’s nascent Dark Universe, and Disney with Star Wars) the production is inevitably a hot steaming mess.
I got the sense that Ridley really wanted to continue his Prometheus story, which was not well received by fans (again, visually amazing but the true horror of Prometheus was the Byzantine plot and bumbling character decisions) and Fox really wanted the fanservice of the alien xenomorphs. What we got was both. And not in a good way. The Prometheus philosophizing, when it shows up bogs the plot down and doesn’t advance the story for anyone but Michael Fassbender’s android characters David and Walter. The alien sequences felt awkwardly placed. I do like the expansion of the “how do you get infected” methodology, in this case, spores. But the xenomorphs grow so improbably quickly, it feels like they are plot driving devices rather than the central story.
Scott, as he did with Prometheus, gives us a big disposable crew that succumbs to the oldest trope in the horror playbook: split up and get jumped by the creature. Danny McBride’s character Tenessee stood out from the alien chow fodder, but nobody else in the film really connected. All these characters have been placed in an Alien landscape and have seen the horrific power of the xenomorphs, and yet there are multiple times when characters step away to take a whiz or a shower, and it’s maddeningly stupid. Frustratingly, there was some room for some dramatic growth for the characters, as Scott filmed some nice crew bonding scenes that were cut out from the main film, and instead posted it as a web-based mini-film. These were colonists, who arrived as couples, and much more could have been done with that, had Scott not bent over backward to force his Prometheus plotlines into the story. I’m always a proponent of horror films to make you bond with the characters before they start getting picked off, but to be honest, most of the characters get lunched without any prior development. If you compare this to the first Alien movie, where the characters all had definite roles, personalities, and motivations (RIP Harry Dean Stanton), this movie abdicates its story responsibilities.
I know there was some buzz about District 9 director Neill Blomkamp suggesting that he wanted to do an Alien movie that brought back Ripley, Hicks, and Newt from Aliens, but Scott, following his triumph with The Martian, managed to strongarm Fox into dropping the project. After seeing Alien: Covenant, I would suggest that they just stop. Bringing back Ripley didn’t make Alien 3 or Alien Resurrection into quality productions, despite having good directors (David Fincher and Jean-Pierre Jeunet) and stunning visuals. Ridley has also been suggesting that he’s going to create new sequels to Covenant, and the ending certainly suggests more to come, but I think that the Alien story has reached its ability to be fresh and new.
So, is anybody interested in seeing the new Predator movie coming out this year? I dunno… it’s a Fox franchise, just like Alien.