Alien: Covenant

This sequel to Prometheus was a mixed bag. The pre-title scene looked like the missing scene from the previous film of a younger Guy Pierce got rescued from the cutting room floor, dusted off and used as a nice bit of connecting tissue to the previous film. It also set the scene for a film which, although we didn’t know it at the time, was going to be more about the role of androids in human society than it was about scary aliens. Or perhaps ultimately the scary alien was the android.

Covenant was quite promising for the first half hour or so while an attempt was made to introduce the characters, or should I just call them victims? I like all that functional ‘out in space’ stuff that hasn’t changed much visually since Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey – probably because it just looks so darned good. I often wonder how the society presented, given that they are desperate to colonize other planets, can afford these huge spaceships and I was intrigued when they mentioned ‘jumps’ – does this imply FTL technology as featured so well in Battlestar Galactica?

Like when I watch teen slasher movies, I found that I couldn’t feel sympathetic to any of the characters most especially the weaselly looking Billy Crudup who takes up the role of captain and keeps spouting random semi-religious clap-trap while his crew is getting decapitated and eviscerated in front of him. He just came across as a reprise of character from Alien 3. There were a lot of cannon-fodder characters or ‘red coats’ to use a Star Trek term who just sort of hung around in the background until it was their turn to step up and get splattered.

If  had to pick, my favorite character was not Katherine Waterston’s Daniels a.k.a. Ripley Mark II but the bearded cowboy hat wearing Tennessee a.k.a. ‘T’ (other nicknames such as T-bone, the Teester, T-Rex etc. had probably already been the subject of many studio focus groups before they arrived at ‘T’) Danny McBride from Princess Bride, but that’s maybe because I know a guy who looks a lot like him and also wears a cowboy hat sometimes (despite living in the middle of England and being English, and as far as I know having never piloted a spaceship).

A buddy of McBride’s, James Franco, was incongruously cast as the dead captain burnt to a crispy husk in his hibernation pod (who knew they were so unsafe) and Ripley Mark II’s dead husband. The suspension of disbelief immediately came crashing to the floor as my brain went ‘hey that’s James Franco… wierd…’. It was a bit like a Stan Lee cameo in a Marvel film and not the first time Franco has done this to me – I’m racking my brains to cleverly name the other film in which he plays an uncredited bit part.

The victims respond to a distress beacon (sound familiar?) and land on the home planet of the big buggers out of Prometheus where Elizabeth Shaw set off to at the end of the last film with the android David. We discover that all the big lads and lasses (the ‘Engineers’) have been Pompeii’d by some weapon of mass destruction and the film starts to descend into a mash-up of themes and ideas from the previous films in the franchise mixed with The Island of Doctor Moreau.

I enjoyed Michael Fassbender’s roles as nice Walter and nasty David, and the ‘camp as a row of pink tents’ award goes to the line “I’ll do the fingering” (when David is teaching Walter how to play his whistle) which made me snigger like a juvenile (I resisted the urge to snigger again when Walter pronounces ‘duty’ as ‘doody’). At times he looked more like a moody assassin from the floppy Assassin’s Creed film than he did an android and his time away from humanity seemed to have just increased his resolve to wipe them off the face of the galaxy. Bad robot!

I think I detected a nod to Philip K Dick when David asks Walter – “when you sleep do you dream of me?” but maybe I’m just overly sensitive to PKD type themes when it comes down to the subject of androids being philosophical. I enjoyed this seam of the film more than the Alien side of things and perhaps that’s the problem – the film, while it does contain some horror, has none of the suspense of Alien or Aliens because the Alien is almost a side-effect of this other tale about David manifesting his hate through his creations.

The smooth wet-look white xenomorph type from Prometheus is nicely done and I enjoyed the alternate ‘birth’ process. The more original looking second xenomorph type with the egg, face-hugger, chest-burster ‘birth’ process is also very well done, but like I say, all the Alien related action was a little too predictable and samey.

I enjoyed the way they incorporated H.R. Giger’s art into David’s work space, but would have liked it to have been more of a slick science lab than a grubby cave – it might have been more believable. And I would’ve really have liked to have seen more of the Engineer’s buildings and facilities. However, the set design, dressing etc. was excellent. Turns out a friend of a friend in Australia worked on the sets for the film and so I was happy to feed back to my friend that the film’s real sets looked cool.

Having already seen the headline of a bad review and heard grumblings from friends, I went into the cinema expecting very little and I came out thinking that it was okay, but only okay and only just. I maybe enjoyed it more than Prometheus as there was less disappointment.

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