[Review] Alien: Covenant; Ridley Scott Ain’t Done Yet

I am of the camp that found Prometheus to be quite enjoyable – fun, violent, exciting, et al. I am of a subset of said camp that also found the characters of Prometheus to be quite unlikable. Unlike most movies with those types of characters, though, it took nothing away for me.

Now look at Alien: likable characters, fun, violent, exciting, et al. Throw in the amazing practical FX and you have what some would call a masterpiece. Therein lies the wall between the original film, and it’s 2012 prequel. I believe Alien “purists” are the people that possess disdain for Prometheus (I could also be very wrong). I (would like to) believe that Alien: Covenant is the movie that will bring both camps together.

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Let me be frank: I’m what you may consider a newcomer to the franchise. Only in the past year have I seen Alien, Aliens, and Prometheus. Now hold a minute, let me explain myself. My two greatest fears are the ocean and space. The vastness of it all is just too overwhelming, and nobody knows exactly what’s down/out there. (I blame my parents and grandma for making watch The Abyss when I was a child.) It took me 35 years to get the courage up to watch Alien, and now, naturally, I’m kicking myself in the ass. With that in mind, I’m also not a Star Wars or Star Trek guy. (You know, space…) I’ll take the new Star Treks over the new Star Wars movies any day, simply because of the excitement level in the latter. With that in mind, the Alien movies hit that sweet spot for me. They’re a perfect combination of horror, action, and science fiction, and they make for one delicious cinematic stew.

Much of the argument I’ve heard against Prometheus is that the characters just aren’t likable. Other than Capt. Janek (played with just the right amount of testosterone by Idris Elba), I agree with that sentiment. But, as I stated above, that didn’t matter to me (which is rare) while watching because the rest of the movie was just so damn exciting. Let me assure you, although there are some of those characters you don’t really care about in Covenant, the likability of our leads goes well beyond that of the leads in Prometheus. With a mix between delivery/performance and writing, we’re given the characters we so desperately wanted/needed in Prometheus.

In dual roles, Michael Fassbender delivers a career performance as synthetics David and Walter. One likable, the other not. Both creepy as hell, which, I suppose, is the point. There are points in the movie where he is trading dialogue with himself that is hallmarked by one of the weirdest moments I’ve ever seen on screen. Katherine Waterston as our lead protagonist, Daniels, is so damn good I fist pumped every time she kicked some alien ass. Her heartbreak is felt (and heard), and it’s shaking. Billy Crudup is… well, Billy Crudup. Good, not great. A perfectly fine performance. The standout performance for me, though, was Danny McBride. If you’ve listened to the podcast at all you’ve heard me spout vitriol for McBride. But after hearing the news of he and David Gordon Green writing the new Halloween screenplay and seeing him as Tennessee in Covenant, I’m a McBride fanboy now. I was wrong, and I admit it. The talent this man possesses is sickening. In Covenant he delivers a performance that harkened back to the original Alien. Badass, funny, touching. There is one moment where McBride was allowed to show off his acting chops. The only unfortunate thing, though, is that the moment was just that – a moment.

Like I said earlier, I’m all about the excitement level of these movies, and Covenant does not disappoint. At times my seatmates were probably annoyed at my fidgeting. (No, Paul, I didn’t have to go to the bathroom the whole time!) Had someone been watching me watching the movie they would have seen fist pumps, smiles, tears in my eyes, laughter, hand wringing, foot tapping, fingernail biting, hand-over-mouth, and heavy breathing. It was all warranted.

If you’re coming to the franchise late like I did, I would suggest giving Prometheus a watch before seeing Covenant. A viewing of Alien wouldn’t hurt as well. I suggest seeing the film that originated this universe because you’ll grow to love the monsters. And then you’ll watch Covenant and see that all the monsters you grew to love have since returned. Other than some longing for practical FX when it came to the chest burster and the tiny Neomorphs, the monsters were fabulous. Real people (played by the great Javier Botet, Goran D. Kleut and Andrew Crawford) in real costumes (with terrific CGI) gave me what I really wanted: big, scary, aliens that moved like humans. I was not let down.

With a remarkable Goldsmith/Horner-esque score by Jed Kurzel, Ridley Scott (at 80 years of age, no less!) has shouted to the world that HE’S NOT DONE YET! Alien: Covenant is masterfully crafted by Scott and shot beautifully by cinematographer Dariusz Wolski. Imagine the beauty of James Cameron’s Avatar and throw in the bleakness of Scott’s Alien and you have Covenant. Ridley Scott has led us into DEEP philosophical territory of creation and what it means to live. In a time where the debate of creationism vs. evolution is spreading to places where it need not (ie. Government), Ridley Scott has given what we really need to think about: life and how to live it.

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