Sunday, 14 May 2017

Alien: Covenant (2017)

A group of colonists heading towards a new planet to inhabit hit some troubles and take a detour to a nearby planet that shows signs of being a hospitable planet. Obviously, that doesn't quite turn out to be the case.

It's been five years since 'Prometheus' and it seems it's still fairly fresh in everyone's memory, if only because everyone remembers it for the really stupid crew members. Since then, director Ridley Scott has churned out three other films I was less than impressed with ('The Counsellor', 'Exodus: Gods and Kings', and 'The Martian') but has now decided to return to the 'Alien' franchise in the hopes that he can fix the errors made in 'Prometheus'. Spoiler, he doesn't fix anything delivering another underwhelming experience that still cannot decide what exactly it wants to be all while reminding how much better the original films ('Alien' and 'Aliens') were. Maybe it's time to let someone else have a go.

The key word with this is 'underwhelming', even with expectations adjusted after 'Prometheus'. You see, I didn't think this was an abysmal film or anything. It's adequate, visually interesting, and certainly watchable (despite the chair I was sitting in screwing up my back) but little more. But it repeatedly shoots itself in the foot by forcefully trying to work in 'Alien' (which only highlights more problems) and then wanting to do something else.

The issues start almost instantly as the film goes for an 'Alien'-esque title sequence, which was fine (along with mimicking of the original score), before throwing the audience into a bit of action as 'Covenant', the colonists spaceship, runs into trouble and folk are killed. Only there's supposed to be some emotional impact here that never materialises because you don't know, or care, who anybody is.

"Oh no, I really liked that guy whose first scene was him dying without a word(!)"

And you better get used to that because that will happen with the majority of characters. If they're lucky, they may get some lines. And if they look more important, then chances are you've already seen them die in the trailers (I hate trailers that spell the whole film out - even one as predictable as this).

Well, at least they're not a team of geologists and biologists this time.
This lack of characterisation creates a disconnect between the audience and the film making it hard to care for any of it (indeed, you'll probably end up rooting for the bad guy. Partly because he is the only one you'll actually remember). All this ends up doing is sucking any tension out of key moments, much of which had already dissipated thanks to a lack of the claustrophobic atmosphere the original film had (amusingly, as I just typed that, my flat was hit by a power cut).

To make matters more frustrating, there are several moments where the film flirts with things that could have gone somewhere and added to the atmosphere and general creepiness of what's actually going on. The majority of these actually involve the same elements of the original two films while others were just beginning to get into some interesting ideas. Sadly, these are eventually fumbled in execution as the film either rushes what it does (such as in the climax - at which point the film is really beginning to drag), overblows it all with some generic action sequence (such as the bit before the climax), or just fails to get the build-up right and so dampening the actual payoff (such as with the lack of characterisation). Other times, the predictability just kills things while the lack of commitment in going for the '18' rating (the film is a disappointing '15') means the film doesn't actually show you much.

As for those who were looking forward to the based on how 'Prometheus' left off, well, the film takes a 'yeah, whatever' approach to that ending (which, I guess, also sums up their approach to the characterisation in this film) as it lazily just discards all that with a few lines and a quick flashback. Which was annoying, even for someone who didn't care much for 'Prometheus'. All their handling of the plot and such just gives away that the people making these films have no grand plan. It's more a make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach that allows them to mix in some interesting things but does also mean that the whole thing looks like it's not actually going anywhere and can't make up it's mind on what it wants to commit to.

But amongst the mess is a film that's surprisingly watchable. It wasn't boring and there are bits and pieces that are of value. Visually, it's quite satisfying and is probably the aspect of the film that feels comfortably split between 'Prometheus' and the original films.

And, once again, Michael Fassbender gets to play suspect androids again and does so to entertaining effect despite the plot not always doing him favours. You do wonder how long it will be before his character is thrown into conversations about the 'Alien' films as frequently as Ripley and the Xenomorph.

Finally, I did actually enjoy seeing the traditional 'Alien' elements pops up in their proper form, even if a lot of that was a little too forced in (and rushed) and felt very much like fan service (and I don't like the idea of the origins of the Aliens being revealed as it takes away all the mystery). But it does entertain and create a familiarity that's easier to get on board with. The downside is that you'll end up complaining about how this film is not 'Alien', just some muddled pretender and then we're back to square one (or, in this case, back to paragraph 2 of my review) as that underwhelming feeling kicks in.

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