Sunday, 21 May 2017

'Alien Covenant' Review (2017): The Best Alien Movie in Years

Half Price: The best Alien movie is years, works best when it's not trying to be an Alien movie. 
When 1979's Alien was first released, the world was introduced to one of the most iconic monsters in cinema history. Now, 38 years later, that same monster is being reintroduced to audiences with 'Alien Covenant'. Set 10 years after the last installment in the franchise 'Prometheus', 'Alien Covenant' tells a somewhat familiar story. Much like the original and its sequels, this movie follows a crew of space explorers searching the vast echoes of space. A journey filled with wonder and excitement, that inevitably takes a grim turn.

At least it comes with a smile! or two.
Despite following beats that have been seen before, 'Alien Covenant' feels fresh in today's cinema landscape. It never quite eclipses its predecessor, 'Alien', but it does evoke the same sense of dread. Scott shows his true strengths in this film, as he crafts one tense sequence after another. The best type of horror is presented here, one which frightens you but compels you not to look away, as you warm the very edge of your seat.

Aside from the thrills, 'Alien Covenant' is a film with remarkable pacing. It takes its time to build its story and never felt dull or wanting for action. Then again, that won't be the same for all viewers. Most of the first act is watching scientists document their discoveries, which is not the most entertaining of pictures. The looming threat of death is what most viewers come for, but a couple of scientists taking samples and making observations? That's what I'm there for.

The "science" part of sci-fi. 
If there's one thing 'Alien Covenant' did lack, it was an understanding of its characters. I couldn't tell you much about any of them. The crew is made up of groups of married couples, perfectly suited for a colonization mission. It's designed so that each death will have an equal and opposite emotional reaction, as spouses mourn their loved ones, but the movie has so many characters to contend with, it never really establishes them. It was painfully obvious which characters existed for the sole purpose of their gruesome deaths. Then again, if the caveat for shallow characters is a wildly entertaining death sequence, that's a bargain I can deal with.

That said, the characters are not just shallow, but also incredibly stupid. The most egregious sin of 2012's 'Prometheus' are its scenes involving "scientists" exercising as much restraint as a toddler in a mud puddle. 'Alien Covenant' takes that method and runs with it, giving audiences plenty of opportunities to yell "DON'T GO IN THERE". The trouble is, they're so stupid, and you know so little about their characters, that when they meet their untimely ends, it feels not only deserved but devoid of emotion. The saving grace is Katherine Waterston, who voices the frustrations of the audience, as her crewmates make stupid decision after stupid decision.

Starting to think the face hugger is an elaborate facepalm in response to human stupidity.
Character issues aside, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts here. Scott takes the same stunning visual prowess he showed in 'The Martian' and applies it to his own sector of deep space. There are moments when 'Alien Covenant' feels like the film Scott would've made all those years ago, had the technology or the budget been available. That's when 'Alien Covenant' truly shines. 

While it's true that 'Alien Covenant' is a captivating and thrilling film, and the best 'Alien' movie in years, its biggest strength is also its greatest weakness. Seeing the Alien in full form is a reminder why it has yet to be topped as the perfect movie monster, but the film's connection to the rest of the franchise bogs it down, distracting from the good movie that exists beneath it. Still, it's worth a trip to the cinema.

Rating: Half Price