Sunday, May 21, 2017

Alien: Covenant

3/4

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Callie Hernandez, Demian Bichir

Rated R for Sci-Fi Violence, Bloody Images, Language and Some Sexuality/Nudity

By the time "Alien: Resurrection" was released in 1997, the story of Ellen Ripley and her unending battle with the xenomorphs had been played out.  The franchise had worn out its welcome (I'm not counting the "Alien vs. Predator" movies since no one saw them and none of the fans or creators from either franchise consider them to be part of their respective canons).  But in 2012, Ridley Scott, the director of the original "Alien," released "Prometheus," a prequel of sorts that breathed new life into the franchise, taking it into a more philosophical direction.  That film was born of questions about identity and man's place in the universe, rather than scares and gore (although it had a bit of both).  While it was well received, it left a lot of questions open for the sequel.  Those questions are answered here.

"Alien: Covenant" takes inspiration from the original, its first sequel "Aliens" and its immediate predecessor, and mixes them into a whole that works surprisingly well.  This is a more traditional horror flick than "Prometheus."  Those who felt that the 2012 film was too talky will be satisfied.  There is plenty of action, and it might be the bloodiest in the franchise.  For those who appreciated the thought-provoking material, there is some of that here, but it's not anything new or especially enriching for the mind.  The trade-off is that there is more action and scares, and for my money, it's an acceptable trade-off.

A spacecraft is heading for a distant planet with the intent on colonization.  However, a freak incident causes a considerable amount of damage to the craft, and the loss of the captain (James Franco in a thankfully brief cameo).  While deciding what to do, the crew receives a garbled transmission from a nearby planet that appears to be more habitable than the one they are going to.  The new captain, a man by the name of Oram (Crudup), opts to go investigate, but his next in command, Daniels (Waterston) disagrees.  Nevertheless, they soldier on and make horrifying discoveries.

What "Alien: Covenant" does, it does well.  Ridley Scott doesn't have the greatest track record, but this is a strong effort from him.  He knows how to get the adrenaline going and how to shock his audience.  You get what you pay for.

The acting doesn't impress.  Of the cast, the only one who sticks out is Michael Fassbender (no surprise there), mainly because he's the only one who has a part to play.  Two, actually.  He plays David, who repaired by Shaw (Noomi Rapace) shortly before she died, and the expedition's new andrioid Walter (which breaks with the series tradition of having the new android have their name start with the next letter in the alphabet).  Katherine Waterston is too much of a lightweight to handle an action role, Billy Crudup is miscast, and Danny McBride is effective in a largely dramatic role.  The rest of the cast is simply fodder for the aliens (who have never looked better, by the way).

"Alien: Covenant" doesn't take any risks or do anything unusual.  The ending twist is predictable from a mile away, but that doesn't diminish its effectiveness.  There is a flashback to the Engineers that doesn't really fit and doesn't make a lot of sense.  However, there are some great scares and shocks, and enough blood and gore to satisfy horror fans who have been starved by the PG-13 horror movies of late.  It is what it is, and that's enough to get a recommendation from me.

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