Monday, May 29, 2017

Alien: Covenant

* spoilers *

In 2104, the Covenant vessel, home to 2,000 people and 1,000 embryos, is on a mission of colonization aimed for a planet that they will terraform and develop. During synthetic Walter's routine energy harvest, a neutrino blast out of nowhere damages the ship and kills the captain along with some of the colonists. The crew, awakened by Walter, reels from the loss and scrambles to assess damage and do what they can to repair. They pick up a transmission from nearby unknown planet that just so happens to be a better fit for human habitation. The new captain makes the foolish decision to investigate the planet where it becomes clear that people have been there before and that an incredibly dangerous race of creatures lies in wait to gestate inside of them.

Alien: Covenant is a mixed bag of a movie that's a decided improvement over Prometheus in the horror aspects, the creature evolution, and the villain. This film has much more horror scenes that are expected of an Alien movie from chest bursting to ripping people apart to brand new, unexpected forms of carnage. The alien seen on the planet is unlike anything seen in the Alien universe. It has somehow adapted from being stored in jars and deployed as a weapon to being released as spores from plants. People become infected without even knowing it and the resulting xenomorphs are much speedier bursting out, smaller, faster, and more vulnerable. The xenomorph from Alien is bred and painstakingly produced by David, the synthetic from Prometheus, setting him up as the Big Bad of the franchise. David is a fascinating character with the drive to create the perfect being, outdoing humans and effectively destroying them. He sees synthetics as superior to humans in every way and doesn't feel any affinity or loyalty to them. What makes him truly special is his creativity, free will, and love for art, shown in a beautiful scene between him and Walter. The combination of the human and inhuman elements creates a delightful villain who has the utmost joy for his endeavors.

The film has quite a few pitfalls like the forgettable human cast, their ridiculous decision making skills, and its reactionary gender politics. We don't get a lot of character development or background before they start dying. All of the crew is married to another member to manufacture emotional stakes that aren't really there. I didn't even realize that some of them were together until it was mentioned out loud because they barely interacted. They also make the dumbest decisions known to man, calling into question their qualifications to lead this mission. A few egregious examples are following the advice of a lying synthetic, ignoring quarantine procedures, and risking the lives of 2,000 people for 2 people. One of the worst is when a panicked woman is fighting a xenomorph inside the shuttle and flamethrowers the combustables, causing it to explode and implying that women are just too hysterical despite extensive training. This troubling theme extends to other parts of the film. In a weird slasher-esque scene, a couple is slaughtered in the shower while they have sex, but first the alien tail lewdly ventures between the woman's legs. This show of sexual violence feels out of place and frankly gross. Elizabeth Shaw's fate is revealed and while it's probably due to Noomi Rapace not wanting to or able to appear in the film, it's a terrible, exploitative end for such an interesting character. This series has characters like Ellen Ripley and Elizabeth Shaw, amazing women who fight against human and alien opposition. There's no character that even comes close to being any sort of equal adversary to David.

Alien: Covenant has some improvements over its predecessor. It takes the philosophical questions, David, and new forms of the xenomorph mixed with more quality horror scenes. Unfortunately, the paper thin human characters, forced emotional connections, and weird bits of sexism bring the film down. It's sad when the original films spanning the 70's and 80's are more progressive than this one. I don't hate the film, but I hate aspects of it. The ending in particular is completely predictable and the characters are completely oblivious. I will be watching the next installment even though it seems like these films will consistently have the same mistakes.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

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