Friday, May 19, 2017

Broken Covenant

Over the five years since the movie Prometheus was released, the prevailing opinion of it has grown ever more sour. I liked it well enough at the time... but I also find that today, I can't really remember much about it beyond the oft-cited negatives. I suppose I'd still say it wasn't as bad as people claim, though it would be fair to say it's much farther from good than I first thought it to be.

Alien: Covenant was supposed to be the "apology" movie to get the franchise on track. Instead, the overwhelming majority reaction among the group of seven I saw it with last night was: "I'm never paying to see an Alien movie in the theater again." That might be overstating things a bit, but either way, this new movie is obviously, measurably worse than Prometheus.

For the first 75 minutes or so of the film, it actually feels like an unnecessary retread of Prometheus. It's similarly slow in its opening. It again relies on characters making dumb decisions to create jeopardy (a touch more forgivable here, given that this story features civilians and not scientists, but still...). It too methodically paints in information about the origin of the alien xenomorphs, information that you could have more or less sketched out for yourself if you've seen Prometheus. It feels like a movie you've seen, and not a very compelling one; people were constantly getting up to go to the bathroom or the concession stand during my screening, with no regard to what they might miss.

As a reward for making it that far, you do then get a fairly solid 30 or so minutes of an Alien movie near the end. If you've seen the trailer, it's probably not much of a spoiler to say that the actual xenomorph makes an appearance here -- not merely the "not quite the same thing" version of Prometheus, but the genuine article. And when the creature shows up, the movie gets the shot of adrenaline it needs. There are a few good moments of tension, an exhilarating extended action sequence, and a fun finale that's a sort of an homage to both Alien and Aliens (showing off what can be done with better effects and more money).

But it turns out that there's another valley on the other side of that peak. The movie is packing a twist ending, and I have no reservations in saying so because that ending will be transparent to everyone. Despite the painfully obvious nature of the twist, the movie drags out its reveal; you will figure it out a good 15 minutes before the movie finally "shocks" you. And with each passing minute that the movie doesn't pull the trigger, the less sense the twist actually makes.

Michael Fassbender is acting with everything he's got in this movie, having a hell a lot of fun and overcoming some incredibly difficult technical challenges. It does feel like he's elevating the movie; it's also possible it would be unbearable without him.

A bit to my surprise, when I slipped the movie into my Flickchart, it landed among other movies I've rated a C-. I certainly wouldn't have expected to give Alien: Covenant that high a mark. (Or perhaps that one good chunk of the film was enough to muscle it out of the depths?) In any case, I would tell anyone thinking of seeing it that it's not worth it. Wait to watch it at home later (if at all). And if Ridley Scott comes calling again with another Alien movie, greet the news with great skepticism.

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