Baltimore and Kaiser Review… GHOST in the SHELL (live action)
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June 1, 2017

Chapman Reviews… ALIEN: COVENANT

The Alien series has seen its ups and downs over the years.  Alien was shocking.  Aliens was thrilling.  Alien 3 was depressing, and Alien Resurrection…. Well, that was a thing that happened.  There have been numerous Alien Vs. Predator movies, none of which really captured the excitement of the main series, and the absence of Sigourney Weaver’s “Ripley” character led to a loss of heart of the series, something that has never been regained.

And then Prometheus happened.

Meant as a prequel, it tried to explain some of the mythos of the Alien universe, and while not exactly a horrible film, it definitely suffered its fair share of flaws.  The main issues being the endless “make a monster” possibilities of the “black goo”, and even more notable, the Prometheus crew were simply stupid people.  Establishing these characters as a series of trained scientists lost all credibility through the amateur and simply moronic choices that they made.  It was one of the leading films I’ve seen where I hoped the characters died as punishment for their dumbassery.  There was room for a sequel, but did the audience really care?

Alien: Covenant addresses some of that.

Fortunately, the crew is far less stupid.  Their deaths (save one) at least seemed accidental and unfortunate, and the one that wasn’t “the smart one”, was an unfortunate development in character, as he should have been given a better development arc.  His folly was so far telescoped that he must have been a descendant of the Prometheus crew to have been so oblivious to it.

If you haven’t noted already, I dislike poorly developed characters.

Clearly displaying the “Alien” moniker in the title again, you know in order to make a film about the drooling, violent creatures, things aren’t going to go well, and predictably, they don’t.  The beginning of the film seems to hearken back to Ridley Scott’s original Alien film where another unfortunate crew answer a ghostly distress call.

Part of the film takes a moment to address the issues introduced in Prometheus, namely the ever mutating “black goo”, and what happened to the surviving members of that crew.  These are some of the issues that the Covenant crew has to face as they scan this unknown world to see if it is a candidate for a new homeworld.

“Black goo” enemies are faced again until the film begins to explore the origins of the titular alien.  There have been so many backstories in video game and comics media that have attempted to explain the origin of the Xenomorph, and some I’ve liked more than others.  What dawned on me about the Xenomorph species is that while I do think the monster is the stuff made of nightmares due to its perfected methods of attack and self-defense, you know what to expect from it.  A double jaw bite here, a chest burst there, maybe it bleeds acid….  But we’ve seen it all before, and it’s hard to make it feel “fresh” in this entry.  The mutated enemies prior to the Xenomorph introduction are varied and gory, but this isn’t why the viewer is here.

One of the other problems is that the crew is largely forgettable.  You remember Tennessee the pilot, Walter the android, and the main female protagonist (“Dany” after I looked it up, which is problematic that she didn’t resonate as strongly as she should have to remember that), but unlike the freaked out crew of Alien, or the quip spewing marines of Aliens, the characters just don’t stick with you enough to generate the needed level of empathy.  Overall, they are far smarter than the Prometheus crew, but I felt like more could have been done.  Ellen Ripley went through Hell and back, and you could empathize with her tenacity to protect and survive.  Here, the film felt like it was trying for some of the same cues of the first two films, and it felt like I had been there before.

 The film felt a little too neatly wrapped up in some ways, and the ending was telescoped a mile away that something was amiss, but it was serviceable enough.  I didn’t feel that this was a bad film, but I couldn’t help but want more from it, whether it was a character that I could better emotionally invest in, less of the “black goo” plot device, a few less stupid character decisions, or simply making the Xenomorph feel more scary and less predictable.

 The Alien franchise needs something more.  There were rumors and concept art of a Sigourney Weaver helmed “sidequel” for a few years, and maybe Ripley’s return is what the series needs to make it feel more “personal” again.

 Alien: Covenant is a more straight to the point entry in the film’s series, but it needs to finally reconcile the new elements that Prometheus brought to the overall mythos, and make the monster scare us again past the gore.

 Alien: Covenant
Release Date: May 19th, 2017
Written By: John Logan, D.W. Harper
Directed By: Ridley Scott
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Amy Seimetz, Jussie Smollett, Callie Hernandez, Nathaniel Dean, Alexander England, Benjamin Rigby

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