Alien: Covenant (Movie Review)

Alien: Covenant (Movie Review)
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PLOT: When the colonization crew of the deep-space Covenant vessel lands on a distant planet that seems perfectly habitable, a lethal multiform alien parasite is the only living organism awaiting them.

REVIEW: Very few filmmakers - current, contemporary, dead, alive, foreign, domestic – have or will ever have accomplished half as much as Sir Ridley Scott. He’s an endangered breed in that regard, one of the last royal cinematic visionaries we have that is still working at a high level. His lasting legacy has been interminably etched upon the annals of celluloid already. That much we know. More tenuous though is, at 80 years of age this November, whether or not Scott can still woo, wow, awe and dazzle with ALIEN: COVENANT the way he did 38 years ago with his inaugural entry of the intergalactic Gothic-horror space saga.

Well friends, having just deboarded the COVENANT, the answer is a resounding affirmative! Pointedly, because this one has so much more indefatigably intense Xenomorph onslaughts and ferocious Face-hugger sorties than the last. Since the profundity of the screenplay coldly cuts to the core of humanity’s inherent fallibility, and given Fassbender’s low-key dual-role tour-de-force, it's not making a terribly grand statement (considering the years of moribundity) to say this is almost certainly the best franchise entry since ALIENS in 1986!

If past is prologue, clues are offered from the opening scene between Dr. Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) and David (Michael Fassbender), the android we last saw in PROMETHEUS. Weyland implores his robotic servant to play a lick of Wagner on the piano, which he does, intimating the android’s intrinsic emotional capacity. Bank it, this pays off with interest! Now cut to the Covenant, a colonization vessel roving deep-space en route to Origae-6, a distant planet on the far side of the galaxy they intend to populate and propagate humanity forward. Before we officially meet the crew of fifteen, a neutrino burst causes a catastrophic solar flare and near system failure.

The captain of the crew, Jake Branson (James Franco), unfortunately perishes while the rest of the members are forced to abruptly awake from hyper-sleep. Second in command, Oram (Billy Crudup), a man of devout faith, takes the reins, much to the chagrin of most of the others. This includes the heartbroken Daniels (Katherine Waterston), Branson’s lover, as well as the artificial Walter (Fassbender), Tennessee (Danny McBride), Karine (Carmen Ejogo), Lope (Demian Bichir), Faris (Amy Seimetz), Ricks (Jussie Smollett), Upworth (Callie Hernandez), Ledward (Ben Rigby) and a few more ancillaries. Since this is a colony vessel, most of these crewmembers double as lovers ready to multiply on a new planet, which actually serves as an efficient shorthand to create sympathy when loves ones become eventually lost.

Because he’s a man guide more by his own faith than scientific fact, most of the crew resents Oram’s newfound authority. However, when the ship transmits a faint human voice coming from somewhere nearby, Oram opts to forgo the seven-year mission to Origae-6 in favor of inspecting this new, as Daniels puts it, “too good to be true” planet of ideal habitability. Since none of the members want to go back into their sleep-pods, a new path is charted, only weeks away, and off the Covenant goes. Thing is, paradise is lost, and only half of what awaits them will you be able to predict!

But before we betray a snippet of the unpredictable, let’s address what can be expected: gorily graphic alien action! One of the downturns of PROMETHEUS as an origin story is that it featured very little of what ALIEN fans achingly adored to see. This is not the case with COVENANT, which comes equipped with no shortage of visceral, pulse-pounding jolts of nastily flagrant Xenomorph, Neomorph and Face-hugging skirmishes. The grue-soaked carnage in the film varies wide and deep in a way bound to, much like the OG alien chest-bursting scene (which also gets its own glorious callback here), make your own racing heart jut through chest-bone at some point. Honestly, the gruesome action here is vital, vitiating and viciously vile!

Now for the trickier subplot. Not to mix up Scott’s two towering sci-fi titles, but the question that originated BLADE RUNNER registers too pertinently here to ignore. Do androids dream of electric sheep? In COVENANT, no, they dream of creating the perfect specimen. Couple this clue with the description of the opening prologue, and you just might come away with an inkling of what transpires in the second and third acts of the movie. It’s all about David. The overly lifelike automaton, whose model was discontinued and replace by that of Walter (identical to David) precisely because it was too sentimental, has been marooned on the newly landed planet since the Nostromo vessel crashed there. More alarming, David has undergone its own kind of evolutionary enlightenment in the ten years of being stranded on the plant by itself. If this sounds confounding, it’s only to avoid spoiling the key revelation the movie is founded on. But trust, this is an undercurrent you won’t likely feel coming!

More substantively, this unspeakable thread is woven seamlessly into the movie’s thematic underpinnings that pit science versus religion. Fact versus faith. While the movie succeeds on the surface level as a monster-movie action extravaganza, it’s the subtext here that elevates the material beyond mere mindless entertainment. What this movie seems to posit, supported by the wickedly cynical ending, is a scathing treatise on the double-helix of organic/inorganic evil that men do and the existential threat it poses upon itself. See, if humans are capable of creating sentient AI in the form of androids, what good does that do if those androids turn around, recombine alien DNA and, as a means of cold hard scientific evolution, utterly extinguish humanity as a result? What cost do humans bear in creating such godlike entities? At what point is it simply not worth it? Because, what the movie is ultimately suggesting is that, in a grand irony, humanity must render itself totally obsolete in order to propagate an even further evolved species into the future. In order to advance, we must create what will eventually kill us off. That is both the bold brilliance and true terror of what COVENANT has to offer!

Of course, none of this works without actors you fully believe in. Per usual for a Ridley ALIEN flick, the cast here is magnificent, each performer giving their own nuanced shading to their character in a way that instantly sets them apart from the rest. Crudup is extraordinary as the blindly faithful crew captain unwilling to let the rigors of science foul up his decision making. Waterston, while not quite as alpha-awesome as Ripley or Shaw, still packs the requisite emotional heft to garner genuine sympathy throughout. McBride, Ejogo, Seimetz, all of them are equally convincing. But let’s not pretend they’re all on the same level as Michael Fassbender, who is such a marvelous actor that Scott entrusted him with playing dual-roles as identical looking but characteristically disparate androids. This is nothing short of a low-key tour-de-force from Fassbender, as he’s able to both distinguish and disguise each role from scene to scene. The rigid body comportment, the posture, the composure, the speech patterns, it’s all so technically proficient. His work here is truly remarkable.

As for the detractors, there is a bit too much CGI for my liking. But this is in no way a make or break deal, as about 85-90% of the CGI is thoroughly convincing. Far less than feared. A few clunky spots here and there, sure, but overall, the entire look and production design of the film is beyond reproach. Also, much like PROMETHEUS, there are a few dull lulls and expository valleys in between the abject crescendos of violence, but that is to be expected. There is also a rather gauche scene or two involving David/Walter playing a flute in a cave, but there’s actually a warranted reason under the silliness that ties into the movies theme. No, thankfully, every time the movie threatened to veer off into the loony or ludicrous, it righted itself back on course.

In many ways, CONVENANT is a bravado proprietary reclamation project – Ridley Scott is ALIEN. He’s boldly, brazenly, brilliantly taken the franchise back as if to say to all the posers and unwelcomed interlopers…this is my territory! The story goes that Ridley avoided watching ALIEN 3 when it first came out and all but loathed it when finally seeing it decades later. As a result, he constructed COVENANT to be a sort of sequel-substitution to supplant Fincher’s entry. He succeeded, as COVENANT is quite clearly the best ALIEN movie to come out in over 30 years!

Extra Tidbit: ALIEN COVENANT opens wide Friday, May 19th. Go See it!
Source: AITH



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