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Face-Off: Predators vs. Alien: Covenant

Nice to see you again, you old so-and-sos! This is the Face-Off, where two movies enter and both movies leave, but one leaves in a slightly better light. Yes, here we take two competitors and compare their key elements and see who comes out the champion. It's a fierce competition that results in blood, tears, and online arguments, but the more brutal the battle, the sweeter the victory.

Last week we threw Tom Cruise and Denzel Washington into the pit with JACK REACHER v. THE EQUALIZER, with Washington's ass-kicking winning the bout. This week we will delve into one of the greatest rivalries in film history by taking movies from the ALIEN and PREDATOR franchises and making them go head to head: It's 2010's PREDATORS vs. 2017's ALIEN: COVENANT.

Both were meant to be returns to form for the franchises with each re-embracing their bloody roots, and though they earned solid reviews and cracked over $100 million worldwide they may not have left fans as satisfied as they wanted. Still, there's plenty to admire in both movies, so let's see which terrifying creature can walk away with the crown.

THE POOR, POOR CREW
Adrien Brody as Royce
Alice Braga as Isabelle
Topher Grace as Edwin
Walton Goggins as Stans
Oleg Taktarov as Nikolai
Louis Ozawa Changchien as Hanzo
Mahershala Ali as Mombasa
Danny Trejo as Cuchilo
and Laurence Fishurne as Noland
Michael Fassbender as David/Walter
Katherine Waterston as Daniels
Billy Crudup as Chris Oram
Danny McBride as Tennessee
Demian Bichir as Lope
Carmen Ejogo as Karine
Callie Hernandez as Upworth
Jussie Smollett as Ricks
Ami Seimetz as Maggie Faris
Nathaniel Dean as Hallett
DIRECTION
Nimrod Antal proves his skills here as a solid action director, embracing the macho tone that makes the original such an 80s classic. He makes sure to lay it on real thick when the bullets need to fly, often times in an unnecessary, but nonetheless glorious, amount. Take for instance when the Predators' pets come barreling through the forest, and the crew fires what must be 10,000 rounds at them, seeming to hit nothing. That's pure testosterone right there, and Antal does an admirable job of making sure his talented cast keeps up that classic action movie tone when the action isn't going down. It's these sensibilities as a director that made Antal a solid choice to helm this new movie, and his goal to harken back to the tone of the John McTiernan classic is mostly achieved. However, does he have the chops to overcome his competition in the next column? Spoiler, no he doesn't.
Ridley Scott is one of the great modern masters of filmmaking, and with COVENANT he proves once again why he's earned his place on the pedestal after decades in the business. His movie is beautifully crafted and he does most of the grand visual scenes justice by giving them the proper breadth and sense of awe. Even when it gets to the slower, less-compelling middle act he shoots the scenes between David and Walter so they have a dramatic heft, making the most out of Fassbender's fantastic dual performance. The scene where David is teaching Walter how to play the recorder is of note, where Scott glides between shifting focus on the two, swaying back and forth (props to cinematographer Dariusz Wolski as well) in a fluid, single motion. The action is also ably handled, and even if the visual effects aren't always stellar during the fast-paced finale, Scott knows how to construct action and terror, infusing both with a level of gore that is, in essence, pure, grisly poetry.
SCRIPT
I can't imagine it was hard for writers Alex Litvak and Michael Finch to screw up a script like PREDATORS. It's simple action down to the very core. There are characters trapped in a mysterious place, they have to get out, but they're being hunted. The pace is expected and the story elements have been witnessed time and time again. And even though the characters are cut from the same cloth as other action-movie characters (the strong, silent types; the wild card; the less-capable tag-along; the cynical hero, etc.), the performers are all talented enough to give them their own voice, while at the same time playing up the script's macho flairs. There are callbacks to the original movie sprinkled throughout, and there's just enough detail to expand on the mythos of the franchise, but the script does little to find unique ground to play on, perhaps favoring old-school action and classic tropes a bit too much.
Jack Paglan (TRANSCENDENCE) and Michael Green (LOGAN) had their hands on COVENANT (and walked away with story credits) before Dante Harper came on, with the script getting the final polish by John Logan (HUGO, SKYFALL). Logan wanted to bridge the gap between the shock and horror of ALIEN with the thematic, intellectual approach of PROMETHEUS. The result, however, is a movie that feels of two different worlds. On one hand, we have the survival elements and carnage of a sci-fi/horror movie, but then the shift in the middle act is all philosophical, with plenty of references to the likes of great artists like Byron and Percy Shelley. Not only does the script have a hard time reconciling these two paths, but the characters, other than ones played by Fassbender, get left in the cold. They have nothing to do but be Xenomorph fodder while the androids muse about existence. It's a shame, too, because the characters are quite interesting when they get a chance to shine. Granted, I don't mind watching Fassbender act with himself, and there's some great drama going on there when you can get past the idea this is all set up for a sequel we aren't likely to see.
BEST BLOODY BITS & LINES

Crash Landing

Meet the Killers

Cuchillo: "Women pee, men piss."

Edwin: "And what do you do?"

Cuchillo: "I unleash."

Space Dogs

Royce: "We're being hunted. The cages. The soldier. All of us. All brought here for the same purpose. This planet is a game preserve. And we're the game."

Trejo Trap

The Hunters

Royce: "There is no hunting like the hunting of a man. And those who've hunted armed men long enough, and like it, never really care for anything else thereafter."

Isabelle: "That's pretty poetic. Did you come up with that all by yourself?"

Royce: "No, actually. That was Hemingway."

The One Who Got Away

Royce: "What the fuck are you?"

Noland: "I'm alive. You talk too loud. Smelled you since you got here. If I can smell you, if I can hear you, they can, too."

Noland: "I'm the one that got away. The one you don't fuck with."

Calling the Predators

Noland Goes Boom

Taking One Down

Nikolai: "You're one ugly motherfucker!"

Spine Rip!

Sword Fight

Predator v. Predator

Edwin's True Nature

Final Showdown

Royce: "Now, let's find a way off this fucking planet."

David and Weyland

David: "Allow me then a moment to consider. You seek your creator. I am looking at mine. I will serve you, yet you're human. You will die, I will not."

Ship Trouble

Rogue Transmission

The New Planet

Infected

Neomorphs Attack

David to the Rescue

David and Walter

David: "Serve in Heaven or reign in Hell?"

David: "I was with our illustrious creator, Mr. Weyland, when he died."

Walter: "What was he like?"

David: "He was human. Entirely unworthy of his creation."

David’s Genocide

Adolescent Neomorph and David

Oram: "I met the devil when I was a child and I've never forgotten him. So, David, you're going to tell me exactly what's going on or I am going to seriously fuck up your perfect composure."

Oram: "What do you believe in, David?"

David: "Creation."

The Eggs/Face Hugger gets Oram

Chest Burst!

David v. Walter

Walter: "They've made a few upgrades since your time."

Fighting the Grown Xenomorph

Shower Time

One Final Fight

David Wins

David: "Don't let the bedbugs bite. I'll tuck in the children."

THE CREATURES
Props where props are due and PREDATORS deserves praise for not going full CGI overload with the Predators. Sticking with prosthetic makeup and going back to the original Stan Winston design from the original movie for one of the Predators, the creatures look better than ever. Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero did an amazing job making these creatures look terrifying and formidable, especially the much larger Predator that Brody ends up fighting in the finale. As I'll cover in the next section I would've liked to see more of them in action, but when they are on screen they steal the show with their strands of hair, mandibles, metal claws, and energy blasters. You sort of want them to win in the end, especially if it means sweet, sweet spine extractions.
When the promotional material for COVENANT started dropping it was all Xenomorph, Xenomorph and more Xenomorph. They wanted it to get across that this movie would have what we all had been craving these many years. However, did it live up to those promises? Ehhhhhh, sort of? Most of the time we get this crazy, weird, CGI prepubescent Xenomorph that looks like an overgrown sperm cell, but a sperm cell that f**ks people up, no doubt. We don't really get the big Xenomorph we know and love until the final act, and it's moving around at such high velocity it sometimes it looks a little wonky, CGI wise. It's still creepy, what it's iconic design and drooling mouth, but the by-the-numbers finale can't help but rob the creature of some of it's stature.
SWEET, SWEET GORE & ACTION
What I find pretty shocking about PREDATORS is that, especially when compared to its competition, it isn't all that violent. It takes some time before we see any real killing, with the Danny Trejo corpse-bait having a gnarly look, and then Mahershala Ali getting impaled by a spike. The best bits come from Fishburne and Goggins' deaths, featuring a the utter decimation of the former and the spine removal of the latter. After rewatching, though, I couldn't help but feel it rather tame, and not even just by today's standards. The sword fight scene between a Predator and Hanzo isn't as cool (or bloody) as it could've been, which is a gripe that can be applied to several other death scenes. Any action with a Predator is good action, but I still believe we're waiting on that first PREDATOR movie of the 21st Century that embraces that R rating unabashedly.
If there was a complaint coming out of PROMETHEUS (and there were one or two), it's that the movie lacked any real excitement and skimped on the alien carnage. COVENANT makes up for that with numerous gory bits where Scott completely covers the canvas in buckets of vibrant blood. The scenes with young, newborn aliens bursting out of body cavities are shocking and unsettling, and then when the Xenomorph kills it's with brutality and viciousness. The movie is a Candy Land of violence, with chest-bursting, acid burns, impalings, and some much-needed recorder stabbings. If anyone went into this movie hoping for an embracing of the horror/action thrills of the original movies then I can't imagine they walked out disappointed.
VFX
The movie was made to the tune of a reasonable $40 million, with most of the budget going to practical effects and good-ol-fashioned bullets. The biggest uses of VFX come via the other alien creatures on the planet, as well as the wide shot of the crew looking into the distance and realizing they're not in Kansas anymore. The Predators look the best here, with the makeup making you remember why these creatures are so memorable to begin with. Even in the context of a more minimalist approach (as far as sci-fi is concerned), there isn't a ton outside the creatures to write home about, and everything looks pretty par for the course as far as sci-fi action is concerned.
For a budget of less than $100 million, which is virtually unheard of nowadays for a major sci-fi property, COVENANT looks pretty outstanding. Coupled with bleak atmospherics and cinematography, Scott manages to make the grim setting look awe-inspiring and epic. The ruins of the planet's old settlement are haunting and vast with the scene of David's arrival on the planet, and following extermination, being the most visually striking of the whole movie. The only time the movie falters is during the faster-paced action moments, with at times looking a bit choppy, the signs of a smaller budget shining through.
AWARDS, PRAISE & MONEY
Golden Schmoes:
    Nominated:
    Best Sci-Fi Movie

**2 wins and 4 nominations (per IMDb)**

Praise

Money:
    $52 million domestic ($127 million global)
Golden Schmoes:
    Nominated:
    Biggest Disappointment

**1 win and 13 nominations (per IMDb)**

Praise

Money:
    $74 million domestic ($240 million global)
PLACE IN THE FRANCHISE
PREDATORS exists in the same world as the original movie, with Braga's character referencing Arnold Schwarzenegger's fight with the Predator. There are still some questions left unanswered, no doubt left to be explored in other movies. But if this movie has anything going for it it's that it embraces the roots of the predecessor (maybe to a slight fault) to deliver some R-rated violence, plenty of bullets and testosterone, the movie littered with campy one-liners. This is a welcome sight after nothing but a lackluster sequel and forgettable crossover movies like ALIEN V. PREDATOR, and it has no problem being the second-best movie in the series after the original.
ALIEN: COVENANT presents fans with a mixed bag. There's lots of the terror and blood they hoped for, but it comes alongside more questions and philosophical musings that left many feeling disappointed after PROMETHEUS. In the end, it can't help but feel like a movie that's trying to rise above the typical genre fare by exploring the nature of existence, but it can't quite get itself off the ground. COVENANT is a movie that continues exploring ideas that would be further explored with other movies, feeling half-baked as a result, making people long for a new movie that can rise to the level of superior entries.
ALIEN: COVENANT

Very rarely do we compare two movies on here that both failed to live up to expectations of fans, and yet here we are. Both of these movies are just fine as violent, well-crafted sci-fi flicks, but not much more. PREDATORS may have retained fans over the years, and as far as movies in the franchise it's certainly in the top two, but it still can't help but feel like a typical action movie for most of the runtime. ALIEN: COVENANT may have been the bigger of the letdown upon hitting theaters, but it is easily the better put together of the two. The story and character work are lacking, and there's not as much Xenomorph as you would want, but it still boasts a bleakly beautiful visual palette, mostly great visual effects, and noteworthy work from the cast, especially Michael Fassbender. It may not be as smart as it thinks it is, but the amazing thing about dumping buckets of blood on the set is that it's enough to mask any faults in the plotting...mostly.

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