Fritz: 1979's Alien is a classic and 1986's Aliens is one of the best sequels ever made and may even be superior to its predecessor. But ever since, the franchise has sputtered along. Alien³ is remembered now primarily for being David Fincher's feature film directorial debut, Alien: Resurrection screenwriter Joss Whedon famously said that the final product is an example of "doing everything wrong," and there have been two Alien vs. Predator movies. 2012's Prometheus brought back original director Ridley Scott and had a few imaginative moments, but still felt like a letdown.
Since Hollywood's trend is to endlessly reboot and rehash popular franchises ad nauseam, Scott has returned to the well one more time with Alien: Covenant. It's a film I like less and less the more I think about it. What did you think?
David: I flat out hate it. It's a sloppy, artless rehash of the original film and feels more like a Friday the 13th slasher movie than part of the Alien series.
Now, for the confused, this is a sequel to Prometheus and a prequel to Alien. Closely following plot model, the crew of an Earth spacecraft investigates an uncharted planet. What they find in this seeming paradise of a planet is evil android David (Michael Fassbender) and the occasional Xenomorph.
Aside from two or three characters, the large crew is undistinctive. We remember those marines from Aliens - Hicks, Hudson, Vasquez, etc. Here, the characters are unmemorable and are just pop-up targets for the monsters.
This is just the beginning of what I didn't like about Alien: Covenant. I'll turn it over to you. What are some of your dislikes?
Fritz: As you say, we remember the characters and their names in Aliens. There is one character killed almost 90 minutes into this and I had no idea who he was other than "bearded guy." The deaths register as much as in a slasher flick and the movie seems to hate its characters as much as a Friday the 13th film does.
I'm really getting tired of prequels in general. Sometimes, a mystery is a good thing. I didn't need to know the complete backstory and history of the aliens, just as I didn't need to know the backstory of Michael Myers or Hannibal Lecter. While I know there are very few original ideas out there, I want movies to give me new "wow" moments, like the first Alien did with its chest burster scene or Aliens did with the "GET AWAY FROM HER, YOU BITCH" scene. Here, we get scenes that echo those, but that's all they feel like - faint echoes. Director Ridley Scott isn't just cribbing from early Alien movies, either. He also borrows from his own Blade Runner with its attempts at philosophical musing over the nature of androids. That said, the one part of Covenant that had the potential to be interesting to me was the hints at romantic feelings between the android Walter (also played by Fassbender) and terraforming expert Daniels (Katherine Waterston).
David: Yes, the relationship between Daniels and Walter had potential, so it's too bad that it is quickly tossed aside. And you can say that Harry Dean Stanton's death scene in the original Alien is the typical stalk and kill variety, but it's done with tension and artistry. Granted, often in horror films, characters defy logical choices just so the movie can have a high body count, but the characters here are written dumber than usual.
Spoiler Alert: If you haven't seen the movie yet, you may not want to read any further.
Fritz: There are a few moments here (as well as in the superior Prometheus) where people behave in idiotic ways. Towards the end, characters let their guard down around the sinister android David long after they should regard him with anything except suspicion. Plus, there's a scene where a soldier announces she's going off by herself and may as well just tell the audience "I'm getting killed next."
I felt the film's ending, where all human characters die horribly, was just lazy nihilism. It seems to be a trend these days (Rogue One, Life), and I'm not sure what's causing it. I'm not categorically opposed to unhappy endings (Blow Out, Memento, Se7en, Chinatown, and Vertigo have bleaker-than-bleak endings and I love them). But it seems like filmmakers are operating under the assumption that an ending where everyone dies is somehow braver or more artistic than a happy or mixed ending. Not only that, the final twist here is telegraphed in advance so there's no opportunity to even shock. It's both ugly and predictable. If I'd cared about the characters at all, I'd have been really angry.
If that's not enough, viewers learn that the sole human survivor of Prometheus has also died terribly between films. It all just left me with a question of "Why have I been watching this?"
David: Didn't the makers of this franchise learn their lesson when audiences turned against them when beloved Aliens characters Newt and Hicks were killed off during the opening credits of the ill-fated Alien³? Noomi Rapace's Elizabeth Shaw was the best part of Prometheus for me, so when she is killed off here in such a perfunctory manner, it's like a kick in the balls.
As for the soldier who goes off to die, why did they have to cut back to her decapitated head floating in a fountain not once, not twice, but three times? It's just a grotesque and unappealing movie that is not much fun. However, I did find the set piece with Daniels battling a creature atop a rescue ship to be mildly exciting.
But that final twist is so poorly executed. It often drives me up the wall when a movie cuts away from a pivotal scene, only to reveal what truly happened at a later time. But it is clear to the audience as to what did happen making the “shocking surprise” glaringly obvious from the moment it is set into motion.
Alien: Covenant doesn't really expand on ideas from the previous film. It's just a placeholder for the next movie in the series, Alien: Awakening. I'm certainly not looking forward to it if it is anything like this one.