Alien: Covenant (2017)
Witness the Creation of Fear.
I was pretty excited about the predecessor of this movie coming out, and am totally open about not finding it the best movie ever. I'm pretty sure I probably enjoyed it more than a lot of other fans of the franchise out there, and largely most of my complaints were more of a breakdown of immersion from differing technologies resulting in it tying into the franchise as preposterous more so than any specific lack of certain creatures during it's runtime. All of that in tow, I passed on Covenant when it was in theaters because I did not think it would end up making me feel good about spending that ten-and-over dollar price tag for a followup to a movie I wasn't that impressed with. Instead, for tonight, we get it in the DVD queue, so partner up with your stupid scientists and marvel at the corporations continual iteration on androids despite not making them look different - this one could be an express elevator, going down.
With it's prequel, I was genuinely confused as to if things were supposed to be in-universe of the other movies of the Alien franchise. Given it's "super-prequel" nature, it seemed as though it could have been feasible outside of technology having to take a giant step backwards in order for things to line up. By the end of watching Covenant, however, I have absolutely no question that despite what anyone may say or point out these are two series existing separate of each other with certain elements in common - much like all the Batman movies are Batman, but they are not all the same batman in the same timeline/universe. At this point, the tech levels set aside, just the general progression of the plot tells me that this can't exist in the same timeline.
Having said that, this is very much the weird blend of both Alien and Aliens, while being neither. It has more gun based action, complete with some squad tactics and laser lights everywhere, but it also has the stalking evil and slow tensions. I can argue as to how well this actually works out - some of the longer drawn out moments without the action ended up coming off as feeling a bit dull to me, in part because I have these other high-octane moments surrounding them. Whereas the first could get long and preachy, this one keeps it's faith segments short and more of a self-reassurance of character before someone happens to do something that triggers a horror moment, promptly leading to a moment of action. It's not a bad flow, and then we hit the moment where the characters find someone from the last movie floating around and things suddenly start feeling incredibly slow. We get a lot of talking, a lot of exposition, and even a "play the flute" scene.
It probably stands out as more of a bore than it actually is, but the movie has tempted me so much, and there is surely a more direct or entertaining way to tell me that an AI has developed feelings or some such thing, but we got what we got. Acting during these moments is still pretty well done, most heavily relying on Fassbender acting against himself. At the very least, I imagine someone who looks way more into movies (such as the ideology and hidden meanings behind lines) might find more enjoyment in those scenes, and I'm pretty sure they take up a smaller section of the movie than it felt like they did, so let me not sell short the acting as just being in one scene. Most the reactions and moods - from schizophrenic panic to crushing loss - come off remarkably well, with only a few moments where it feels like things might be getting undersold. Chemistry helps a bit here, as the actors do a good job of playing off each other as well. The movies designated "substitute Ripley" can at times feel a little flat, but she does have her few moments where she shines a little.
Despite me saying that though, it doesn't mean things seem any better in the logical department when it comes to the characters themselves. At first it's not bad really - stepping on spores is an easy enough mistake, as is going to a closer planet that seems to play out as habitable instead of the 7 year trip. As it goes though, we then get stuff like "poking the alien fungus" and "trust the suspicious guy whose pretty much verbally been telling you your nothing more than science fodder to him" - I don't care how shaken up you are man, on an alien planet where your friends are turning into vicious white beasts and killing your other friends, I'm not sticking my face next to anything I didn't bring with me. There's also a slight bit of retroactive action "why would you do that" to a character who doesn't really have a part in the movie, but admittedly it's been a while since I watched Prometheus so it's possible I'm looking at it with viewer-vision instead of character-vision.
We do still get some beautiful things to look at though. The scenery planet-side is gorgeous, the costumes look rather adventure-colonial (minus the helmet part), and the ship even has a particularly beautiful scene of unfurling its solar sails early on. The spread of CG and practical is very well used in this movie - and indeed, I expected as much given how good the last one looked. Technology looks like it's a little more toned down from the last one, havinge much more of a control panel feel than just holographic items everywhere. Even the EVA suits look like functional and practical things - very much resembling super old not-too-maneuverable diving suits. Of course, our little white alien that could shows up a few times, although I'll get more into that later. It still looks quite nice, although there's certainly a few shots where things look a little bit goofy (maybe it's just the angle, maybe it's just how wide it's mouth can open, I'm not sure). The violence effects are up there and would satisfy probably even the hardest Predator fan. There are moments where it's actually genuinely gross - but I guess barfing an alien out of a big old umbilical sack through your mouth very well should look disgusting.
Now, you'll have seen in the trailers and the picture below that there is even a return to the old drone bug-looking alien from the original franchise entries in this. This guy fairs a little worse off in effects than it's albino-looking brethren. Most the time, particularly in the final act, it looks pretty good - but there are moments when it's crawling across the lander just before that where it looks real goofy. How much of that is that it's in broad sunlight with it's legs kicked out in awkward angles while it headbutts stuff and how much of it is the effect just not looking as good I don't know to be honest, but it makes up for it when it returns later. Usually, I'd include a section here where I rant about the universe since it's one I'm real familiar with - but as I said earlier, after watching this none of that really feels like it matters anymore, as it feels much more like these two movies are just off in their own little alternate universe than they are hard-boiled into days of Colonial Marines and Ellen Ripley. What I will say though is that this movie feels a bit inconsistent with what exactly births one of our albino monsters - in this case just a simple spore getting up in a person is enough, wherein last movie any black-goo interaction with a human just made them turn into some weird zombie-esque abomination. It wasn't until the squid-baby face-raped the "engineer" that we were given an albino alien - although the two are still slightly different, so I guess it's just "chalk it up to genetics and science" or some such thing.
All in all, I enjoyed this better than Prometheus. I know that doesn't say a whole lot, since my general judgement on that was mediocre with good effects, but when it comes down the line to being re-watchable that can go a long way. There are bits of the movie that feel like they conflict with other parts, and there's certainly a big downer in the central act as far as things feeling like they are still moving, but it's mostly all used as setup in some way or form - even if the payoff for that setup doesn't necessarily leave you feeling very fulfilled. It's also nice to feel like the movie has shifted back to being more about family than faith, even if at times it can feel a bit shallow while doing it. If you enjoyed Prometheus, you might not enjoy this one as much - it feels very much like a different movie for a good portion of it - but if you were more a fan of the first two Alien flicks you might enjoy this one more than you did Prometheus.