So I may have had some harsh things to say about the film yesterday, but I really do think that this is a competently made film that looks stunning, buck lacks character depth and answers. Today, I’m going to go into a little more detail as to why I thought what I did and talk about the Alien franchise as a whole.
The twist that I alluded to in the non-spoiler review was James Franco’s quick death. Having seen the prologue snippet “Last Supper,” I was interested to see comedy star James Franco appear in an “intellectual” (We’ll get back to that in a bit) horror movie. The opening scene had Fassbender’s Walter, the Dr. Jekyll side of the synthetic duo, waking the crew from cryo-sleep during a solar flare emergency. When all the crew, but Franco are able to leave their pods, I though of the moment in “Last Supper” when he says he’s going to go into cryo-sleep earlier because he’s “burning up.” Well he did indeed do some burning up in the film, but it wasn’t a fever. Franco’s Captain Branson, still dormant in his life pod, is engulfed in flames and dies mere minutes into the film.
I had to give the writers some credit there with the clever allusion in the prologue trailer and the bravery to kill off a major actor without having him do anything. Granted, Franco is good friends with Danny McBride, so that probably explains the cameo. This also provides Katherine Waterston’s now widowed character with an opportunity to have some motivation for making the trip worth Branson’s sacrifice, while also giving the crew anxiety about getting back into their pods for the duration of the trip. We’re off to a good start.
I’m still a bit conflicted about the second major decision of the film. Billy Crudup’s Oram becomes the acting Captain in the wake of Branson’s demise. When the crew discover a previously unknown planet that is even better for sustaining life than the original destination. Cleverly, the death of Branson plays into the crew’s reasoning for not wanting to go back into the pods, but that doesn’t mean they can’t just live on the ship for the seven years it will take to arrive at the planned planet.
Oram’s faith is hinted at multiple times throughout the film, probably to explain his decision-making process. Unfortunately, this faith angle is very surface level and just acts as a tool for Oram’s decision-making without really saying anything about religion. The new Alien movies, Prometheus and Covenant, have both contained religious symbols and characters, but have never had anything to say about these things/people.
The we get to the characters’ worst decision of the film. Our ensemble decides not to wear helmets on the surface of a foreign planet. Why?! You’ve known about this planet for approximately a day and you don’t use helmets as a safety precaution! You all deserve what happens next. The virus is airborne and some black mist gets into one of the soldier’s ears. Man, I bet he wished he had some sort of, I don’t know, helmet to guard against an unknown environment! Even the dimwitted scientists that stared straight into an Alien egg (again, more on that later) wore helmets for the beginning of their expedition!
The next thing I want to talk about is the tone, which alternated between Prometheus’s heady themes and Alien’s gritty horror. The film felt lopsided, trying to say something about mankind one minute, then give the audience some quasi-exploitation the next. After Prometheus received such middling reviews from critics and fans alike, I think Scott just decided to give the fans what they want, while keeping his intellectual themes of creation and gods. The jarring shift in tone as soon as the crew reaches the charred remains of the city and its inhabitants basically split the movie in two for me. It starts as a creation themed, intellectual sci-fi and then turns into a slasher film in the last half. The scene of the couple being mauled in the shower felt like straight exploitation; a far cry from Scott’s “high concept” sci-fi themes.
On top of those tonal issues, the film also opens up the discussion of religion and then promptly forgets about it. Oram’s faith is never really discussed, except t give him a faith in David that spells the new captain’s doom. When the crew reaches the temple for the first time, Daniels is quick to tell Oram that his faith can help save the rest of the crew, but nothing comes of that. It almost felt like a plot point that may have been more fleshed out, but was possibly scrapped for time.
So for my follow-up, I unfortunately admit that the more I thought about this movie, the more its issues frustrated me. Ridley Scott claimed we would have all the answers after Covenant, but instead I have more questions and less patience. The film just doesn’t know what it wants to be. Does it want a return to the classic horror/action, as seen in the reintroduction of the (close to) original xenomorph, or does it want to be a story about creation and confronting the realities that arise from that research. After two films in this new saga in the Alien franchise, we still have very little resolution and fewer reasons to keep coming back.
After further review, I have dropped the B- that I originally gave the film and changed it to a C-.