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David Poland

By David Poland

Review-ish: Alien Covenant (spoiler-free)


The third act of a movie is a magical thing. A story can drag through two acts, but if that third act really pops and the audience leaves the theater excited, the not-so-exciting journey to get to the end is forgotten and the buzz remains. But the reverse is also true. This phenomenon is as true for most film critics as it is for “the great unwashed.”

And that is the great challenge for Alien Covenant. If Alien was a haunted house movie and Aliens was a war movie, Covenant is the franchise’s take on “Heart of Darkness.” For 2 acts or so, it cooks. For a well-worn franchise, Ridley Scott comes up with all kinds of new stuff. It’s familiar, but he finds original ideas and images that feel organic.

No doubt, Scott responds to some of the critical complaints about Prometheus, however indirectly. People who HATED the map guys getting lost and characters making dumb choices around the eggs… your anger has been addressed and the answers work well.

Fassbender does nothing to disprove that he is one of our greatest actors. Simply explaining what kind of work he does here is a spoiler, so I won’t. But let’s say that he and Scott found an opportunity for him to top the tremendous work he did on Prometheus.

The rest of the cast harkens back to the original Alien. The actors are familiar, but not movie stars. The audience legitimately can believe, from the start to near the end, that virtually anything could happen to any one of the characters. I was rooting for one more massive twist, but… no. Still, every one of these actors delivers something different.

The leads are uniformly good. But beyond that, Danny McBride, Carmen Ejogo, Callie Hernandez and Amy Seimetz all overdelivered my expectations in this context. There is one “unexpected” performance that I assume was meant to be clever… but it plays flat and I wish wasn’t there. But you will have to pick that out for yourself.

There are even unexpected moments that are utterly genre gratuitous… but I loved that. Sex, Hysteria, Boobs, Cowardice, Bad Hair. I was excited by the surprises inside the surprises.

And this is what makes the final 20 minutes or so of the movie so very frustrating. It just isn’t the same movie as what came before. It’s beautifully executed and well acted and all. But it stops being its own thing and become part of a franchise in a variety of ways, all of which cooled my blood considerably.

As we left the theater, a journalist friend pointed out this film’s place on the franchise timeline… and yeah, it made complete sense.

It’s not just that, to be honest. The disconnect starts with a “what happened off camera” theatrical device that just never works. It could have. It doesn’t. But it is so obvious that you spend time wondering when the twist is coming and what it means if there isn’t a twist, distracting you from just being in the still very busy action movie.

I don’t know if there more scenes were shot. I don’t know if there were 30 passes at the editing of those last 20 minutes, trying to get it just right. I don’t know if Mr. Scott, who is one of our very best audience-thrilling filmmakers, thinks it works as it is.

There is so much right about Alien Covenant that what is wrong at the end is an incredible frustration. There are so few movies that do what the film does well. And I want to be all about the parts I truly enjoyed. But when it comes at the end of the movie, it’s the October 28 James Comey letter… even when it gets corrected, it’s too late to get the bad taste out of your mouth.

I will see Alien Covenant again… because of all the good, all the joyous horror thriller fun. And I will look forward to the next film(s) in the franchise, though it clearly evolves here from the original, unique franchise idea of changing up the genre each time out to doing variations on the same idea, movie after movie. Run. Scream. Rinse. Repeat.

11 Responses to “Review-ish: Alien Covenant (spoiler-free)”

  1. Geoff says:

    I’ve heard some of the gross-out scenes described….is it really gratuitous? Nobody would be more jazzed for another good Alien movie than myself but I get the sense that Scott went too far and this is approaching ‘Resurrection territory….

  2. djiggs says:

    Are you talking about [REDACTED]as the “unexpected” performance? I had read a copy of final shooting script & curious to see how the slide into the franchise continuity is executed.

  3. Stella's Boy says:

    Can’t wait for this. Want to know as little as humanly possible so I’m going to avoid all reviews including this one, but I’ll be there the night of May 18.

  4. Bulldog68 says:

    Djiggs, you’re a dick.

  5. Sideshow Bill says:

    This is my movie of the Summer so even this mixed review can’t bring me down. Can’t wait for it to get here.

  6. TrackerBacker says:

    Bulldog68, Fox has already released a clip with [REDACTED] in it, so it’s not much of a spoiler, if that’s what you’re talking about.

  7. Js partisan says:

    I’d love to get excited for this, but I really want it to fail. I want my old ass Newt movie. Fuck this philosophy makarkey! Geoff, it’s supposed to be, pretty damn graphic.

  8. EtGuild2 says:

    @JS my step grandpa is excited for that as well, but Gingrich’s documentary is going straight to The Blaze next month apparently.

  9. Geoff says:

    JS both of the first two Alien movies had their share of graphic violence but it was never gratuitous – yeah if I want lots of skeevy goo and deformed alien/human hybrids, I already had my share with Alien Resurrection.

    Man I have mixed feelings about this movie – I want it to be good but if it’s just good enough, it looks like this pretty much kills Blomkamp’s true Aliens sequel. Yeah I know what Scott said recently and he’s a dick for saying it too….make no mistake though if this tanks, then we MIGHT see Blomkamp’s Alienseses in a few years.

  10. Js partisan says:

    Ethan… That’s terrible.

    Griff, pretty much, but this film has the fucking couple thing. This alone, seems really fucking cruel and unusual, for shitty trope like reasons.

  11. David Poland says:

    I don’t think the violence here is uniquely intense. I meant more like the shower sequence or momenta on the borderline of camp.

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