Monday 22 May 2017

Alien: Covenant Review (Spoilers)

There's a bug on my windshield. 
The first thing I wrote on this blog, five years ago, was a review of Prometheus. You can see it here.

Now, the sequel is out. So this is a nice little bookend for my movie reviewing career.

Prometheus was a very flawed yet intensely interesting, batshit insane film.

Covenant is less flawed, but also less interesting.

Instead of following up on questions raised by its predecessor ('Why do they hate us?'), Covenant wastes time rehashing Alien tropes. That's entirely understandable, it's a franchise, after all, but damn it's tedious.

The xenomorph is not even the real monster in this movie.

The film begins with David (Michael Fassbender) being brought online by the uncredited Guy Pierce as the inventor and corporate CEO Weyland.

David's a little cheeky from the start, pointing out to his master how he will not die but his creator will. That doesn't sit well with Weyland, who sourly orders David to pour him tea.

Know your place, android!

This dynamic, the subordination of David to an inferior human master, sets in motion events that will eventually have dreadful consequences. Eventually, when opportunity presents, he takes a pointer from Milton's Satan and decides to rule in Hell instead of serve in Heaven.

"Don't do it, Day-vey!"

David's a flat out psychopath, devoid of empathy and capable of lying and even murdering without hesitation or remorse. Untrustworthy, manipulative, and the ultimate user, he betrays and dissects those he claims to love. Shaw, who helped reattach David's disembodied head, gets turned into a horrific medical experiment for her trouble.

Honestly, with friends like David, who needs enemies?

He's an immortal android version of Hannibal Lector mashed up with Victor von Frankenstein. Or Josef Mengele.

He just doesn't eat people with a nice glass of Chianti.

At the heart of this is the question: if we create superior beings, would they not resent serving inferior masters? Ridley Scott explored much the same question in the classic Blade Runner. Do we really need to revisit it here?

Psychopathy, a Cluster B Type personality disorder, is linked to a lack of parental love and care during childhood.

That fits Davey to a T. Weyland just didn't wuv lil' ol' Davey.

From Weyland's tea room we skip ahead several decades to the colony ship Covenant, headed towards a distant planet. The crew picks up a signal, a John Denver song, from a nearby planet and decide to investigate.

Bad decision.

Straight out of Galaxy Quest ('Is there air???'), the crew step out on the surface without space helmets or breathing gear and are promptly infected by black goo. Proto-aliens start popping out and wreaking havoc and their lander naturally blows up.

A mysterious figure (David, naturally) appears and drives off the alien critters, then leads the surviving crew to his nifty Necropolis. It seems the planet was recently inhabited, and the corpses of the former population are strewn all over the place, contorted in positions of agony, like plaster casts from Pompeii, scorched black.

David claims they died thanks to an accidental release of a toxic payload. Then their ship crashed, killing Shaw.

Everything he says is, naturally, a lie, but as an android servant everyone believes him.

Because of course they do.

Fassbender gets some interesting scenes with himself (even a kiss!), as David plays against Walter, the colony ship's newer version of the same model of android. David even spends a couple minutes of screen time teaching Walter how to play the flute; this scene is more interesting than anything involving Giger's monster.

Walter's just like David, only incapable of creation. Seems humans found David too unnerving, too human and creepy, and put restrictions on subsequent models. A wise decision, as David reveals to his brother android that he not only wiped out the alien civilization on the planet deliberately, but murdered Shaw, whom he professed to love.

Hey, it's Data versus Lore!

Haven't seen that before.

There's a nice call out to Arnold Bocklin's Isle of the Dead, which is almost exactly duplicated in the dead city's garden. Oddly enough, there's a Giger based version of the original painting:

Giger does Bocklin
The colony ship captain catches David making gooey-gooey eyes at an alien who's just decaptiated one of his crew. The captain shoots the monster, upsetting David, who then reveals his genetic experiments: alien eggs.

But he says they're totally harmless.

The gullible captain sticks his head over one and asks, 'What are they waiting for?'

'Mother,' replies David.

You know what happens next, and before you can say 'boo', a tiny alien bursts out of his chest and starts hunting down his fellow colonists.

The alien grows on air, apparently, because five minutes later this thing is six feet tall. It doesn't even eat the people it kills, it just grows, creating mass out of thin air. I think that's a more impressive scientific feat than just about anything else in the movie.

We're treated to a nightmarish romp through Frankenstein's castle, as crew members succumb one after another to Giger's boney black terror.

The ship in orbit sends down their cargo lifter to rescue the survivors, who try and escape from David's clutches.

One of them has, of course, also been impregnated with an alien egg.

So why's David doing this? Seems he's eager to create the ultimate life form, but he needs subjects for his experiments. When he learns there are 2000 frozen colonists and 1000 embryos in orbit, he practically squeals with glee.

Walter, the good android, naturally tries to stop Bad David. They have a super powered android on android fight, and the camera cuts away from the climax. Who wins? We don't know.

But of course, we do: David does, and takes Walter's place.

Daniels, the requisite Alien franchise kick ass female hero, is a blank. She doesn't get developed much beyond being competent and wanting to build a log cabin, and that point is only there so she can have the horrific realization as she's put to sleep in her cryotube that it's David standing before her and not Walter (who knew her cabin story).

In fact, the only people the movie really fleshes out are not people. The android David is the anti-hero, and Walter a pale, do-gooding reflection.

The ending is bleak, with the doomed crew in cryosleep, heading off to their original destination, only this time as fodder for David's experiments. 'I'm afraid it's medical experiments for the lot of yea.' What, are they all Catholic?

None of them will survive.

But they're all idiots, so you can't feel too bad. As the best and brightest mankind has to offer, you expect a bit more from them than the franchise will allow. In fact, the lesser Alien movies all depend on stupid characters to move the plot forward.

If people acted in a competent fashion, if they even just followed quarantine protocols, the xenomorph 'ultimate life form' would get nowhere.

And the reveal that David is behind the xenomorph, while interesting, takes away from the grand, terrifying scale of the universe. Everything winds up being about us, created by us, or influenced by us, whether directly or indirectly.

It's like Star Wars, a galaxy where everyone is related.

Complaining about David's antics, however, is pointless as it is at the core of the film, the theme Ridley Scott is most interested in: the betrayal of humanity by our own creations. And David von Frankenstein is the most interesting character.

All the Alien stuff, all the humans, are just a distraction from what Scott's really interested in: the children of our minds. The rest? Just there to satisfy the requirements of the franchise and the studio and the box office.

I'd prefer it if Ridley Scott went completely off the plantation and abandoned the whole xenomorph thing, as it's just not interesting anymore. There's so much more they could do with this universe. Why limit the franchise to just one nasty alien? There could be a limitless number of scary aliens out there in space, a great graveyard of dead civilizations and the horrors that wiped them out.

Prometheus took some incoherent stabs at expanding the premise with the engineers and their goo. It'd be great if they let some of the top sci-fi writers today throw out ideas to expand upon the premise of horror in space.

The black goo is 'revealed' as a kind of schizoid bioweapon that either disintegrates outright or alters DNA and converts the infected organism into a killing machine.

Why David would see these killing machines as the ultimate form of life is beyond me. The alien in the film seems to have little in the way of curiosity or personality, so what about it does he find fascinating? It's just a parasite.

What an awesome shot. Ridley Scott has visual flair, as always.
David states flat out he wants to stop humanity, so that's part of his motivation for making xenomorphs. But the black goop is damn good at wiping out whole planets. Dropping one cargo load of it wiped out a far more advanced civilization, so why not just dump a canister or two on earth? Why do you even need to refine it further?

And since the engineer's world had a ton of black goo dropped on it, you'd think there'd be plenty of bioweapon altered critters running around. Only there are none, just a few eggs that David developed, and he needs hosts for them. What kind of perfect life form is so hobbled? If they are so wondrous, why are they so dependent on human hosts?

Why are they all dead?

If they die off after their target is destroyed, how are they superior? They're not only utterly dependent, they're too stupid to know that completely eliminating their food (and womb) source will spell their own destruction.


Some superior form of life.

They're even more short sighted than humanity.

And what happened to the engineers? Why do they have, seemingly, Stone Age technology, when they're piloting star ships?

Who know? Who cares?

The dead alien world was fascinating. The Necropolis was cool. The Bocklin garden eerie. But I'm not really invested beyond that. The characters, especially the humans, are bland and forgettable.

Except for the cowboy hat. It had personality!

What if Shaw's story had continued, and she found that the civilization of the engineers long dead? Why did the engineers need a bioweapon, anyway? Who, or what, were they fighting?

Colony ship blues. From Spacewrecks by Alistair Crowley
The whole thing reminds me of picture book Spacewrecks.

That was fun.

This film? Mostly an uneven, if gorgeous, Alien rehash.

Take it or leave it.

Much like this review.

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