“None of this makes any sense,” says the latest bargain bin Ripley in this year’s Alien: Covenant. Truer words were never spoken.
What is it about the Alien franchise that makes it so susceptible to climbing up its own butt? The last several movies have tried to be both exciting, suspenseful thrillers and deep, thoughtful commentaries on mankind’s place in the universe. In each case the film-makers wind up with a movie that is neither fish nor fowl and suffers greatly for the lack of clear vision.
To save time, let’s just run down the usual obvious blunders:
- No clear rules for the aliens. Sometimes they are bulletproof, and sometimes not.
- No clear rules for the aliens. Groups can be chased away with a little light flare, but a single one is willing to attack a ship alone in broad daylight.
- No clear rules for the aliens. They can reproduce in new, magical ways that defy sense. In the space of 20 minutes, alien spores consume and transform 30% of a grown man’s mass.
- Yes, I said that one three times. You can’t have suspense if the rules of the game are not clear. Telling the audience that the aliens change in unpredictable ways tells the audience not to anticipate what comes next. Anticipation is the whole point of suspense.
- The people tasked with protecting 2000 colonists and 1400 test tube babies are clearly not the best and brightest. They make the usual stupid mistakes, running headlong into danger for no clear purpose.
- The cast is shown to be stupid and incompetent and unlikable. From the very beginning. The audience is expected to like them because…well, here they are, what else are you going to do?
- The second in command, forced into the captain’s chair early in the film, doesn’t have the leadership fit to lead the local McDonald’s franchise, let alone a ship carrying 3400 colonists halfway across creation.
- The film lacks all romance, despite the frequent first act references to, “muh wife,” and “muh husband”. The closest thing shown is a sudden late-game shower sex scene between two characters who we’ve been given no reason to expect are an item. This literally feels like a case of, “Well, we need a sex scene, and you two are the only ones left alive to serve as monster chow. Get naked and vulnerable, the plot needs you!”
- Hiding the ‘sudden reveal’ of which robo-twin survived the fight with all the subtlety of a knife to the eye.
These glaring missteps are first order mistakes. Digging deeper, one finds a more structural flaw. Even if one fixed the above items – made the aliens more consistent and the cast more likeable and smarter – the huge disconnect between the film’s desire for cheap thrills delivered in the middle of a cerebral commentary on what it means to be human cannot be resolved.
It can be done. Nolan has some success splitting that baby. The Joker uses the Prisoner’s Dilemma to deliver heart wrenching suspense. Interstellar plays with the effects of time-dilation on relationships while bringing some gut wrenching actions. Heck, the original Total Recall gives viewers a stupid action film set on a Mars where people aren’t smart enough to plant a few trees in their habs while simultaneously asking profound questions about how large a role our memories play in making us who we are.
Alien: Covenant wants to ask those high-minded questions. It sets them up in the initial scene between a deranged genius billionaire and his genocidal Pinocchio creation. The Fassbender twins have repeated conversations about creativity versus duty, (nevermind that those two things are hardly mutually exclusive,) that go nowhere and serve no purpose. Then the movie throws its hands up and gives us a couple of fun action sequences, the latter of which is completely negated by the underlying questions about why the clearly evil robot is helping the last two survivors kill the xenomorph – questions that the film never answers.
The biggest disappointment of all though? If you’re going to have a robot that wants to kill all humans, you should really just cast Bender and have done with it. David lacks Bender’s charm, charisma, and shiny metal ass, three things that all would vastly improved this terrible film.