The final insult
Alien vs. Ivy: Alien: Covenant
Posted 20 Apr 2020
Hey Ridley, since you like alluding to high culture so much, here’s a review-by-quote:
“It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” - William Shakespeare
Here's the basic premise: You have some people on a spaceship, and they encounter an incredibly dangerous monster that wants to kill them.
Here's how to make a good film based on that premise: You have the people use every strategy they can think of to defeat the monster before it can kill them. They exercise agency, making critical life-and-death decisions. Occasionally, despite their best efforts, they make some bad calls and get offed. But a few of them, thanks to pure daring and guile, manage to escape with their lives.
Here's how to make a bad film based on that premise:
First, make all the characters into total idiots. This was the problem in Prometheus and it's the problem again here. You'd think that the people sent to represent humankind on a one-way trip to the stars would be highly-trained professionals who can maintain a level head in a crisis, but in these last two films, we see the exact opposite. Characters freak out about everything and constantly behave like there wasn't a procedure in place for any contingency. They constantly display a reckless disregard for the lives of others, and for their own lives too for that matter. Outwitting the aliens is out of the question, because to this bunch a garden rake would be a plenty formidable enemy.
And it's not even limited to the characters who actually appear on the screen; the people who designed the ship and its equipment were apparently equally stupid. Who would come up with a suspended-animation pod that carries a risk of immolation, and not provide any way for it to be opened from the inside? Who would send an incredibly costly mission to another planet and not bother to include any redundant equipment in case of problems? Who would design a ship that is incapable of powering itself if even one part of its solar array gets damaged? It's incredible that these people got as far as they did without smashing directly into an asteroid or the engines blowing up without warning.
Second, you make the movie Intellectual. This film wants to have some sort of thematic message about religion and human origins, but it uses that inane Hollywood Simulated Religion Product that has no tenets, no belief system, and no practices. It just consists of someone who says he has "faith" and that as a result people don't trust him. Another character wears a Star of David necklace. And that's all the religion you get. Do you not feel intellectual? Well, if not, there are some literary allusions and a couple snatches of Wagner. Now this is a highbrow film, somebody call the Criterion Collection and the Palme d'Or committee. It's such a ridiculous mess; boring to the people who just want some action and vacuous to the people who want something intelligent.
Finally, you make the heroes lose, both in the film itself and retroactively. This film has possibly the grimmest ending of the entire series, but it also sees fit to go back and murder the star of the previous film, much as Alien 3 did. I think ultimately what makes these films work is that there's a sort of celebration of the human spirit and intellect to them. It taps into that primal thrill we get when diseases are eradicated or powerful natural forces are harnessed. I'm not saying every film should have a happy ending (and to some extent, none of these films do), but I don't think this series is at its best when it goes "dark and gritty."
So that's the Alien films, as of this writing in early 2020. When I decided to do this project I'd only seen the first two and I really thought some of these might be misunderstood gems. I couldn't have been more wrong. Everything since Aliens has been utter dreck; stories in bad taste and worse execution that are painful at worst and laughable at best. It's hard to rank them, even. They're quite evenly matched in their awfulness.
Yet I think Prometheus and Covenant may actually be the worst. The immediate sequels at least knew what the series was supposed to be, and usually managed to come up with a few characters who were likable enough that you felt sorry to see them get chomped. These newer films, the characters are nearly interchangeable. Only the android characters manage to stand out. For the human characters, I manage to get through the entire film without even learning to differentiate most of them, let alone remember their names. There's that guy, and there's that other guy. Or maybe they're both the same guy? Wait, which one is the captain? Who knows. Who cares? Most of them are going to get snuffed while doing something stupid anyway.
But I'll say one thing about Covenant: it managed to get through its entire runtime without some sort of really overt misogyny. It's a low bar to clear, but you cleared it. Congratulations.