Thursday, 6 July 2017

SPIDERMAN HOMECOMING; FULL-TILT REVIEW

“Can't you just be a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man?”
Tony Stark


"With great power..."

Synopsis:
Following on from the events of Civil War, well-meaning high school student Peter Parker excitedly awaits his next mission with the Avengers, unaware that he has been essentially 'shelved' from the most dangerous assignments because Tony Stark isn't confident he's ready for the big-leagues. Elsewhere, salvage specialist Adrian Toomes is all but put out of business by Stark Industries, and so turns to selling illegal weapons created from alien technology to support his family. When Parker stumbles across Toomes' operation the stage is set for a super-powered battle of wills with far-reaching consequences.

For your consideration...
Spiderman Homecoming does not exist within a vacuum. Most will realise that this is the third reboot in 15 years (that's a reboot every 5 years for the slow of math). I've always maintained that re-boots not only deserve to be, but in all fairness should be, considered alongside previous incarnations. After all, if you don't feel confident that you can improve on what's already come before, then why are you rebooting something? The first of Sam Raimi's Spiderman films was a film for adults pretending to be one for children (complete with an attempted rape, a bone-crunching final and a hero who fails to 'get the girl'). His second Spiderman was a children's film pretending to be for grown-ups (featuring a villain who 'learns the error of his ways' and redeems himself saving the hero, as well as some sickly-sweet soul searching). Raimi's third entry failed in just about every way, but by now Raimi had proved once and for all that superheros could be big business. Marc Webb's (oxymoron alert) 'Amazing' two efforts somehow turned everybody's favourite unassuming teenager into a prick; there's more to updating a character than giving him a skateboard and an attitude (he was more of a Bart Simpson than any Peter Parker). It was therefore with a mixed reception that Marvel finally managed to buy back Spiderman's rights from Sony and announced yet another reboot by launching the character into it's expanding MCU (the Marvel Cinematic Universe). There were those who were happy to see the character back in safer hands, those who were upset that they would never see the close of Marc Webb's announced trilogy (idiots mostly), and those who thought a third reboot was simply too much too soon. Even Kirsten Dunst,Raimi's leading lady, waded in to the debate. "We made the best ones, so who cares?... They’re just milking that cow for money.". It was a fair comment, and in most instances she'd be dead right; the first 2 Raimi films would be hard to top, but let's not forget the movie business is still a business and I'm sure she's taken the odd job 'for the money'. However, on this occasion Ms. Dunst may have to eat those well chosen words... The first thing that needs to be said about Spiderman Homecoming is this; it's by far the best Spiderman movie to date, and one of Marvel's strongest entries. Secondly, it's very, very funny. Most of the Marvel films to date have been an entertaining combination of whip-smart banter and explosive mayhem, with Guardians of the Galaxy thus far being the most humerus. However, Spiderman goes one step further to the extent it's probably first and foremost a comedy and a super powered adventure second. That's certainly no bad thing... I once said the time for a perfect Spiderman has come and gone, but I was (as the scores might suggest) dead wrong, although I do feel vindicated in the accuracy of some of my points. I said Marc Webb's Nolan-esque take on the character was a step totally in the wrong direction, and for a character like Spiderman it should sway more into the comedic realms of Kick-Ass (which in so many ways essentially was a Spiderman story). Homecoming is EXACTLY that, thanks to a terrific script credited to no less than 12 writers, which would normally result in disaster. Read-on, Spidey fans...

Script: 1/2
Despite the fact that the script is incredibly entertaining, there's no disguising the fact that, so far as the plot is concerned, it's pretty silly. However, that said, you're not watching a Spiderman film for the plot, right? By placing Spiderman into the Marvel universe (a God-send in so many ways), it does mean having to embrace some of the more 'wild' elements of that franchise, including alien technology. But with Marvel's favourite son back on home ground and in safe hands, it's a very small price to pay... On another note, it always bothered me how anybody was supposed to overlook the fact that a teenager on a low to modest income could afford to create the Spiderman outfit and web-shooter tools (a point that became laughable in Marc Web's gritty attempt). In Tony Stark the Marvel universe finds it's answer, and it's at once such an obvious and shrewd move. Naturally, Stark is responsible for essentially bankrolling Peter Parker and providing him with the tech, and it becomes suddenly believable that the suit would be blue and hot-rod red (this from a flashy and extravagant billionaire who designed himself a gold suit). Minor grumble; too many gadgets for my liking, but it feels a reasonable fit for the MCU. Wasn't overly sold on the suit's internal-voice, but it proved a great way of keeping the character talking and provided the occasional laugh.

Pace: 2/2
While I was watching the film I always felt like we were moving from scene to scene with such speed and efficiency that by the time it ended it had felt like a relatively short experience. I was surprised to read that actually the film was just over 2 hours in length. While I adamantly stand by my opinion that most stories can be told successfully in 90 to 120 minutes, Homecoming obviously stands as proof to the fact that a well told film will justify it's length. Thankfully, none of this time is spent wasted on an origin story (not even Civil War bothered). The Marvel head-sheds, quite wisely, have figured out most people know the whole 'uncle Ben thing' pretty well by now, and instead just get on with telling the story at hand.

Acting: 2/2
Not sure how else I can put this, but Tom Holland IS Peter Parker. He's perfect; he's nerdy, he's self deprecating, he's enthusiastic, he's innocent, he's witty, he's good natured while never being a goody-two-shoes. He's not wet like Toby McGuire was (his moping got tedious after a while), and he's not too-cool-for-school like Andrew Garfield. And, shock-horror, he's pretty close to actually being of genuine high-school age- that's a first and it makes a huge difference. McGuire and Garfield were both clearly adults, adults in peril. Holland looks like a kid, sounds like a kid, acts like a kid- he's just a kid doing the right thing in the face of real danger, and all the more braver for it. That's what Spiderman should be about!... In Raimi's first Spiderman, Willem De Foe chewed the scenery with relish and gusto, and made for the perfect Green Goblin. There will never be a better Goblin, why try? Wisely, Marvel didn't bother. Instead, they've found a perfect foil in Michael Keaton, and rather than dial in a zany Beetlejuice-styled performance, Keaton again proves his range by making Adrian Toomes a very nuanced character. He's ruthless but not an entirely unlikable, he's a character that started with honest intentions and, true to life, found himself on a slippery slope. He's justified his crimes (he has a family to support), he had the opportunity (the alien technology from his clearance days) and he had the motivation (forced out of work by Stark Industries). Ruthless but not cruel, nothing he does ever feels for the sake of causing suffering, although he's clearly dangerous. It all comes from an honest emotional place, who hasn't at some point felt like they're put upon by 'The Man'? And, in a refreshing turn, Toomes, AKA The Vulture (although in the film nobody ever calls him this) is one of the few villains in the Spiderman rouge's gallery who isn't the result of a failed science experiment.
I don't think it's saying too much to point out that, once again, the villain learns of Spiderman's secret identity (after all, it's only happened in every film so far; Green Goblin, Doc Ock, Harry Osborne, Venom, Sandman, Lizard, Hobgoblin). So naturally, Parker also learns who Adrian Toomes is (in one HUGELY shocking twist which I did not see coming). In the scenes that follow with Holland and Keaton sans-masks, the air is electric and both actors show the standard of their game; Holland looks genuinely heartbroken and terrified all at once, and because he's (importantly) "just a kid" he looks all too vulnerable. Keaton is totally conflicted- all seething rage and reluctant adoration. It's a Hell-of-a scene, and sets up the dramatic tone for the remainder of the film. On that subject, like Ant Man before it, Homecoming's stakes are relatively small. There is no doomsday bomb, no city-sprawling gas-cloud, no alien invasion. Ant Man (while not the best film in the Marvel cinematic franchise) was, in the end, a man trying to save his daughter from a maniac: as an audience we can relate to those stakes much easier than, say, the Avengers saving the world from aliens. Spiderman's stakes concern an attempt to steal a shipment of powerful weapons, but that's about it. But, given the smaller-scale, and Spiderman's relative inexperience and the terror he feels confronting the Vulture, that's significant enough. This is about bravery, loyalty and dedication, and what is at the end of the day (super powers not withstanding) "just a kid".
Other mentions; Robert Downey Jr is always a delight as Tony Stark, although his long-suffering assistant 'Happy' Hogan, as played by Ironman director Jon Favreau, has more screen time in his function as Parker's minder. Marisa Tomei gets a few laughs as a MILF-style aunt May, and Disney heartthrob and teen model Zandaya is a 100 miles from her usual glam image as one of Parker's fellow students (I dare not say more). Laura Harrier plays Parker's popular but sweet natured love interest Liz, while Jacob Batalon is a joy as Parker's nerdy best friend; he and Hollander have a warm and believable chemistry which the film does well to exploit.

Aesthetic: 2/2
The effects are (despite earlier misgivings) all good, and the suit design has grown on me some. The Vulture (never my favorite villain) here has a cool makeover, and the scenes where he's flying around while fighting Spiderman are all serviceable. Most of this sort of action we've seen a lot by now, no matter how good this reboot is there's no denying a strong sense of deja vu in the visuals. What makes it different this time round are the characters and situations at play. That said, the film does include a few novel touches; by moving much of the climax to very high-up in the air (beyond the 'playground' of buildings seen in most of the other films) there's a genuine sense that Spiderman is out of his element and in great danger, and it's also funny to see Parker suffer from a bout of vertigo, a joke that works all the better for Holland's youth. In fact, his relative inexperience is a cause for many of the funniest moments- it's refreshing to see that, just because he has the suit, this doesn't make him the fully-fledged and capable hero that McGuire and Garfield instantly became (although I admit things on occasion did go wrong for McGuire). But yes, the budget and effects are well utilised, and the smaller scale means that the spectacles somehow feel more grounded in reality.

Intention: 2/2
Homecoming is the first film that nail's it's target audience, in the purest sense. It's a film about a teenager, for teenagers. But, by extension, teenagers being the middle-audience, there's something here for everybody. It's funny (very funny), it's sweet natured (while never saccharine) and it's exciting (especially if you're too young to remember the first 3 films). Familiar themes and characters are given fresh overhauls, but are never so different that they're somehow offensive to long term fans. As a child I grew up on Spiderman, and I personally thought the changes were not only made with good intentions but entirely necessary; I've seen Aunt May as doddery, I've seen MJ as the perfect cheerleader type, I've seen Flash Thompson as the mindless brute, I've seen Harry as the best friend. I honestly didn't have high hopes for Homecoming, like a lot of people I thought it was a film the world didn't need, even if Marvel would likely do better than Marc Webb (I really, truly, hated those films). But, happily, I was wrong. Another feather in Homecoming's cap is how it essentially stands alone. Sure, it references events from Avengers Assemble and Civil War, but in such a way that, even if you have no prior knowledge, the film feeds you this information easily. Sure, it also features Tony Stark, and 'Happy' Hogan, both to great effect (Stark's relationship with Peter is particularly poignant in parts, hysterical in others, not to mention an excellent way to introduce Spiderman into the MCU) but, again, it's set-up in such a way that anyone can enjoy this film without an encyclopedia-like knowledge of all the other Marvel output. This didn't feel like a 'tent-pole' film; it wasn't there just to set-up more cross-overs, an issue that plagues many of the Marvel films. Nor does it suffer from the twin plagues of too many characters and establishing too many plots. No, Homecoming is Homecoming, it's that simple. Refreshingly, anyone can enjoy this on it's own merits.

Final Word: 9/10
Let's hope “friendly neighborhood Spiderman” is less a disparaging remark and more of a statement of purpose for the wall-crawler's future films, because it's this smaller scale which is one of the films most vitalizing and promising strengths. Will something be lost in seeing Parker transform from a well-meaning but fledgling hero into a sure-footed mega-hero on par with the other Avengers, as it was in the dreadful Kick-Ass sequel? We will have to wait and see, but the future is looking bright. It was very brave for the studio to have the entire climax of the film take place without use of the iconic Spiderman suit, (for reasons I can't discuss just yet), but like Tony Stark chastises “If you're nothing without the suit, then you shouldn't have it”. And with those words, Marvel invest everything they have in the character of Peter Parker and not the cash-cow image of Spiderman, a conviction that pays off in spades. I've heard Homecoming described as "Harry Potter meets Avengers", and while that's not entirely inaccurate it also fails to capture the films level of success or significance: Homecoming didn't try and rework that old line "with great power comes great responsibility"; it lived it. Homecoming isn't just the title, it's the Marvel welcome the character deserves. A joy from start to finish. Kudos Marvel, one right out of the park.







Saturday, 1 July 2017

"YOU ARE SUCH A DISAPOINTMENT TO ME!"

David (Alien Covenant)



Happy times.

Just a few nagging questions / thoughts I have following Covenant. I think enough time has passed now that I can discuss this without ruining the film for anybody (see, ain't I thoughtful?)...

Yes, I did this exact same thing after Prometheus,

I know. In no particular order:


1. Is Ridley Scott Intentionally demystifying the entire franchise? By delving into the 'how and why' of the alien mythos, and effectively sucking the mystery out of the franchise by insinuating that the most feared extraterrestrial in film history is, in all likelihood, the work of a demented android with 'daddy issues', feels like someone's being a dick about things...

2. Taming the alien is, simply put, stupid, and steals much of their menace. They are no longer the most dangerous organism in the galaxy, just a pet to be tamed.

3. The Oram / Daniels re-connection has no weight because the conflict never grew beyond a few angry words.

4. David goes full-on 'Games of Thrones' in terms of villains who take a long time to meet their deserved fate at the expense of sympathetic characters. We can pretty much kiss goodbye to Daniels and Tennessee et al.

5. The implied rape of Shaw is harsh, bad enough she was fucking cut to bits. Missed it? David threatens Daniels with the line “I'll do to you what I did to her” before throwing her onto the table and forcibly kissing her. Worse over, Daniels probably still has this to come, and she knows it as she drifts into hyper-sleep with David watching over her. Cruel.

6. Am I really to believe you can drown out an emergency alarm with loud music in the shower? Er, NO.

7. Why, after being stalked by monsters, would anybody decide “oh, I need to wash because I'm dirty and sweaty” and then proceed to wander off into a dark and deserted castle all on their own?

8. Why are the Covenant crew transporting fetuses? What good does this actually do? They still need to be raised into adulthood like normal children, so why not conceive them the usual way? And how, exactly, are they meant to grow? Just, why? WHY???

9. When the alien is crushed by the crane, that acid should have dissolved the metal almost instantly (one single drop in Alien dissolved through 3 floors and a metal boot) and the subsequent spurt should have easily covered and killed Daniels.

10. During that same crane scene, the heat alone from those jets should have killed Daniels.

11. We're told the Walter android was adapted because David was dangerous. Yet, nobody on Earth should know that David went off the rails in Prometheus. This implies that Peter Weyland took David on that doomed trip knowing full well he was dangerous, which doesn't sound all that likely.

12. The crew of the Covenant comment on the Prometheus mission because Dr Shaw vanished along with it. Surely, if Prometheus was to be remembered for anything, it would be for the fact that Peter Weyland, one of the most influential businessmen of the last century, went missing aboard it, not some bloody random doctor. That, or for the fact that Weyland's daughter and the intended inheritor of his enterprise, also went missing on the Prometheus's journey.

13. The alien life cycle feels too fast, as it did in AVP and AVPR.

14. How did nobody not notice the sprawling great dead city on their arrival? It didn't feel like they had to walk all that far from the landing spot to reach it so you'd think it could be seen from the air...

15. Where is the rest of the planet's population? Even if this isn't the Engineer's home-world, you'd think they'd have spread out beyond just the one city... And if this wasn't the Engineer's home planet, how comes they never thought to investigate? Surely all these creatures have a way of staying in touch with each other or routinely drop by?

16. David, seemingly marooned on the Engineer's planet, plans on destroying mankind- but why? Surely he must have realised that the odds of him being discovered were incalculably small?

17. David is more than capable of flying an Engineer shuttle on his own (he did so while Shaw was asleep). Could he honestly not find another shuttle to fly elsewhere? Did the Engineers really live on the planet without other shuttles? And on that subject, David drops the toxin which attacks and kills the Engineers, and then, having made it across the galaxy safely, somehow loses control and crashes his ship into a mountain? What, did the large, immovable mountain suddenly leap out at him from behind a tree?

So, fair?  What do you guys think? Can you defend any of this, or do you have issues I've missed?

let me know...

Friday, 30 June 2017

RUSH; FULL-TILT REVIEW

“Twenty five drivers start every season in Formula One, and each year two of us die. What kind of person does a job like this? Not normal men, for sure.”
Niki Lauda

Not exactly 'The Tortoise and the Hare'...


Synopsis:
The “true life” story of one of Formula One's “greatest rivalries”. James Hunt, a charismatic English playboy racer who enjoys his hedonistic lifestyle of fast cars and lose women, finds his spate of easy wins come to a sudden halt with the arrival of Niki Lauda, a straight-laced and coolly calculating Austrian. Tempers flair off the track and tragedy looms on the horizon...

Script: 2/2
Despite the fact that there seems to have been very little rivalry off the track between Hunt and lauder in real life (photographs are widely available of the 2 chatting amicably between races), the story obviously takes a few liberties in pursuit of drama. That's not necessarily a failing so much as an observation. Rush instead presents a character study between two men who, ironically, would only later come to realise they had more in common than first appears, not least of all a near self-destructive and all-consuming passion to be the best.

Pace: 1/2
While I was aware on odd moments that I was sitting and waiting for the 'next thing' to happen (the first half is especially episodic), it's hardly a dull ride- and the races themselves are suitably covered without ever taking the lion's share of the screen time.

Acting: 2/2
Despite a range of familiar faces, this is really a two-man show. Chris Hemsworth dons his best English-toff impression and, despite a few wobbly accent moments, is suitably chiselled and roguish while never being too self engrossed that we can't find something in the character to warm to. Hemsworth gets by more on charisma than any real acting, but it serves the character just fine and doesn't hamper his performance. Daniel Brühl as Lauda is almost the antithesis of Hemsworth (as Lauda was of Hunt, fittingly); his was a character that would be easy to dislike, a cold-fish seemingly devoid of emotion, but due to the subtlety of Brühl's performance and subtle comic timing he manages to make the audience really route for his character. Their scenes together, though few and far between, really spark.

Aesthetic: 2/2
The film has a fairly loose grasp on time and place, but intentionally so. The fashions and staples of the mid-70's are present on screen but never in a way which draws attention; the film is at great pains to appear contemporary, most likely so it doesn't isolate or distract it's audience (the 70's is hardly a selling point). The races themselves are filmed in an exciting flourish of quick edits involving screeching tires and heat-hazed tarmac, even people without an interest in F1 will likely find their pulse quickening.

Intention: 1/2
I'm always dubious of anything “based on true events”, because, by and large, there's very little fact involved. But likewise I'm not a stickler for fact either, I'm aware films have to work to a certain dramatic format. It's easy to see what attracted director Ron Howard to the project; there was plenty enough in the Hunt / Lauda dynamic to make the situation worth mining for inspiration, and Lauda for his part (still alive) approved of the film.

Final Word: 8/10

Where the film struggles the most is in its closing; trying to make something dramatic of a non-event (the most dramatic moment happens at the close of Act 2), artistic license can only be taken so far. However, this is redeemed in part by it's melancholy denouement. All in all, Rush is a commendably character-driver spots movie, and a film which should hold the attention of anyone regardless of how excited they are about F1, or for that mater, how much or little they might know about the Hunt and Lauda rivalry and how it ended. 



As a point of interest, the casting of this film was incredibly accurate. I found this online, thought it was worth sharing. Naturally, there's a certain Hollywood glamorizing, but on the whole striking similarities...

 
Biggest change here is poor ol' Lauda.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

“LUKE... HELP ME TAKE THIS MASK OFF...”

Darth Vader (Return of the Jedi)

Was I the only one watching Rouge One thinking “what the Hell is going on with Vader's neck?”

The rim of it looked much wider and clunkier than I remembered it. Distractingly so. Anyway, I checked it out (yes, really) and I think I have a valid point. I was planning to write this back when Rouge One was still at cinemas, I've missed that window of relevance slightly. But when has not being current ever stopped me wasting my time?

Here it is, in all it's irrelevant glory, a guide to the many necks of Darth Vader; from Revenge of the Sith through to a New Hope. Hope you enjoy it... You're welcome.

Revenge of the Sith; quite a slim neck I feel, and a bit of 'bling' in the form of a chain. The cape is also outside the neck.



Rouge One; The neck is overhanging the body by quite a margin, and there's definitely no chain there. Also, red eyes.

A New Hope; The cape is now tucked under the neck, which is also closer to the body. The chain is also back.

Empire Strikes Back; The armor is shinier here than in New Hope, and the chain is missing... What am I doing with my life?

Return of the Jedi; Super shiny armor now, and the chain is back again... How am I married? I used to have friends.


There you have it! Rouge One Vader definitely has a thicker neck, and I require help! If you've read this to the end, so do you. It's not too late if you do something, right now! Go on! Talk to people, go outside, and scream "help me" at the sky...

Thursday, 1 June 2017

WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS; FULL-TILT REVIEW

(on the subject of feeding from virgins)
“I think of it like this. If you are going to eat a sandwich, you would just enjoy it more if you knew no one had fucked it.”
Vadislav

Just your average vampires... Sort of.


Synopsis:
A small group of Vampires living in Wellington New Zealand agree to be followed by a team of documentary film-makers. Instead of establishing themselves as the dominant terror of the night, they only illustrate how out-of-touch they are with the world around them. Things are further complicated when, to help them connect more successfully with modern life, one of the Vampires decides to add to their number by turning an outsider into one of their undead clan. Shame that the 'new-blood' happens to be arguably the most arrogant and dim witted man in all of Wellington...

Script: 1/2
A format where the documentary style feels like a natural aspect of the story and simply not shoe-horned in for budgetary constraints (as it usually is). For every 4 jokes that misfire there's a real gem, that's pretty good odds.

Pace: 1/2
Perhaps a direct result of it's budget and indie nature, but the film does feel (at best) meandering. It's almost as though the story isn't quite sure what ending it's heading towards.

Acting: 2/2
For what it is, a surreal comedy, all stars hit their stride. Jemaine Clement steals the show as the barbaric and over-sexed Vladislav, while Taika Waititi is endearing as the foppish Viago- also the main narrator of the documentary. Jonny Brugh is also entertainingly embittered as an ex Nazi experiment turned punk.

Aesthetic: 1/2
It's a cheap movie but the budget is well-used and thankfully required little else other than for it's stars to show up in costume and bicker.

Intention: 2/2
A little too mellow to be true slapstick, and a little to daft to be anything approaching genuine horror, What We Do In The Shadows is far from a masterpiece but endearing in it's eclectic sense of humor and boasts nerd-appeal aplenty with it's innocent flaws and quotable dialogue.

Final Word: 7/10
Bought to you by the minds behind Flight of the Conchords, it's a bizarre sit-com in the tried-and-tested 'outsiders' / 'odd couple' mold. Think something like The Big Bang Theory meets Dracula Dead and Loving It and you're on the right lines. Sort of...

Saturday, 20 May 2017

ALIEN COVENANT: Full-Tilt Review.

"One wrong note eventually ruins the entire symphony."
Walther


Probably not a good sign...



Synopsis:

The Covenant is an interstellar shuttle on a mission to colonise a far-off planet. However, after a freak accident causes the Covenant structural damage and fatalities, the remaining crew are reluctant to re-enter hyper-sleep for the remaining 7 years of their voyage. However, their prayers are seemingly answered after they intercept a transmission of apparent human origin from a nearby planet. Closer inspection reveals an almost Earth-like ecosystem easily capable of supporting human life, but is this new utopia all as it first appears, or is something sinister lurking in the shadows?




Script: 1/2

Moments of inventiveness never quite compensate for the loose-ends and flaws in logic.


Pace: 1/2

The characters are never given time to properly develop, while the ending feels tacked-on.

 
Acting: 2/2

Some power-house performances and great supporting work.

 
Aesthetic: 1/2

Beautifully shot and much closer to Alien in style, undermined by some atrocious CGI.

 
Intention: 1/2

It's certainly distanced itself from Promethius, but also feels like a re-hash of better films.


Final Word: 6/10


Before we begin, here's a little context. The first Alien film was essentially a 'slasher' in space, and if you can forgive the paradox, a state-of-the-art B-movie, a 'creature-feature'. Rather than a world draped in the usual kitsch of the era's popular science fiction (Star Wars and Doctor Who being among Alien's contemporaries), novice director Ridley Scott instead presented a believable world populated with believable technology and believable characters ala 2001, but unlike 2001 Scott's films coup-de-gras was the reveal of a monster so terrifying, so nightmarish, so other, that it would leave an impression on audiences spanning decades... This was over 40 years ago, so it would seem unfair to expect the same sense of awe when audiences are much more familiar with the titular beast, but what the franchise lacks in shock-value you'd expect an accomplished director (one with over 40 years experience) to be able to compensate for in flair and ability. That's exactly what audiences thought as they flocked to see Prometheus in their droves. We all know how that turned out; an over-ambitious, hackneyed and unrealistic disaster which didn't deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Alien.

As the scores on the door reveal, Covenant is a superior film to Prometheus, although that's damning with faint praise. Covenant is still far from a perfect film, although it's issues are somewhat harder to define.

If Alien was Scott's 'slasher' story, then Covenant represents his take on the 'mad scientist' trope. And therein lies some of the problem. Scott is less interested in telling a story about aliens than he is in waxing lyrical about the themes of creation, and to do this he uses the character of David as the lynch-pin of the film: it is David, not the alien, that takes serves as the main protagonist. While the other alien films may have flirted with other forms of villainy, the better films have always positioned the overriding threat as the beast itself. Not the case here. David is ruthless, manipulative and physically imposing, and it's clear that Scott is telling a David-driven (perhaps David Covenant would have been a better title?). His fascination with the character may even explain his recent return to the Bladrunner franchise, which would probably be a more natural fit for the themes he's clearly determined to explore; after all, when it boils down to it, both this and Bladerunner are about artificial slaves rebelling against their human creators. The Bladerunner references don't end there, either; consider the nail worn by Covenant's heroine Daniels (to remember her late husband)- it's a lot like the one that embeds into Roy's hand during the climax of Bladerunner, not forgetting David's line “that's the spirit” being the exact same line Roy utters to Deckard after the former tries in vein to fend him off. But for a puritan like myself, the alien franchise, once being the cornerstone of inventiveness, feels like the wrong place to reference other films. On top of that, tipping the hat to your own film feels about as self indulgent as it can get... All that said, the idea of a David-heavy story isn't the worst idea in the world; he's a very interesting foil and one of the only good things to come out of Prometheus, but to this extent it undermines the actual danger posed by the aliens themselves, leaving the classic alien creature (when it does appear) feeling like it's reduced to a cameo in its own film...

Alien Covenant isn't without it's merits. The film, as you'd expect from Ridley Scott, looks beautiful, and the opening credits call to mind, in no way accidentally, Richard Greenberg's iconic work on the first Alien. And, for what I believe to be the very first time in the Alien franchise, we hear the soundtrack from previous installments- Covenant's score paying service to both Alien and Prometheus. The technology in Covenant looks austere and functional, a definite step towards Alien in terms of design, and similarly a step away from Prometheus' body-hugging space suits and slick Apple aesthetic. Scott has also taken the time to rework the chestburster creature, making the most of (on the whole) better special effects. Now, rather than the worm-on-a-stick first seen in Alien, this little monster is now quite the "tough little son-of-a-bitch". However, it needs to be said, some of the CGI sequences in Covenant look cheap; some of the (what should have been impressive) shots of the Covenant drifting through space had the feel of a Sy-Fy Channel special, as did the mysterious 'electrical pulse' that damages the ship in Act 1, and my jaw literally dropped at the incredibly tacky alien-point-of-view sequence. The airborne virus that wipes out the Engineers (it's not a spoiler if it's in the trailer), swirling around like a swarm of killer raisins, also failed to convince. But, all these problems pale into insignificance compared to the effects used to realise the films menagerie of rabid monsters. I remember being impressed with the the 2 promotional shots leading up to the films release; that of the more traditional alien atop the ship (the “money shot” from the trailer) and that of the newer creature (the so-called Neomorph) perched over the body of a dead woman (see above). They looked like they had weight and tactile presence, which is a rare thing in CGI. Sadly, not so for the majority of other scenes, comparing unfavorably to some of the more heavy-handed CGI from Alien Resurrection. And finally, while we're on the subject, I'm not sure what the idea was with all the odd alien posturing? It's like the aliens have bought into some faddy extraterrestrial yoga class. And when they're not in 'child's pose' or 'downward dog' they're standing ram-rod upright like scarecrows. The whole thing is pretty bizarre...

Back onto better things; the crew are all played excellently, gone are the stock-characters of Prometheus; the Covenant's crew all talk and behave like actual people, they don't talk purely in exposition or high-minded theoretical rhetoric. Katherine Waterson makes for a plucky lead playing Daniels, while Billy Crudup plays Oram, the ships new captain, and turns what could have easily been a simple 'idiot in charge' role into someone who isn't entirely unlikable. Danny McBride, better known for comedy, plays the rowdy Tennessee, and despite little screen-time will probably become a firm favorite in the minds of the audience (I expect to see him in more serious roles as a result of this turn). Demian Bichir, Carmen Ejogo et-al all convince. However, it's Michael Fassbender's show, and he steals every single scene he's in, which, between his 2 roles, is most of them. Here he returns as the sinister David, as well playing Walther, the next model up from David. Both are fascinating characters, and Fassbender has mastered a style of efficiency-in-movement and mannerism that perfectly encapsulates the characters- almost human, but not quite. However, it seems for every one thing Covenant gets right it makes a mistake elsewhere. Yes, the crew this time round feel much more real, but despite what feels like a long lead-in to the actual running-around-screaming section of the film, we find out very little about these characters- putting us (unforgivably) back into “I don't care what happens to these people” territory. That's not the case all over as some characters do manage to shine despite a lack of attention, but for the most part we accept these people are just fodder. This is lessened to some extent if you got round to watching the Last Supper promotional clip, which defines some of the characters and their relationship to each other, but this didn't make the cut of the final film. I'd not watched that clip for a while so I struggled to remember much about it, to the extent that when two of the main characters are killed in the shower I hadn't registered they were actually a couple before hand. The same can be said about the other pairings- especially the much-hyped gay couple.. You only begin to relaise who-loves-who only after the deaths start piling up and the newly widowed begin to sob. Interesting dynamics that have previously been hinted at, such as Daniels' relationships with Oram and Walther, never come to a satisfying fruition. But, and this is an important distinction to make, this is not the fault of the cast! This is the writer and the director (Ridley Scott always gets the final word)! This is not acceptable film making, and if you think that sounds harsh, this past year Ridley Scott, a director with (let's remember has 40 years experience), made $75 million. I don't know about you, but with that in mind I expect a fucking good movie! The dialogue, while well delivered, is also a little flat- you won't find any memorable lines on par with “I admire its purity” or “get away from her you bitch”. All I could remember was the line “sugar tits” and (for all the wrong reasons) “I'll do the fingering”. Yes, that really is a line...

But like I said, Covenant isn't without merits. The film is arguably at it's best when the crew are marooned on the planet. For a franchise previously about navigating claustrophobic metal environments, it was good to see some nature- and it's not like big empty forests aren't menacing in their own special way, especially come nightfall. This tonal shift called to mind moments of Predator and Jurassic Park, especially in one scene where the Neomorphs are leaping velociraptor-style at the crew from out of the grass. Shame then that the film abandons this novel twist in favour of a climax taking place aboard the Covenant itself, but hey-ho. While the film does at least try something new with the old formula (setting the biggest part of the film on the ground, aliens bursting from different parts of the body, the Neomorphs, etc), this is all hindered by poor handling. Scott now seems to think that a shaky camera is the same thing as immersion, and the shots are either too dark to pass as 'exciting action' or too energized to qualify as 'horror', yet another thing the film has in common with Alien Resurrection. The set-piece atop a moving space ship (again, seen in the trailer) felt like the sort of realism-defying thrills you'd expect to see in one of the later Die Hard films. In fact, the entire final climax of the film came off as weak: not only was the inclusion of the alien-on-the-ship scenario totally unnecessary (the film would have ultimately ended the same way regardless) but it felt like the most hollow half-arsed form of lip service. It felt like a certain thin-skinned director declaring “fine, you want more of the same? Here, have it! More of the fucking same!”. I mean, it felt like the director was intentionally dicking me about, even down to how the alien is finally dispatched (yep, you guessed it, flushed into space- and I can't even consider that a spoiler having seen it 3 times now). Which brings us to the ending... I won't give too much away, but while previous Alien films have always ended on a hopeful note (even Alien 3, while bleak, ended with Ripley preventing 'the company' from possessing the new-born queen), Covenant is out-and-out despairing. I have no issue with bleak endings, and in much of horror it seems rightly fitting, but in an Alien film I wasn't sold. It was just morbid... And why, exactly, is the Covenant traveling through space with hundreds of human embryos? How exactly does that help anybody colonise a world?

There are also a number of little plot holes and the like that I'll refrain from going into right now because I don't want to spoil anything (another post down the line might be in order)- but if you're reading this thinking “too late for that”, you clearly didn't watch the trailer, friend. If you have, the bad news is you've pretty much seen the entire film already (thanks for that, modern marketers!).

Much has been made of, what the Americans call, a “hard R rating” (our equivalent of a 15/18 rated film), with everyone saying how gory the film is. I went into Covenant a little perturbed by this. Whatever the first 4 Alien films may or may not be, they're far from full-on gory. Part of what made them work was that you'd always felt like you'd seen more than you ever had; death was, for the most part, implied. Sure, they all have a gory birthing scene, but after that, almost nothing. In Alien most of the character's deaths are cut-away- one of the most chilling moments is in hearing (and not seeing) Lambert scream over the tannoy system- as a viewer your imagination was probably far worse than anything the film could show you. In Aliens, again, characters are mostly killed off-screen, only Bishop is eviscerated in full view but he hardly counts because he's an android. Alien 3, a little bloodier, sure, but death is always edited fast or kept at a distance. However, I can safely say that initial reports of Covenants gore are mostly exaggerated. What it does do, however, is dispatch it's characters with unflinching cruelty. A case and point; one female character accidentally kills herself by causing a mass explosion, and the stranded crew witness her fire engulfed form staggering from the debris before finally collapsing. A touch excessive (as well as unrealistic, I'd have expected her to be blown to pieces), it felt once again like a certain director taking issue with criticism; “fine, if Prometheus wasn't vicious enough for you, watch this- I'm going to kill-off people's loved ones right in front of their eyes- is that edgy enough for you?” And speaking of unflinching cruelty, I always quite liked Elizabeth Shaw, one of the few developed characters of Prometheus. Without wanting to give too much away, Scott has evoked a sense of Alien 3 in terms of the brutal elimination of pre-established characters before they even reach the starting line. It felt a very cynical and very cruel send-off, almost as if a certain thin-skinned director was saying to his audience “fine, you didn't like my last film, I'll wipe the slate clean and the blood is on your hands!”


Final, Final Word

Alien Covenant is hit-and-miss, a step forward in some ways and a step back in others. Tonally, the film is an unsatisfying patchwork, and the end result is simply not scary. Bloody, sure, and brutal, but considering Ridley Scott's recently been quoted as saying of Alien Covenant “I wanted to scare the shit out of people”, then he can chalk this up as a fail. Covenant may have provided him a chance to salvage some of his work from Prometheus, but it's at a cost. In a word, “fatigue”; I'm not sure I want to sit through another alien film, and for the hard-core fan that I am that's not an easy thing to live with. I say that as a man who firmly believes there are still amazing stories left to be told involving the aliens, I just know now that I'm never going to live to see them. In many ways a full-on reboot would have been a better move, at least it would have left the original films with whatever dignity they still had. Alien Covenant is a trashy B-movie in the mold of Relic and Anaconda, with delusions of A-movie importance- too nasty and too self-aggrandising to allow for (in the abstinence of a better film) any of the cheap fun that could otherwise have been had by watching people being eaten by space monsters...
Scott is clearly a gifted visionary, but he's developed over the years into a director far more interested in themes and subtext than he is in character or coherent story, and that's always going to sit jarringly with everything Alien represents. Scott doesn't seem to understand this, he's sadly only as good as the script he's given, and this isn't the best script.





Possible spoiler; You have to ask yourself, at a point, why you need to cast Fassbender twice in the same film? Throughout the franchise the different androids ("I prefer the term artificial person") have been played by different actors, which isn't entirely unrealistic. 2 Fassbenders presents you with an expensive effects challenge you needn't have. This might lead you consider that having 2 Fassbenders running around might become a later plot device, and anyone familiar with 'Chekhov's Gun' will surely begin to suspect something when David starts cutting his hair to look like Walther. But I told myself "Ridley Scott's got over 40 years of experience, surely he isn't planning on that old 'swapping twins' cliche." I tried not to worry. And then, as the film reached its climax, Walther and David go head-to-head, and then there's a pause- will Walther deliver the fatal blow, or will David reach for the knife. Guess what? We CUT AWAY! Why bother Ridley? Why bother? By not showing what's happened you've already told us. If Walther had won you'd have shown it, by cutting away and leaving us in doubt you've clearly set up David to take Walther's place- otherwise there's no point. Not only is it one of the oldest tricks in the book, Ridley's pulled it off with all the grace and sophistication of a Nickelodeon cartoon! Wow, a new low in direction even for you Ridley Scott, you fucking tool. I actually felt genuinely insulted, did he think I wouldn't know what was going on? So then I sat through the last part of the film (which was unnecessary anyway, it was the film Alien crammed into 5 minutes) waiting to see if anybody would find out about David's disguise. Then I thought "oh, that nail Daniels stabbed David with under the chin when they had that fight must have left a wound, she'll probably notice that, that's clever at least" (because, like the 'switch', the nail had been set up with all the subtly of a Jim Davidson gag, and we had yet to see the pay-off). But guess what? Didn't happen... Ridley Scott, you sir are a hack.