Review: In Space, No One Can Hear You Laugh at “Alien: Covenant”

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I’ve already forgotten who most of these people were (oh but hey James Franco!).

Kevin: Nearly five years after “Prometheus” intrigued, confused, annoyed, and in some cases enraged audiences, Ridley Scott is back with a follow-up that appears to be just as polarizing as its predecessor. Although “Alien: Covenant” has a respectable 72 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it barely beat the third weekend of “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” at the box office and received mediocre grades from audiences, as reported by surveying firm CinemaScore. We at Tough Guy Digest had a lot of issues with “Prometheus” but were cautiously optimistic about “Alien: Covenant,” so after checking it out last weekend I will attempt to answer the questions I had before the film started, as well as the ones that came up as it unspooled:

(The following post contains some spoilers)

First off, if nothing else “Alien: Covenant” has to be better than “Prometheus,” right? Right?

Amazingly, no. For all its faults, “Prometheus” was at least visually stunning on the big screen, had some interesting characters in Charlize Theron and Idris Elba, and kept you just intrigued enough to find out where the hell it was leading before it all fell apart by the end. In contrast this has to be one of the drabbest and cheapest-looking movies Ridley Scott has ever directed, and even though there are more “Alien”-style attacks in this one it’s hard to give a shit because this is the most bland and unmemorable crew in the series (at least most of the guys in “Alien: Resurrection” were distinctively ugly). Everyone is coupled up (including a gay couple it’s implied), but I often had no idea who was supposed to be with who, and near the end they show a picture of the almost entirely deceased crew and I already had trouble remembering most of them.

Is this more of a “Prometheus” sequel or “Alien” prequel?

Despite our hopes that Scott would largely ignore the events of the last movie and give us the “Alien” origin story we wanted (or at least wanted more than what we got), this is “Prometheus 2” all the way baby. The plot explicitly ties into the last one, and by the end Michael Fassbender’s android David is positioned at the key figure behind the entire “Alien” mythology. And just like “Prometheus,” any time the movie threatens to build some narrative momentum and suspense, it stops dead in its tracks so David can pontificate about the nature of man and creation and that kind of shit.

(You could even call this possibly a stealth “Blade Runner” prequel since David and Rutger Hauer’s android character in that share a lot of the same goals and philosophy.)

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Do we at least get some answers this time or are we left hanging again?

They do answer what happened to Shaw (Noomi Rapace has a three-second cameo as a corpse and instantly gives a better performance than in “Prometheus”). And you know how the giant bald albino Creators/Engineers were so important that we had to spend an entire supposed “Alien” movie with them? Well in this they are dealt with in a two-minute flashback and then never seen or mentioned again. And yes, in true Ridley Scott fashion this ends with a cliffhanger that is left to be resolved in the sequel that will almost certainly not happen.

“Prometheus” had some of the dumbest scientists ever put to celluloid. Are the ones in this smarter at least?

Well they are not scientists, but yes they are slightly smarter in that they actually bring weapons with them on their expedition, but they again also refuse to wear helmets, with disastrous results. After losing a few members to a “neomorph,” a couple more die after inexplicably wandering off alone with no backup or concern about the creature that is still out there. Katherine Waterston’s character Daniels does make an impassioned case for why they should not divert their mission to the uninhabitable planet based on a weak and suspicious distress call, and she of course is immediately ignored.

What is James Franco doing in this movie?

Good question, I still don’t know. He’s the captain of the ship and he’s shown a couple of times in his pod before it kills him in a fire after a malfunction. We only ever see him after that in a couple of photos and a video of him rock climbing that Daniels, who was apparently going to live with him in a cabin by the lake on their new planet, cries over. It’s supposed to be a poignant moment, and maybe it would be if it was any other actor in this throwaway role besides James Franco in a pornstache. Apparently Scott never anticipated how much this would take the audience out of the movie, since all we can think is, “uh, why is James Franco in this?”

Did he also not notice that his crew of the Covenant includes James Franco and Danny McBride? Does Seth Rogen show up as a weed-smoking medic?

No, but if you thought Scott was casting McBride because he saw some great potential in him as a dramatic actor, think again. McBride is just his usual redneck hung-over-looking self, but this time in an “Alien” movie. I think he’s supposed to provide comic relief, but since the comedy in this movie is just as bad as everything else it’s hard to tell. He does have a scene later where he’s supposed to grieve the death of his wife, and his character looks less distraught than if he discovered Tony Stewart just retired from NASCAR.

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Per Anthony’s pet peeve, is the Covenant yet another giant ship transporting a skeleton crew?

Of course! According to the stats, the ship that’s carrying 2,000 colonists is being run by 15 people. Also one robot named Walter, played again by Michael Fassbender. Is there some rule of the universe that you can only have one robot per crew? Seems like you might want at least three for when one of them inevitably turns evil.

You laughed out loud in “Prometheus” when Charlize Theron was squished by the giant crashing ship while Shaw saved herself by rolling all of four feet to the left. Is there anything nearly as unintentionally funny here?

Oh my god yes! I will say that several members of the audience did some awkward giggling during a scene with double the Fassbender, as David teaches Walter how to play a flute, which apparently involves a lot of “fingering” (later David uses the flute to play the theme from “Prometheus,” which is either meta or stupid). But I laughed my ass off near the end of the film, when almost the entire crew has been killed and a xenomorph is on the loose, and we cut to the last couple on this ship engaging in a Cinemax-style sex scene in the shower while listening to some smooth contemporary R&B song. Then they are immediately killed. It’s like something you would see in a “Friday the 13th” film, and it’s seriously so at odds with the rest of this pretentious and humorless film that it’s almost brilliant.

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How does John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” as heard in the trailers factor into this?

McBride notices it being hummed over a weak distress signal and instantly recognizes it as John Denver’s hit from like 150 years earlier. Shit, too bad he’s not on that “Beat Shazam” show with Jamie Foxx.  As we learn more though it still makes absolutely no sense for why that was part of the distress call, but hey I like that according to this and “Prometheus,” musicians like Denver and Stephen Stills will have a huge renaissance in the 22nd century.

Is there any reason to try and continue the “Alien” franchise or should we just quit while we’re behind?

Like “The Terminator,” this is another franchise that peaked with James Cameron, and the more they keep going back the more they ruin what was special about the originals. And I get that Scott is close to 80 and thus has a lot of thoughts about death and spirituality and creation, but he should save them for his diary and not shoehorn them into a simple monster movie.

Did the trailer for Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” before the film contain more excitement and suspense in 2 minutes than all of “Alien: Covenant”?

Yes, and it’s not even close.

Other thoughts on “Alien: Covenant”:

Mike: I hated “Prometheus” with such a passion that I mentally blocked out that “Covenant” was even a thing. If you talk to anyone who has seen most of the “Alien” movies the answer comes back again and again that “Aliens” is the best. Why was it the best? Because it was about a group of space Marines that only wanted two things: 1) To get the fuck out of there, and 2) To kill everything in sight. Why can’t we go back to that if we have to keep making these?

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We miss ya’ Bill.

CJ: It seems like there was a lot of back and forth about what the name for this was going to be (“Alien: Paradise,” etc). Anthony told me a better title for it, which was “Michael Fassbender and some other stuff.”

How dumb does Ridley think his audience has become? Because there’s a “twist” towards the end that if you don’t see coming 30 minutes before it happens then you’re exactly as dumb as he thought. Based on the audience at the screening I attended, I now qualify as a doctor.

Were the aliens at least good? Nope. I never thought I’d say that, but they suck. They don’t really stalk or hunt, they are almost like cheesy horror movie killers. At one point we get to see things through their eyes (I think they did that in part 3 or 4 as well?) and all I could think was, “Wow, these aliens are shockingly capable killers considering how much astigmatism they have.”

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Kevin: Yeah I’ve never watched a movie where they show the POV of an alien or a robot where I’ve been like, “That’s way better than how we humans see.” I don’t even know why they bothered with that here since they only do it for like two seconds and can’t think of anything other than making it look like the alien sees through cheesecloth.

And yes does a twist count as a twist if you can see it coming all the way from Mars? Here’s a tip everyone: If a dumb movie isn’t showing you something, that means its hiding something, because it thinks you are as dumb as the filmmakers. And man I really am starting to think Ridley Scott may be very dumb.

CJ: I also feel like when you choose to have James Franco lead your space exploration/colonization, you get what you deserve.

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3 thoughts on “Review: In Space, No One Can Hear You Laugh at “Alien: Covenant”

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