Kevin: Tough Guy Digest was on hiatus last week, as it was difficult to focus on escapist movies while so many of our friends and family were affected by Hurricane Harvey in nearby Houston (if you’d like to contribute to the recovery effort, here is a helpful breakdown of where you could donate). But the show must go on, as some character whose name I can’t remember once said in “Shakespeare in Love,” so since I’d love to return to a time when my hometown wasn’t underwater, I figured I’d do a Rewind back to the bygone days of last May and one of the biggest disappointments in a summer filled with them: “Alien: Covenant”:
For previous Rewinds I discovered that “Rogue One” does not hold up when shrunk down to the small screen, while time has actually been kind to Antoine Fuqua’s “King Arthur” since it originally bombed in 2004. Back when it was released in May, Tough Guy Digest found “Alien: Covenant” just as infuriating and nonsensical as its predecessor “Prometheus,” but if nothing else Ridley Scott certainly has a distinctive vision for these films, so I figured maybe a second viewing would give me some appreciation for what he was going for. Nope, turns out the movie still stinks, and in fact all a re-watch did was remind me of things I hated the first time around that I forgot to include in our original review, such as:
– James Franco. Yes I know we already covered Franco’s pointless cameo early in the film as the Covenant’s doomed captain, but it really does epitomize every bad decision made with this film. There was no reason to cast someone like Franco for a role in which he has only a few lines in some home video his grieving spouse watches, while he later shows up at the end in a group photo with a blanket weirdly draped around him like he’s recovering from a hangover. Not only is his presence incredibly distracting, but the idea of James Franco as a legendarily brilliant space captain is laughably absurd, even as everyone in this film talks about him with more awed reverence than the characters in “Master and Commander” discussed Lord Admiral Nelson.
– Regarding the above photo, again this is easily the least memorable or likable crew in “Alien” franchise history. At least most of the people in “Alien: Resurrection” were distinctively ugly; the most distinctive thing about this group is how quickly they fall to pieces at the slightest setback. It had been just a little over three months since I first saw this film and I still barely remembered who most of these folks were, how they died, and who they were paired up with, and even after seeing the film again I can still barely recall most of them. Oh yeah, and regarding the whole “pairing up” thing, I can’t believe I didn’t note one of “Alien: Covenant’s” biggest structural flaws the first time around, which is:
– This is one of the worst ways possible to organize the team leading your important colonization mission. As we discover early on, the entire crew of the Covenant is made up of couples who will be joining the 2,000 colonists they are transporting to live on a new planet. In retrospect this sounds more like the set-up of a Bravo reality show set in space, especially as it seems to guarantee that important decisions will be guided by emotion rather than logic. For instance, even though he is acting captain and in charge of the safety of the colonists, at one point Danny McBride’s character risks the lives of everyone on board because he is worried about his wife down on the planet. Also note that any time someone mentions that their duty is to the colonists they are immediately shot down. Considering it’s filled with bickering crew members, constantly malfunctioning equipment, and is at various times captained by the likes of James Franco and Danny McBride, the Covenant must be the space version of Spirit Airlines.
– Also as my friend (and previous “Lethal Weapon” contributor) Rich pointed out, how did they manage to find seven couples who were all equally skilled at running a giant spaceship? Think about how many couples you know in real life: are most of them both equally good doctors/cops/veterinarians/insurance adjusters? In reality it’s usually the case that one person is a hedge fund manager and the other sells homemade scented candles online. Maybe that’s why the crew of the Covenant is so incompetent, the Weyland Corp. just decided that even if the spouse of an engineer has no expertise to speak of, hey they must have picked up a few things over the dinner table, so anyway good luck in space you guys!
– As the new captain of the Covenant, Billy Crudup is a man of faith, which we only know because he and everyone else says he’s a man of faith like 20 times. This character trait though has zero impact on anything that follows, unless “having faith” means you are so gullible as to get right up close to a hatching alien facehugger just because some obviously evil android told you to. Crudup also constantly worries that he will not be able to live up to the fine example set by the previous captain, which is hilarious because once again we are talking about JAMES FRANCO here!
– Crudup does say he’s been held back from being a captain in the past because of concerns that, as a man of faith, he will make extremist and irrational decisions, although that would actually put him right at home among the bickering basket cases of the Covenant. Then his first decision is that rather than immediately hold a wake for their deceased captain, they should instead do tests to determine the cause of their previous malfunction. Seems entirely reasonable and logical to me, which is why they immediately blow him off to drink whiskey and toast the awesomeness of James Franco, World’s Greatest Captain and Greatest Human Being Actually in the Universe. Maybe the reasons they loved Franco wasn’t because he was a great captain, he just let this floating Animal House get away with anything they wanted.
– Oh yeah, after seeing this obvious insubordination, Crudup’s wife tells him he needs to tread lightly with his new crew because they are going to have to live together as neighbors on their new planet. Once again no conflicts of interest there, what a great way to organize your expedition Weyland Corp.!
– During the initial alien attack, two different characters are about to take the creature out and BOTH slip on blood on the floor like they were Buster Keaton slipping on a banana peel. Somehow Ridley Scott thought this was suspenseful rather than comical.
– Danny McBride obviously has no future in film as anyone other than Danny McBride. Not only does he look like a smelly hobo, but man does he not show whatever untapped dramatic potential Ridley Scott apparently thought he had. Meanwhile Katherine Waterston seemed to be set up as sort of a Sigourney Weaver stand-in, but she’s mainly just a wet blanket who, like everyone else, just kind of stands to the side most of the movie in favor of the Michael Fassbender Double Trouble Show. It doesn’t help that they gave her a haircut that makes her look like a 12-year-old boy, or that she makes faces like this on a regular basis:
– From the moment he shows up, Michael Fassbender’s android David is a sinister poetry-spouting weirdo who does everything he can to signal his evilness outside of trying to sell them a timeshare, and yet everyone just goes along with whatever he says no questions asked. Also, apparently the Weyland Corp. decided to differentiate their androids by giving them their own accents and haircuts, but it would probably be easier to tell them apart if they didn’t all look like Michael Fassbender.
Speaking of Fassbender, this brings me to my biggest beef with “Alien: Covenant,” set up right in the opening sequence when David meets his “creator,” Mr. Weyland (Guy Pearce). Now we all complain about how unnecessary prequels can ruin things we loved about the originals by trying to explain things that didn’t need explaining: none of us needed to know what Darth Vader was like as kid, what the Norwegians were doing before Kurt Russell showed up in “The Thing,” or that Peter Pan and Captain Hook were buddies at one time.
But in trying to explain why David was such a mayhem-causing dick in “Prometheus,” “Alien: Covenant” probably takes the cake in this regard: as we discover by the end, David is the one who created what we know as the “xenomorphs” in order to destroy the human race. And why would he do this? Because apparently Guy Pearce didn’t say please when he told David to bring him tea in the beginning! So apparently none of what we love about the “Alien” franchise (the chest-bursting scene, Sigourney Weaver kicking ass, “Game over man!,” uh … robot Winona Ryder) would have existed if Guy Pearce had been a little less rude in his tea order.
You’ve made some great films in the past Sir Ridley and may have some great ones in store in the future, but please make sure another “Alien” film isn’t one of them. Oh yeah, almost forgot that the movie ends with David regurgitating alien embryos for incubation to obviously infect the colonists, and I know Scott intended it to be a dark and sinister note to end on, but all I could think about was this (hey second “Airplane” callback!):
Post Script: While we certainly gave Noomi Rapace grief for her performance in “Prometheus,” I will give her props for pulling off multiple roles in another sci-fi film, “What Happened to Monday,” currently available on Netflix:
The film, about seven identical sisters forced to grow up in hiding in a future in which a one-child-only policy is enforced with an iron fist, at first appears like it will be another dystopian bummer, but as it goes along it turns into a surprisingly rousing and clever action flick, and Rapace does a great job making each of the sisters distinctive. Hey maybe Danny McBride will show similar range someday as well? Or more likely play another obnoxious redneck slob.
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