'Alien: Covenant' review: Ridley Scott goes back to the terrifying basics
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‘Alien: Covenant’ review: Ridley Scott goes back to the terrifying basics

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Alien: Covenant seems to mark a bit of a return to form for Ridley Scott who captures the same claustrophobic, foreboding atmosphere as his original 1979 sci-fi masterpiece in the latest installment in his beloved Alien franchise. With a fresh new story and an assortment of new characters, Alien: Covenant does an impressive job of staying true to the mythology created by its predecessor Prometheus while emphasizing its strong ties to what Scott originally set out to create in once nicely packaged sci-fi horror fest.

It’s been ten years since the events of Prometheus and the spaceship Covenant is bound for a remote planet on the far side of the sun named Origae-6, which the couples aboard plan to populate once they reach it in seven years. With them is one non-human, a pale-faced synthetic named Walter (Michael Fassbender), who keeps a close eye on the ship as the colonists remain deep within cryosleep until they reach their destination. Things seem to be going fine until a stellar ignition rips through the ship, and Walter is forced to prematurely wake the crew to save their lives, but the untimely death of the ship’s captain (James Franco) leaves his wife, Daniels (Katherine Waterson), grieving the loss of her husband as second-in-command Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup) takes charge.

As Daniels begins to connect with Walter and the beginning of a weirdly complex relationship begins to take a form, Tennesse (Danny McBride) is shocked when he hears a cryptic message, a potential distress call, while he is outside repairing the energy sails. Just when the audience begins to feel a certain sense of uncertainty, Oram opts to chart a new course that will take the ship on an unknown path toward the beacon that is only a few weeks away as opposed to the years that Origae-6 will take to reach. This, my friends, is when shit begins to go completely haywire.

Soon enough, the Covenant reaches the planet and orbits closely above as a landing party of scientists and security personnel disperse into the grasslands of the newly discovered earth-like planet where the message originated. However, as one of the members of the crew begins to grow ill after a black spore released from one of the alien eggs enters his ear undetected, hell quickly breaks loose as the terrifying birth of the Neomorph, the latest alien incarnation in Scott’s franchise, unleashes a slew of blood, death, and chaos among those trapped on the planet.

Pulse-pounding action and terror are only a small piece of what makes Alien: Covenant the truly mesmerizing experience that it is. While watching various creatures protrude from the backs and mouths of humans is fun to watch and all, it’s even more interesting to watch how the crew of the Covenant come together to form bonds that will ultimately determine their fates by the time the action-packed third act arrives, which is ultra-reminiscent of James Cameron’s Aliens. Particularly, Walter, Daniels, and Tennesse seem to have the most connection, while it’s evident that the rest of the cast is just sort of there to do their own thing to help better serve the masterfully crafted story.

Waterson, who certainly took a couple of sure cues from Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley, finds the ability to move past the tragic events of the film’s opening scene and becomes a leader on the ground while the deeply-religious Oram struggles to become the true hero a captain is meant to be. Alien: Covenant‘s sheer terror and boldness help to create a certain sense of dread throughout our adventures, while we begin to become more and more familiar with Fassbender’s David, the synthetic we were first introduced to in Prometheus. We’re never quite sure of David’s true intentions until the middle of the second act, but the uneasiness of the character is great enough to allow the viewer to assume that, whatever he’s up to, isn’t anything necessarily for the good of the situation at hand.

Led by Waterson’s kick-ass lead and impressive performances all around, especially from Fassbender and McBride, Alien: Covenant is sure to satisfy the needs of any true Alien fan while further building upon the mythology Scott introduced in his controversial Prometheus. Alien: Covenant treats fans to a uniquely terrifying experience that feels new and fresh, even when the classic Xenomorph makes a grand return in a fun, action-infused epic finale that will leave you wanting more.

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‘Aladdin’ review: Guy Ritchie’s live-action remake of the Disney classic isn’t exactly a whole new world

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Aladdin
DISNEY

At this point, we’ve seen enough live-action reimaginings of Disney’s animated canon to know they don’t always concern themselves with breaking the mold. Their classics are classics for a reason – so if it ain’t broke, right? It should come as no surprise then that their adaptation of 1992’s Aladdin, for the most part, is very content to color inside the lines. Most of the proceedings will feel very familiar to fans of the original, so if you’re looking for a totally different take on it, you’re going to have to temper expectations. What we do get is a visually impressive, energetic adventure that could have spent a little more time on what new it does bring to the table.

Disney had a huge challenge out of the gate in conceiving this movie – how the heck do you recast the Genie, a role so iconically played by the late Robin Williams? Will Smith’s turn as the Genie, for all of its blue-tinged pre-release controversy, is largely a success. Crucially, Smith avoids the one thing that would have derailed the performance: trying to recreate the inimitable Robin Williams’ iteration of the character. Williams’ Genie was an amplification of the actor’s signature chaotic personality and Will Smith wisely steers far clear of trying to match that. This Genie relies on Smith’s charm, bravado, and the clear amount of fun he’s having playing the role. The story does give Smith’s Genie a little more depth than just being blue and hilarious, affording him a surprisingly fun and grounded subplot.

But does Smith get by on charm alone? It’s going to depend a lot on your opinion of Will Smith. While Robin Williams breezed through dozens of different voices and personas to bring the Genie to life, never letting us know what to expect, this version of the character very much feels like blue Will Smith (blue Hitch may be closer), so your mileage with the character is going to vary a lot based on how willing you are to accept that. While Smith does fine work, how reliant this Genie is on Smith’s personality does make you wonder if an actor pushing farther out of their comfort zone would have gotten us closer to the boundless creativity that made Robin Williams’ performance so memorable.

The one area that does feel like a clear improvement over the 1992 version is the characterization of Naomi Scott’s Jasmine, to the point where at times the movie feels like it’s more invested in her story than Aladdin’s. The princess feels more three-dimensional (pun not intended… nor apologized for) and she is given far more interesting ambitions this time around. Scott gives the character a dignity and drive that makes it easier to root for her than poor old Al. Both Jasmine and Genie’s newly fleshed-out arcs are welcome additions, but they do draw attention to how predictable and dated Aladdin’s story feels by comparison.

The supporting cast is hit-or-miss. While Nasim Pedrad and Billy Magnusson’s new characters end up being reliable for laughs, Marwan Kenzari’s take on Jafar is a letdown. Aside from a quick exchange about hating second place, it’s never very clear why Jafar is scheming for the Sultan’s throne, other than the fact that he’s just generally evil. The animated Jafar had real wickedness and darkness to him, but Kenzari trades that in for a creepy, ill-defined lust for power that never really excites. But he’s the one standing in Aladdin and Jasmine’s way and, dang it, we want them to be together!

Fans will be glad to know that Aladdin’s catalog of great songs are well represented here. Though “One Jump Ahead” proves to be a bit of a misfire early on, featuring a heavy emphasis on chase and action that doesn’t quite work, the rest of the numbers are a good time. “Friend Like Me” is the movie at its visual peak, and probably the closest the movie gets to recreating the magic of the animated film. One of the most pleasant surprises on the soundtrack is the new number written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (Dear Evan Hansen), “Speechless”. Scott’s an able singer, and “Speechless” is a great showcase for that talent. The song won’t win any awards for subtlety, but in the context of Jasmine’s story, it really works.

On the visual front, Aladdin rarely disappoints. Agrabah feels vibrant and alive, most of all during “Prince Ali”’s grand entrance, and the surrounding desert is beautifully shot. The Cave of Wonders sequence in particular shows off Guy Richie’s skill at crafting an action set-piece, and everything from the mystical danger of that scene down to Aladdin’s parkouring all over Agrabah really moves with great pace under his eye.

One of the most pleasant surprises on the soundtrack is the new number written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (Dear Evan Hansen), “Speechless”. Scott’s an able singer, and “Speechless” is a great showcase for that talent. The song won’t win any awards for subtlety, but in the context of Jasmine’s story, it really works.

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‘Game of Thrones’ finale review: An epic final episode that corrects some major wrongs

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Game of Thrones finale
HBO

Spoiler warning: this article is for people who have watched the Game of Thrones finale. Do not read on unless you have watched season eight, episode six: The Iron Throne.

And so, at last, after 73 episodes, untold millions of dollars and an estimated 200,000 slayings, it is all over – bar the shouting on the internet. Death came to Game of Thrones and everyone involved in its making threw up their hands and shouted “Yes! Finally! Today!”

We began the finale with Tyrion wandering the ash-strewn ruins of King’s Landing, scene of Daenerys’ handbrake turn into full-blown lunacy last week, lifting fallen bricks and confirming for himself, and viewers still clinging to hope, that the Lannister twins were indeed deceased beneath them. Having the Imp cry “This is an ex-Lannister! If it wasn’t buried under rubble it would be pushing up daisies!” would have been only fractionally less subtle a way to confirm what we all needed confirming before we could get on with the true business of the day; deciding who gets the Iron Throne, who gets to die and who gets a spin-off series.

Daenerys was looking confident about her position, with a jaunty speech to her followers (“Blood of my blood! You have given me the Seven Kingdoms!”) and the speedy arrest of Tyrion for treason. Jon looks pained. Possibly because of the mindless destruction and mass murder carried out by his lover-aunt. Possibly because he’s trying to do a sum involving odd numbers in his head. Dear, sweet, useless Jon. People have berated the writers for many things over the show’s run, but they surely deserve some recognition for managing to sell Kit Harington as a convincing candidate for kingship.

Jon visits Tyrion in prison, where the Last Lannister tries – as Arya does just before – to convince Jon that as a fellow Targaryen with a claim to the throne, the woman atop the dragon might just attempt to do him harm in the near-future. “That’s her decision,” says Dumbo. “She is the queen.” Tyrion adds that she’ll probably go after Sansa and Arya, too, which seems to cause scales to fall from Jon’s eyes, and prompts just about the only bit of action in the finale.

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In this generation’s Buffy/Angel moment, Jon kills Daenerys for the greater good. Drogon makes his feelings about this development clear by melting the Iron Throne with dragon fire and flying off with her corpse. “That’s no good!” shouts Jon after him. “T’throne’s just a symbol. Tha’s got a lot more work to do before tha can usher in an age of representative democracy!” No, he doesn’t. But the actual script doesn’t try much harder. After Jon is arrested offscreen by the Unsullied, the lords and ladies of Westeros convene to decide what must be done. They decide to … choose a ruler from among them. Just like that. Grey Worm, made Dany’s Commander of All War Things in the wake of her dragon nuking King’s Landing, makes no objection. No word on who gets to tell the Dothraki. Bagsy not me.

Samwell wonders whether the people should have a say in who gets to govern them. Oh, but the guffaws can be heard across the Narrow Sea! So that’s that possibility as dead as a White Walker run through with Valyrian steel.

Tyrion nominates –

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Bran. Or Bran the Broken, as he is dubbed. Westeros is very ableist, as you might have suspected after the six seasons it took for anyone to cobble together a wheelchair for him. It’s a callback to the ancient figure of Bran the Builder, who raised The Wall, founded Winterfell and was the first King of the North, but still. Bran. Bloody Bran. He will rule over only six kingdoms, because Sansa declares the North will become independent once more. Which again, everyone seems fine with. Tyrion becomes Bran’s Hand but Grey Worm insists that Jon be punished by returning to the Night’s Watch. Fair does. Might as well look permanently pained somewhere; it makes sense. And he’ll never realise there’s no reason for the Night’s Watch to exist any more.

Arya is taking a gap year to go travelling “west of Westeros”, an unmapped region rumoured to contain the Mountains of Spin-Off Potential. Our last sight of the whole shebang is Jon setting off into the super-north with the Free Folk.

There’s no doubt this season has been a rushed business. It has wasted opportunities, squandered goodwill and failed to do justice to its characters or its actors. But the finale just about delivered. It was true to the series’ overall subject – war, and the pity of war – and, after doing a lot of wrong to several protagonists last week, did right by those left standing. Whether the million signatories to the petition to remake the entire final season, or the majority of the estimated 45 million around the world due to watch the last episode, will agree – who knows. When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die. Overall, I think, it won.

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‘John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum’ review: A wildly fun kick-shoot-fight-repeat spectacular

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John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
LIONSGATE

“Prepare for war,” someone who knows Latin will tell you, if you ask about that subtitle, though it’s hardly necessary intel: In these gloriously dumb—but remarkably well-staged—gun-fu flicks, the war is already here, and it lasts for an entire film.

Maybe others prefer it when Keanu Reeves talks; for me, he’s more effective when he moves. John Wick’s somber suit-clad NYC assassin has become his signature role, stripping down Speed and The Matrix into something John Woo sleek. Mob thugs killed his pet pit bull in the first installment. Those guys are long gone. Though this latest John Wick adventure brings on the usual distractions—Ian McShane’s fastidious boutique-hotel proprietor, Lawrence Fishburne’s booming king of the Bowery underworld, Halle Berry’s lady with vicious dogs that leap straight for the crotch—mostly these characters stay out of the way of the main attraction.

Instead, we’re here for the rigorously conceived, blessedly coherent action showdowns, the work of director Chad Stahelski (also Reeves’s longtime stunt double and choreographer). Stahelski is a fight-scene Fosse and Reeves is his Gwen Verdon: Parabellum takes the hall-of-mirrors high style of the second film and pushes it into overdrive. (Those who live in glass-walled galleries shouldn’t throw anything at Wick.) The level of hard-R-rated bloodletting is so delirious, you’ll ignore how bad it is for you.

A closed Manhattan Bridge is the perfect site for a sword duel on speeding motorcycles. Put Wick on a horse and he’s more of a menace than John Wayne on a grouchy day. In one battle, so many knives are flung, a corpse is used as a pincushion. It’s the golden age of…something—please don’t make us explain it.

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