Unlike the majority of the movie-going audience, I was one of those people who really enjoyed 2012’s Prometheus. While I acknowledged its flaws and all the nonsensical, I found myself captivated by the horror and action elements as well as the creature designs and mythology of the universe it had created.
Fast forward now to Alien: Covenant, which is carrying high expectations given Ridley Scott’s return to form following The Martian. Whereas Prometheus tried to shy away from a direct connection to the Alien franchise, the title of this sequel indicates that they are fully embracing it this time. The trailers also showed that the movie appeared to be returning to the horror roots of the original. To be honest, even though I thought the trailers looked good, I wasn’t all that sold on Alien: Covenant because it felt like it was trying too hard to recapture the magic of the original, putting it at risk of resorting to cliches and thinly veiled homages.
Turned out I was wrong. Alien: Covenant is without a doubt a true sequel to Prometheus, but it also fails to duplicate the sense of genuine terror that made Alien so great and the awesome action that made Aliens an instant classic.
The story picks up about a decade after the Prometheus went missing, with the Covenant carrying a new crew and a whole bunch of colonists and embryos in cryosleep. The only waking member when the film starts is Walter (Michael Fassbender), an android with the same likeness as David from Prometheus. Naturally, stuff happens, and the crew finds themselves on a detour where deadly alien life may or may not be lurking.
The cast is led by the brilliant Assbender (he bends so much ass in this film) and Katherine Waterston as Daniels, with a surprisingly effective dramatic performance by usual stoner Danny McBride and the typically reliable Billy Crudup. There are about half a dozen other supporting characters, but none of them are particularly memorable, which is one of the key problems I had with the film. In fact, apart from Assbender, no one really stands out, not even Waterston, who falls way short of channeling her inner Ellen Ripley. Despite the similar height and the hair, it’s not even close.
You don’t need to have seen Prometheus to understand what happens in this film, though it certainly helps. That said, I can still imagine a lot of people being confused as to what’s going on with the plot, especially regarding what happened on the planet on which the characters find themselves on. Even I had to go back and read up on Prometheus again on Wikipedia to give myself a bit of a refresher on all the stuff about the mysterious Engineers and so forth.
However, the most important reason people will watch Alien: Covenant is for the horror/action, and the film does enough to satisfy, for the most part. Notwithstanding a couple of scenarios I found somewhat tacky, most of the horror sequences in the film deliver, with one in particular standing out from the first half of the movie. I liked that the film did not shy away from the gore and some very disgusting visuals, though I felt not enough time was spent on building up the suspense. I also enjoyed the evolution of the creatures throughout the film until we see the classic facehuggers and of course the first xenomorph. Kudos for using mostly animatronics for the creature effects as they simply look a lot more realistic than CGI.
So I found myself frightened, disgusted and excited at various parts throughout the 123-minute movie, but never truly terrified like I was for Alien or on the edge of my seat like I was for Aliens. Considering it also had a plot that was probably more convoluted than necessary, a fairly predictable ending, and a lack of memorable characters, Alien: Covenant was clearly not as good as I wanted it to be. Despite enjoying it for what it was and being engaged all the way through, I actually think I prefer Prometheus more.
3.5 stars out of 5
PS: I just heard they are filming the sequel to Alien: Covenant starting next year.
All those 2012 movie blitzes bring us to this point — the top 10 films of 2012!
Out of the 109 movies from 2012 (released in 2012, not necessarily watched in 2012) I have reviewed on this blog, these are the cream of the crop. To be honest, I’m fairly disappointed with this list. Looking through it again I think 2012 was a rather disappointing year, with some very good films but nothing really leaving a lasting impression (2011, for example, gave me Drive, We Need to Talk About Kevin and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, all films that would have topped my list this year).
Anyway, I’ve decided to stick to my guns and prepare this list based on my ratings at the time I reviewed the films rather than what I think of them right now having had time to contemplate them in more detail or in some cases watch them again. Here they are, in reverse order (click on film titles for full review):
Despite what you might think, this is not my “worst of” list. Yes, I have selected Prometheus, notwithstanding all its well pointed out flaws, as one of the top 10 movies of the year. All I can say is: bite me. OK, allow me to explain. First of all, I don’t really care about how the film fits in or doesn’t fit in with the rest of the Alien universe (mainly because I don’t know it well enough). I watched Prometheus as a standalone film with elements from that universe, but more importantly as a film with scary creatures and cool special effects. I am frank in my criticism of various parts of the film in my review, but I still think, without having watched it again, that it delivers as an enjoyable horror sci-fi flick. Expectations aside, I really liked it when I saw it, and there aren’t any other films that scored higher than this film apart from those on this list. So there.
This is a film I wonder if I would put on this list had I watched it for a second time, but alas, here it is anyway. Having not read the books when I watched it, I found The Hunger Games to be a lot of fun, driven by a cracker performance by the wonderful Jennifer Lawrence and some stellar special effects. While the premise is not the most original, the execution was strong and the action was dynamite. The set up was a bit overlong (a problem repeated in the sequel, Catching Fire), but once they hit the game arena everything was forgiven. After Twilight, watching The Hunger Games was a real pleasure.
Two entries this year for Jennifer Lawrence, who won the Oscar for best actress in Silver Linings Playbook, the best romantic comedy of the year. As I said in my original review, I’m not usually too high on rom-coms, but this one resonated because of the sweet chemistry between Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, the string supporting cast (Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver), the witty laughs and its ability to take a quirky angle on the very serious topic of mental illness. Ahh…Jennifer Lawrence…
What more can you say about Ang Lee? The man knows how to make movies. Life of Pi, based on one of my favourite novels, far exceeded my expectations given that it was previously considered unadaptable. And yet Lee somehow manages to deliver one of the most magical, visually stunning and heartfelt movies of the year without drowning us in boredom, philosophy or pointless 3D. I admit it’s the type of film that can polarise audiences for its sometimes preachy tone and fantastical premise, but if you’re in the right mood for it then Life of Pi could turn out to be one of the most rewarding film experiences of the year.
I’m not ordinarily a huge feature docomentary watcher but this one left such a lasting impression on me. The Invisible War documents sexual assault in the US military, and it’s one of the most shocking, harrowing and infuriating movies you could ever see. And it’s all true. Directed with a steady hand that doesn’t sensationalise the claims, allowing the victims to tell their own stories in their own words, The Invisible War is one of the most important movies of the year, or any year.
This is an entry that will probably surprise a lot of people given that it received a lot of mixed and negative reviews. I have been a very outspoken critic of most of Judd Apatow’s movies, so it came as a surprise to me too that I fell in love with This is 40, featuring a seemingly perfect couple played by Apatow’s real-life wife Leslie Mann and one of my fave actors, Paul Rudd. The jokes, often brutal but not as crass as some of Apatow’s other works, are painfully honest and spoke straight to my funny bone. Perhaps they resonated with me more as I am also a husband and father with similar pressures, but whatever the reason I just thought it was one of the most hilarious movies I had seen in quite some time.
Was The Avengers really one of the top four films of the year? In retrospect, I don’t really know, but at least when I watched it towards the start of the year I was in awe of the magnificent feat that director Joss Whedon was able to pull off, and it’s hard to imagine anyone else capable of putting together an ensemble superhero movie with so many big names and making them all fit together and play off each other so perfectly. Not to say I don’t love the growing trend of gritty, “realistic” superhero flicks, but it was also great to see an old fashioned one like The Avengers, where the mood is more relaxed, the jokes are sardonic and the tone a lot less grim. A super popcorn movie that didn’t disappoint despite near-impossible odds.
When I look at all the movies from 2012 a few years from now, The Perks of Being a Wallflower will probably be my fondest memory. Having not read the book (yet — my later review of it is here), I didn’t really know what to expect from it, but I came way thinking that it was the best coming-of-age movie I had seen in years. Directed by the guy who wrote the book, Stephen Chbosky, Wallflower is a sensitive, heartwarming and heartbreaking tale about a damaged boy (played marvellously by Logan Lerman) trying to figure out his place in the world. Emma Watson and Ezra Miller were also brilliant as his soul sister and brother, demonstrating that their acting range is far from limited to the characters they’re best known for. While it is far from perfect, Wallflower has that uncanny ability to creep up on you and latch itself onto your emotions. It’s a sentimental film, sure, but it’s a sentimental film of the best kind.
Tarantino’s best film since Pulp Fiction? I’m not sure about that, but I think it is arguably his most entertaining. Django Unchained is an apologetically violent Tarantino-esque fantasy spaghetti western, and I enjoyed the ride immensely. Like most Tarantino films, Django is a unique experience — you don’t really know where you’re heading but you feel like you’re in safe hands, AND you’re having a lot of fun along the way. A story about a wronged black man who goes on a killing rampage is a premise that probably won’t work in the hands of any other director, but for Tarantino it feels apt. Powered by some awesome performances by Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz and Leo DiCaprio, Django is quintessentially Quentin, filled with slick dialogue, unflinching violence, memorable characters and a truck load of coolness. Yeah, it’s far too long, but most movies are these days.
I only awarded one film the full 5 stars in 2012, and as it turned out, that movie was The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan’s epic conclusion to his Batman trilogy, without a doubt the best superhero franchise of all time. While many parts of the film either didn’t make sense or were only possible in comic land, The Dark KnightRises offers the payoff audiences have been waiting for since Batman Begins hit our screens in 2005. With Batman more mentally and physically fragile than ever, plus a formidable adversary in Bane and an intriguing subplot in the emergence of Catwoman, The Dark Knight Rises elevated the stakes to new heights before ending with a fitting bang.Strictly speaking, however, I don’t think this is truly a 5-star film, but it felt right to award it the maximum rating after placing it in context as the finale of a magnificent franchise. As I said elsewhere, I think The Dark Knight, which I initially awarded 4.5 stars, is the better overall film, and if I had a do-over I probably would switch the ratings. But The Dark Knight Rises is like how everyone treated LOTR: The Return of the King. Does it really deserve to be one of three films in history with 11 Oscars (the others being Ben Hur and Titanic, though Return of the King was the only film to sweep all its nominations)? Probably not, but voters felt it fitting to reward it because of the quality of the franchise as a whole. That’s how I look at it anyway.
So there you have it, the top 10 films of 2012. I’ll endeavour to put up a worst and best of list for 2013 in the next 3 months! Seriously!
Missing the cut: Argo, Zero Dark 30, Compliance, End of Watch, Pitch Perfect, Jack Reacher, Looper, The Cabin in the Woods
I just watched one of my most anticipated films of the year, Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s is-it-or-isn’t-it prequel to Alien, his 1979 classic. There is an answer to that question but it’s not a particularly important one, because Prometheus stands on it’s own extremely well. It’s not the classic Alien or Aliens is, but hey, few films are. If you measure the film by the impossible standards of those films, of course it is going to fall short. But by ordinary standards this film is freaking awesome. Visually stunning, with excellent performances and plenty of suspense. It’s not groundbreaking by any means but takes the successful Alien/s formula and places it on a much larger and different angled palette.
Set late in this century, it tells the story of a group of private sector space travellers who head to the moon of a distant planet to seek the origins of mankind. What they find, of course, is not quite what they expected.
This is a very different film to those in the Alien franchise (I am going to pretend, by the way, that the Alien vs Predator pieces of crap never existed). This is a ‘big ideas’ movie, or at least it tries to be one, and the scale and grandeur dwarfs anything that has been attempted in those earlier films. The special effects and the sets and make up are simply mind-blowing. The introductory scene sets the tone perfectly and is one of the best I have seen in a very long time.
At it’s heart though, Prometheus is still a sci-fi mystery horror, and in that regard it delivers. Even when you have a fair idea of what is likely to happen it’s still suspenseful — and often, extremely gross. It has scare tactics that will remind viewers of the Alien franchise though I wouldn’t call it ‘recycled.’ There are also one or two memorable scenes that will probably linger in the back of my mind forever.
The screenplay is written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof. Spaihts previously wrote the script for The Darkest Hour, which was a horrible movie but not because of the writing (I thought the idea was decent). Lindelof, on the other hand, is the co-creator of and writer for one of the most fascinating and frustrating TV shows of all time, Lost, and his fingerprints are all over this one.
On the bright side, the plot unravels like a brilliant mystery, akin to slowly peeling off the layers a giant onion. When you’re not terrified you’re fully engaged trying to figure out what the heck is going on. On the other hand, Prometheus is full of plot holes, loose ends and unexplained stuff that will frustrate a lot of viewers to no end. It’s almost as though it was written with a sequel in mind, or perhaps, like Lost, the writers just did what they thought was cool at the time without giving much thought to whether they could make sense of it later, if at all.
Being a film about finding the origins of man, there are of course some philosophical considerations. On this point I felt Prometheus was also very Lost-like; that is, a lot of interesting questions but not a lot of answers, a lot of style but not a whole lot of substance. That said, I didn’t really care. Intellectual stimulation was not high on the list of reasons why I wanted to watch this film.
The cast is super. Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Idris Elba, Charlize Theron and Guy Pearce. No weak link in that line up. The Assbender, though, is the clear standout as David, a mesmerising guy you quickly find out is not quite the same as the others. It’s not a stretch to say the Assbender carries the bulk of this film. 300, Centurion, Inglourious Basterds, X-Men: First Class, Shame and now Prometheus. The dude has become one of my favourite actors.
Rapace gives a sound effort as scientist Elizabeth Shaw, though it’s rather unfair to compare her to Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) because they are such different personalities. Unfortunately, she doesn’t even channel her inner Lisbeth Salander, which might leave some of her Dragon Tattoo fans disappointed. Despite her name being the first in the credits, Rapace doesn’t stand out throughout the first half of the film, which I’m not sure is by design. However, she does have one ripper of a scene later on, possibly the best sequence in the entire film (and an instant classic), and more or less redeems herself by the end.
So yeah, Prometheus is pretty cool. Flawed but very enjoyable if you can look past its most egregious problems. At the end of the day, I didn’t watch Prometheus expecting it to be as good as Alien/s. I didn’t watch it expecting to gain more insights about where we came from. I watched it expecting to be entertained, awed and terrified for a couple of hours. And I was.