Alien Covenant

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Alien Covenant is the second film in the prequel Alien series and the 6th film considered to be a part of the original canon of Alien films.  (This is a direct reference to the now defunct Alien vs Predator series which licenses the use of the Xenomorphs from the original films, I should also state that Aliens have also been in comic books and various other media ventures so the property itself has been very profitable.)  The continuation of the series picks up after the events of Prometheus which saw the film return to its original suspense/mystery roots.  This shift allowed for new questions to be asked and answered of the original series as well as make use of modern advances in film technology to build the world to be visually stunning.  Prometheus did well at the box office setting up director Ridley Scott nicely for his plan to make multiple prequels and sequels.  Alien Covenant picks up about 10 or 11 years after the events of Prometheus and follows the attempted colonization of the planet Origae-6.  This film seeks to add further depth to the Alien Universe and continue telling the origin story of the Xenomorphs and their creators the “Engineers”.

A few words about Alien:  Covenant:

  1. Characters are flat – There is not much character development at all in this installment of Alien.  While the characters have an assumed backstory, exposition that is explicitly stated in the movie does little to provide depth to the characters themselves.  It does not help that in many cases the characters are making stock horror movie decisions, such as always choosing to split up rather than work together.  At one point in the movie, the idea of them continuously splitting up becomes a little comical as one character will be found dead, and the remaining characters still assign separate tasks for each other to complete.  The setups for Alien carnage comes off a little convenient.
  2. Not many Xenomorphs – In this movie while the Xenomorphs (traditional Alien creatures from these films) are prominently displayed, at times their presence did not feel necessary.  The central conflict involved them, however, they were not the central villain.  This made seeing them feel a little empty or one note.  In many cases, it seemed as if they only showed up to ratchet up the immediate tension rather than because they were a necessity to the story.
  3. Two much fassbender – It is not a spoiler to say that Michael Fassbender plays two roles in this movie.  While his acting is solid and interesting to watch, at one point he’s doing scenes with both characters together.  These scenes were at least a little bit overwrought.  I found myself wondering what the ultimate purpose of these scenes were and don’t ever know that it was revealed.  Seeing him “mentor” himself came off hokier than I believe it was intended to be.
  4. Not much real story development – Prometheus introduces the characters of the “engineer” or the beings that humans suspect created them.  In Alien Covenant, the engineers have a brief moment but their story is not really expanded upon.  The questions raised about them in Prometheus seemed to be discarded in order to create a different movie.
  5. Visually Appealing – Much like Prometheus the use of wide shots in this movie did much to establish the contrast between the small humans exploring the vast universe.  Many of the shots are breathtaking on the big screen, which in this format does a great job of making the viewer feel small as well.

Overall, this movie did very many traditional “Alien” things.  There are Xenomorphs, space tension, action, air locks, acid blood, running, screaming and dying.  However, this film eventually ends up just being another installment of Xenomorphs killing humans.  While the reasoning for the existence of Xenomorphs is a little clearer, the film ultimate does little to expand the mythology of the Alien universe.  I would still love to see a movie that does more to expand this backstory, much like Prometheus began to do.  This is a solid summer movie, but ultimately I left the theater feeling like something was missing.  Do not bring your kids.  2.5 of 5 stars.

 

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Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2

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Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 is the 15th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and the third film in the third phase of the same.  The first installment of Guardians takes the viewers on a journey far beyond earth and sets the larger stage for what is to come in the MCU.  Before the first film debuted there was much doubt to the success of the movie due to its use of lesser known characters in the MCU.  However, the hilarious use of witty banter among the protagonists and the well-executed trope of the “ragtag group of misfits” somehow thrown into extraordinary circumstances with extraordinary expectations played well for audiences worldwide.  The first Guardians film set the bar high for future installments and created much anticipation for the second film.

A few words about Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2:

  1. Tries too hard to be funny at times – Right out of the gate Guardians 2 seemed intent on doubling down on the humor that endears itself to the audience in the first installment.  However in this installment, while funny on its own, there was a noticeable shift in a number of jokes per scene.  While the first installment felt very natural with jokes flowing at the pace of the film, Guardians 2 seemed at times to stop the action or story to tell jokes that at many times felt as if they went on a bit too long.
  2. Lots of character development – In this movie each of the Guardians gets a deeper look into why they are the person (or tree, or raccoon, or other species) that they are.  For the most part, this was done pretty well with explaining the motivations behind each of the characters.  However, this made the movie;
  3. Extremely emotional – There were times in this film where it felt as if the audience was being forced into an emotional cheese grater.  There were several instances in which again the film felt like it stopped to make a very specific emotional point about one of the characters.  This was at the very least a bit heavy handed and at most emotionally manipulative.
  4. Fun and engaging action – The action sequences were very well executed.  Specifically, there is one involving Rocket that was very entertaining to watch and another involving Yondu (Michael Rooker with a functional mohawk) that was mesmerizing as well.  The larger action set pieces were also done very well, watching this film in 3D was very rewarding as the editing made full use of the medium.  (this coming from a critic who despises 3D and feels its use is mostly gimmicky)
  5. Felt very disconnected from the MCU – There is a total of five end credit and mid-credits scenes and only two of them did any work to tie this film to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Other than those scenes this film felt almost entirely self-contained and outside of the MCU.  There are still about four films between this one and Avengers:  Infinity War and while we know who the main villain of that film will be (Thanos) it still remains to be seen how the Guardians will mesh with the heroes of the other films.  This didn’t hurt the film itself however it did make this seem a little more like a lot of side plot rather than an important part of the main story.  (also there is a point in the film where the main villain is destroying earth and it seemed at the bare minimum a little odd that there would be no Avengers interested in helping to stop this)
  6. Terrible main plot reveal – When the main villain reveals their ultimate plot to destroy much of the galaxy it is done in kind of a crass way.  Revealing any more than that would be a spoiler but suffice it to say it felt at the very least a bit “Maury” -esque.  (I welcome anyone who wants to unpack this further to contact me on twitter or fb)

Overall the film was not bad.  I would say another solid entry in the MCU (whilst not necessary being a strongly connected unit of the MCU) with great action sequences and still remained funny (at times to a fault)  The audience loved Baby Groot (albeit it seemed there was more of him than was needed) and there is much visually to enjoy while watching this film.  You can bring your kids, but it is a bit long as I sat next to a kid who got very antsy during the second hour.  3 of 5 stars.

 

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

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Star Wars continues the story with its first big budget feature length spin-off.  ‘Rogue One’ bridges the gap between episodes 3 and 4 of the main canon and tells an adjacent story in the star wars universe.  While this story doesn’t assists main canon its primary goal is to flesh out the rich star wars universe.

A few words about “Rogue One: A Star Wars story”;
1.  Visually stunning – Every shot in this film was beautifully done.  Wide sweeping shots of spacecrafts flying and landing.  Full color landscape shots of planets and space battles.  Detailed graphics, an amazing blend of costume design recognized from the original trilogy coupled with advances in film technology made for a very appealing visual aesthetic.
2.  Paper thin plot – This film had the difficult task of going from one fixed point to another fixed point with little room for latitude in the storytelling.  This means the plot was very rigid and there was little room to develop the characters on screen.
3.  Weak character development – due to the weak plot, characters while having a backstory did not have quite the depth as those in the main canon.  This did not mean you do not care what happens to them, but rather your acquaintance with them is a bit rushed.  Individually there is little attachment, however being invested in the main canon and the mission of the characters in the film allows you to care about what they intend to accomplish.  This is enough to attach you to their fate as the film continues.
4.  War tone, very different – In no other Star wars film has there ever been a greater sense of the stakes at hand than in rogue one.  This film does an excellent job of reminding you that the rebel alliance and the galactic empire are at war.  This is war in which people are dying in order to accomplish their goals.  Not just dying offscreen or in a way that allows you to be shielded from the reality of death but rather death in a very realistic and palpable sense.  This tone is completely different from other Star wars films in this regard.  (That being said there are still jokes and it’s still a lot of fun at times)
5.  Great action – the battle scenes in this movie are brilliant.  Going back to the first point visually the space battles are easy on the eyes however even the blaster ground battles are very lengthy fast paced and enjoyable.  There is only one scene of light saber and force battle carnage, however it is well worth the wait and is especially satisfying.  Advances in film technology make battle scenes much more realistic and easily viewed.  It does not feel campy any longer, but like what you would imagine a futuristic space battle to be.
6.  Leans into tragedy – If the original series and prequels are the tragic tale of Anakin Skywalker then this film continues to tell a bit of a tragic tale.  That’s about all that can be said here without being a spoiler.
7.  Solid fan service ( cameos, lines, music) – while there is no scrolling text to begin the movie, there is plenty of fan service done here.  From the cameos, to the extremely well done CGI “cameos” to the music to the obligatory line stated in every single Star Wars film, this movie did fan service right and every moment was well received.
The movie started slow, but ended well.  It was an extremely solid movie that did an excellent job of expanding the Star Wars universe.  This was a tale told in the world of star wars that tells us that many more individuals made sacrifices for the rebel alliance than movies can be made.  This tells us that the Star Wars were filled with many more stories that could be told for years to come. (cha-ching says Disney)  You can bring your kids but it’s not the romp that the other films were so it may be a little intense for the youngest of children.  3.5 of 5 stars.