The reason that Alien, Aliens and to a lesser extent Alien 3 all work so well is basically their adherence to strict narrative logic. All three films tell a superb story that is internally solid and completely coherent - yes there's mysteries (how did the company know the alien was on LV426, the egg on the Sulaco at the start of Alien 3......er, hang on a minute! etc), but they are different from logic and how the story moves from plot point A to plot point B. It also worked because they built up great, real feeling characters around this rock solid core - not just the aliens, but the human characters too. They felt real, they acted in a real, logical way. Throw in the universe's coolest aliens, with a fascinatingly gruesome lifecycle and mystique up the wazoo, and you have a fantastically compelling and interesting universe and set of films that play out within it.
This film fails so miserably because it misses the mark on all three of these points. This is going to have be spoilerific now so apologies to those who haven't yet seen the film, but its the only way I can get into the faults of the film. So.....you have been warned!1. The plot is both dull and pedestrian and is in essence the Force Awakens of the franchise (distress signal - check, unsuspecting people land in undiscovered planet - check, scheming dude who tries to play god with the alien for their own purposes - check), but what there is doesn't hang together at all.
Taking the alien lifecyle that was so coolly and scarily described in the first three films, how quickly does the chest burster come out of Billy Crudup???? I get there's a lot of genetic tampering with in the next 10 years to get to the LV426 alien, but come on. Also, I'd assumed the second xeno, the one on the ship at the end, was born due to Walter/David sticking some black goo on the plaster he stuck on Demian Bachir's face......massively quick, but seems plausible......but I've seen some people think that Bachir was impregnated from the 5 seconds the facehugger was on him in the temple.....again, could be either, no explanation smacks of laziness or worse apathy to the audience who would wonder how, but both are totally unsatisfactory and make a mockery of the perfect organism, the perfect lifecycle that we got in the earlier films. Even Resurrection got the lifecycle right (and I liked the idea of the newborn for the record, just thought it's execution was terrible).
Why has David gone murderously insane? We know he had 'daddy' issues from the first film, but there's a big leap between that and exterminating an entire race isn't there??? So we establish in this one that one of the rules for these artificial persons is that they're not allowed to create......funny how that wasn't mentioned in Prometheus, not at all. And why? Because its now a totally unnecessary and inconsistent plot beat added into this one to make David now the bad guy. What does work is that David has now become the creator of the aliens.....but its a single line and a glimpse of some past experiments on a table and its gone. How did he do it? Its a really big narrative leap to be able to engineer eggs from the black goo with what appears to be no tech at all to do genetic engineering of any kind. Much more of that in the film, looking in to the work of moving from an ampule of black goo to creating those eggs would have been far more interesting and gone someway into beginning to answer the questions posed in Prometheus and even earlier in this film. I even liked the crazy chestburster 'hands up' bit too - taking the plot forward in an interesting way, having David now be the creator and having it recognise him as such could have set up a great finish, with the created now also turning on its creator.....but again, its gone and completely forgotten in a single scene, replaced with nearly a minute of watching David teach his brother the bleeding kazoo!
Plus little bits of narrative inconsistency abound - at the very end, David knows the exact location and button combination to the embryo drawer....er, how?
Why establish the wheat? To what purpose does it service either plot (none) or characterisation (er, none)? Its a narrative dead end that establishes nothing to drive the plot forward and in fact what it does is add in another point where you expect clever scientists to think "hang on a minute.....". Its obviously planted by David.....but where did he get the wheat from? If its from the Engineers, then again its an interesting question that's just left to hang.....and back to what does it serve the rest of the film by being there?
Danny McBride manages to somehow convince the crew to take the ship below safe levels, despite two of them saying "this is totally wrong" and then one minute later they're "oh...go on then", with no reason other than "oh our people are still in as much trouble as they were when we agreed this wasn't a good idea a few minutes ago". Its just one example of people going from being sensible to stupid in lightspeed - wondering off for a wee on an alien planet????
The trusting captain who sticks his face in an egg after seeing how totally untrustworthy David is (didn't he just call him the devil????) and his horrific fascination with these monsters......eh?
Small things these may be but they are there and they gnawed away at me to the point where I was taken out of the film. The original films didn't have these (or maybe they did and I was blinded by them.....) and I think its a sign of poor and lazy writing.
2. The characters in this, while slightly better than most of those in Prometheus, are still one note ciphers with none of the personality of previous entries. Kane, Parker, Lambert didn't have a lot to do in Alien at all, but you got a sense of their personality through logical interactions with them doing their job - the great scenes with Kane and Parker asking for full share, together with them telling Ripley how long repairs are going to take, are superb examples of building character through sensible plot beats. We get none of that here - why does Crudup's captain be an arse about the funerals and give so much of a monkeys that they disobeyed him, especially as he's set to apparently be a man of faith? What did that have to do with anything in the plot, about how he as a character might act in later plot and story beats? It felt like a forced character beat, designed to make him something other than the one note alien jaw fodder he was. Kane and Parker's characterisation came out of things that truck drivers in space would actually banter and bicker about - but would a captain of any vessel act like Crudup did and deny funerals to his crew? Awful writing again. Too many characters with nothing to do. I did like the married couples angle as it gave people almost a reason to do non-sensible things - I can understand McBride jeopardising the crew if it was to save his wife, which was a nice touch, but again, not a lot was done with it and it was gone before it could have been sensible and logical use of.
3. And finally, the alien.......the move to CG and therefore being able to show it in all its glory has totally robbed it of any of its scariness. Those two white young aliens just felt silly (and don't mention the messing with the lifecycle again, even if I can accept its from an earlier genetic ancestor) in the way they moved and looked. Same with the actual xenomorph when its finally revealed - showing it as much as they did and via frankly crap CG and its just another spindly insectoid creature we've seen before. It really should have been kept in the shadows - the best bit of the trailer? The shower scene - a hint of an alien shadow, the tail and blood....just like the first film. I get that audiences are different now and its almost an expectation to see this kind of stuff, but the only decent alien work in this were the facehuggers and that's because they do move so quick you can't see it properly. And you also still don't see the horrible tube going down the victims throat and doing the dastardly impregnating, but you know its happening and therefore its still as icky and scary as hell as it ever was.....the power of suggestion still therefore works best and I would have much preferred much less alien in this. Use it to lurk in the shadows and be scary, not run around in the open as frankly it just looked disappointing.
And don't even start with me on the Alien POV shots...........
I thought Prometheus asked big questions it didn't answer (whether or not you agreed with them is another matter, but it swung and missed) - this just didn't ask any questions at all. Those engineers that we thought were so interesting we spent a whole film telling you about? Yeah, lets just forget about them. No worse than that, as they could have had the planet NOT be the engineers homeworld, lets purposefully get rid of them as quickly as possible to give the audience what we think it really wants.......it was a xenomorph reboot and a total failure on that because at least TFA had original cast to come back and give it that decent characterisation its pedestrian plot needed.
Look, what makes this worse is that there is some good stuff in here and the film could have been so much better:
1. Get rid of the totally not needed David/Weyland opening - we know all that from the first film;
2. Have them discover the Engineers temple when they land on the planet (avoiding the obvious massively stupid plothole that their scans somehow didn't discover this massive civilization prior to landing) and there, discover David;
3. Slowly discover David's experiments, spending time looking at how he did it - nicely icky and expanding the mythos. From here, discover the ship from Prometheus, etc. The only good bit of Alien Resurrection was the Ripley mutation scene, so imagine homaging that with a scene showing in flashback what actually happened to Shaw - how she discovered David's genocidal act, a scene showing the arguments between Shaw and David which actually set up David's reasons for doing what's he did, Shaw being captured and watching those early experiments and then finally succumbing to an experiment herself - now that's scary, icky and doing what cinema should do: show and not tell;
4. Have the first alien births be here rather than earlier as David's plan comes to light and he starts to use the crew as part of his ongoing experiment - then keep all the action firmly within the engineer temple, an interesting and new location not seen before. Different beasties can then be used as different breeds that David is using/has created;
5. Totally keep the alien in the shadows - have the attacks more like the shower scene and make 'em scary;
6. Finally, have the aliens turn on David, echoing his turning on his creators;
7. Then if you have to set up more films, have them taking one of the spores back with them (the original vegetation which they don't know contains the black goo) on the ship en route to Origae 6....or show some other Engineers reacting to the massacre on their homeworld and take off in hot pursuit of the Covenant with their own black goo ampules......or just end it there.
This was a total bust from start to finish for me. Having been an alien fan for decades (I even wore my Weyland Yutani t-shirt and my replica Nostromo crew shirt to the flicks, sad nerd that I am), I could not be more disappointed with this given Scott promised us so much. More casual fans of the series or genre may get some level of enjoyment out of this (it is handsomely designed and the score is nice, plus two Fassbender's for the price of one is not bad value, even when he is hamming it up rottenly), but for rabid fans of the series, which I know is a lot of us, I think this had the promise to be so much better and that's what disappoints. If it was a bog standard remake, then fine - I'd be disappointed it didn't try anything but it will be what it will be. But to try and aim for something so much bigger, hint at actually really good stuff and then forget about it is worse. It may well be that they're saving some of this for the next sequels, but then we're into Hobbit territory - sacrificing fewer, better films for more, weaker ones. A damn shame this. A damn shame.