I was optimistic about this one. I was initially a little hyped when it hit theatres considering that director Ridley Scott not only created the Alien franchise, but also helmed last year’s (for me) ‘movie of the year’ Martian. So I was thinking, he’s back and bringing Alien back. Oh was I wrong…
The crew of the Covenant are transporting a colony of thousands in hyper sleep, in search of a new planet to call their home. After receiving a distress call from a near by planet, they choose to, albeit reluctantly investigate. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Sort of a direct sequel to the much hyped yet bewildering Prometheus, a film I came away disappointed by, this has returning character David, a synthetic android marooned on said planet who the crew of the space ship meet up with. Amongst their crew is also an identical synthetic called Walter (both are played by Michael Fassbender), who soon finds himself bonding with his look-a-like by way of a drawn out flute lesson (yes you read that right…a flute lesson).
This is a movie in search of an identity. It wants to be a survival horror typical Alien movie, and then like Prometheus it wants to be a philosophical origin story on both the creation of the Aliens and some mumbo-jumbo mythology involving mankind and bio-engineering. The problem is it’s very hard to get invested in much of any of it, what with tedious characterisation and a plodding pace. Fassbender tries his best but is let down by a poor script that is both over-complicated and boring. Unconvincing CGI for the Aliens doesn’t help either and when crew members start dying off and you’re not even entirely sure which ones they were – the movie has problems.
Alien never needed a deep mythology. It didn’t need a back story. The mystery, the foreboding eeriness of H R Giger’s designs was enough – once a director attempts to explain it all, it ultimately kills it … which Scott is very much going to do if he insists on making the franchise something it never needed to be.
An ancient Egyptian mutant, said to be the very first mutant finds himself resurrected in the eighties after thousands of years and is hell-bent on rising up against humanity. However when Dr Xavier stumbles upon his plot, a somewhat disbanded collection of X-Men must unite to save the world.
I wasn’t expecting much from this and wasn’t the biggest fan of the previous movie, Days of Future Past which everyone seemed to love (?). However presented with a rather formidable villain from the off and with plenty of colourful and recognizable characters I soon found myself enjoying an X-Men movie again. Director Brian Singer seems to have swapped that rather convoluted time travel plot-device this time around in place of a more coherent good versus evil battle with a threat of global genocide thrown in for good measure. It works much better having a simpler narrative in such a complicated universe with so many characters and their various back stories. Yet the movie cleverly weaves in nods and often funny references to past movies and the comics without beating the viewer over the head. It made for an experience that was more comfortable and easier to simply enjoy.
The story took time to build tension, focus on key characters, explore individual motives and convincingly bring them together when required. Standout performances came from Jennifer Lawrence who this time is more character driven and less kick-ass as Mystique and James McAvoy as the always fascinating Xavier. I also enjoyed Oscar Isaac as Apocalypse, perhaps his first bad guy role and he nails it – sinister, powerful and visually bad-ass. It was also fun to see an origin story of Cyclops and to an extent Jean Gray (Game of Thrones’ Sophie Turner – still not much of an actor, sadly). However Michael Fassbender’s Magneto whilst good has a character ark that purely services the plot and doesn’t entirely ring true, and well the whole end of the world stuff is particularly clichéd. Yet with often stunning action, some excellent CGI and plenty of energy this 2hr 20min+ movie still zipped along. For me it’s the best in the franchise since X2 … and probably the most satisfying blockbuster of the year.
Probably next to that Apes movie, the next most acclaimed summer blockbuster of the year. A welcome return of the mutants headed by Dr Xavier (Patrick Stewart) on a time-bending mission to prevent shape-shifting femme fatale Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from killing a scientist who brings about a war against mutants. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is called in to send his conscience back to the seventies, with the help of Kitty Pryde (an under-used Ellen Page). There he must recruit the younger Charles Xavier as well as an imprisoned Magneto (Michael Fassbender) to aid him in his mission.
This was a bit of a strange ride….whilst I dig time travel storylines, this was sometimes hard to get into, although the seventies setting with the backdrop of the Vietnam war was welcome and done really well. James McAvoy is again very good as Xavier’s more troubled, younger-self and Hugh Jackman’s grizzled, dead-pan Wolverine is always a joy to watch. The stronger emphasis on Mystique was good too, and well she’s smoking hot strutting her blue-skinned stuff in some stand out acrobatic fight sequences. However with the long history of Magneto generally being an evil megalomaniac, busting him out of a prison quickly proves a bad idea and sitting here I’m still wondering what the point of his involvement was, considering they had Wolverine, Beast and a memorable Quicksilver (Evan Peters from American Horror Story).
Effects were of course top-drawer with a superb ‘let’s rip a football stadium out of the ground’ scene … but much of the plot relied heavily on having a good knowledge of the previous X-Men movies with many small details like nods to Rogue and Jean Gray probably going right over the heads of newcomers. So it felt like I’d come into the show half-way through with the whole Sentinals situation just going on, wiping out Mutants like a continuing part of a TV series. That being said the principle actors all did a decent job (especially Lawrence) with somewhat muddled material .. so no, for me at least … this wasn’t as good as I had heard.
As a fan of David Cronenberg for many years, I will normally seek out anything he does. Although he has stepped away from his horror background of late with thrillers A History Of Violence and Eastern Promises, he has maintained throughout an expert eye for emotional character pieces, none more so than this absorbing drama.
Michael Fassbender is Carl Jung, a Psychologist working in Switzerland who comes across a young woman suffering from hysteria (Kiera Knightley) and turns to famed professor Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) to help in her treatment, leading to the beginnings of psycho-analysis. Although the subject fascinated me, I was surprised to be drawn in so deeply by this well acted and interesting movie, which has three strong performances from its leads, especially Fassbender in a very complex role as a man torn between his professional ethics and his sexual desires. Mortenson is also very good as Freud, although for such a famous name, is a little side-lined. Knightley, although effective as the troubled Sabina Spielrein is somewhat over the top, with her constant gurning and facial tics bordering on comical. Doesn’t help that her accent is also pretty ropey.
For a David Cronenberg movie this may be lightweight (the s&m aspects of Spielrein’s condition are only lightly explored), but his often used themes of human psychology and sexuality are a perfect fit, and along with some simply beautiful locations (the architecture and settings of Vienna and Zurich enrich proceedings) and compelling performances, I found this very enjoyable.
When news hit that acclaimed director Ridley Scott (Gladiator) was revisiting the franchise that made his name, Alien, with a movie set before that legendary sci-fi horror – understandably the movie-viewing public sat up and took notice. I had been awaiting it from the early word a year or more back, and with some interesting casting choices, anticipation built gradually, until when finally sitting down to watch it, I had to stop myself from cheering at the screen – especially when the title appeared in full Alien-franchise style, letter by letter. Nice.
Two archeologists discover evidence of a race of beings from another world having made contact with ancient civilizations on earth, and so become involved in an expedition aboard the space ship Prometheus to land on an unexplored planet that may hold the secret to the birth of mankind. Noomi Rapace (The Girl With A Dragon Tattoo, Sherlock Holmes 2) heads up a recognisable cast featuring Charlize Theron, Michael Fassbender and Idris Elba. The first thing I have to say about this, is it took a long time to kick into gear, and the first half of the movie was very talky, cave wondering and to be honest, a little boring … thankfully by the second half the proverbial shit hits the fan and it became more of a thrill ride. Rapace holds her own next to bigger name stars, and proves a leading lady to watch. Theron on the other hand seemed wasted as a stiff collared commanding officer considering her physical beauty (showcased in a gratuitous exercising moment), whilst Fassbender came off perfectly creepy as Android ‘David’.
When the movie focused on Rapace however, it found its voice and any scene with her livened up proceedings no end. If it wasn’t for the trudging first half this would have been better, and the story certainly offers a new perspective on the Alien mythology, even if it left me with more questions than answers. The movie also had a tendency to overlook some glaring scientific implausibilities (scientists landing on a planet without sending probes first? Then taking their helmets off?). So to conclude … an entertaining but flawed return to a franchise that for a long time has struggled to get back on track. Perhaps Ridley left it too late?
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