The Big Sick (2017)

Earlier this year Get Out was described as a horror/thriller take on Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, but The Big Sick might be a more apt comparison. Written by Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley) and based on their real courtship, The Big Sick is about an interracial relationship between Emily (Zoe Kazan; Ruby Sparks) and Kumail (playing himself). Their coupling starts off as a one night stand, but as it develops into a long-term relationship the differences in their backgrounds become apparent. Kumail is from a Pakistani Muslim family and Emily is a White American. His family believes in arranged marriages and is actively trying to set him up with potential brides. Because of their traditional beliefs, Kumail chooses to hide his relationship with Emily from them which leads to a falling out. Later when Emily is diagnosed with a serious infection, Kumail is forced to re-evaluate his feelings and meet Emily’s parents.

While many of the details about the potential difficulties of interracial relationships ring true, the social commentary aspect of the film is in conflict with its romantic comedy aspirations. The script lampoons the extended families, particularly Nanjiani’s, but doesn’t ever examine their perspective. That is not to say that their orthodox, often antiquated, ideas are correct or should be supported, but rather that they deserve to be understood. Instead, the film treats Nanjiani’s family like cartoonish villains that are played for comedy. They are painted in the broadest strokes. Perhaps that is to be expected of a Judd Apatow production, but my hope was its autobiographical nature would elevate the writing. The script never allows them to develop into multidimensional characters and in doing so is disrespectful to their culture and the themes the film claims to be interested in.

Kazan and Nanjiani have chemistry, but the majority of the film doesn’t actually feature them together.

Not all interracial relationships are the same. The couple depicted here isn’t facing the same difficulties that a Black American and a White American would face when dating. This is about problems caused by intercultural relationships. There are different expectations and different goals for each culture, but none of that nuance is ever featured in The Big Sick. Like mediocre standup comics, Nanjiani and Gordon are more interested in using cultural differences as punchlines than offering anything beyond surface-level observations.

Contrast this with the great documentary Meet the Patels. It also tackled the complex issues faced by the children of immigrants merging their family’s culture with the one they encounter every day. It was equally, and often more, funny but also sought to actually understand each viewpoint and the disconnect between generations. It showed that, while restrictive, these rules being imposed were done with good intentions and from a place of love. The difference was that their affection was being filtered through a completely different set of cultural norms and the film even explored what it can take to bridge the gap between disparate cultures.

The Big Sick lacks most of that depth. Nanjiani’s family is shown as backwards and while Gordon’s family has some growth as they come to accept Nanjiani, the script doesn’t effectively evaluate the beliefs or assumptions that created their initial stances. It is more interested in exaggerating awkward moments for fairly simple, obvious jokes. The humor is sometimes successful, but is typically limited to surface-level observations. By choosing to be a safe rom-com featuring an interracial relationship rather than a bold rom-com about interracial relationships, Nanjiani and Gordon’s film produces some laughs but fails at providing real insights into the situation at hand.

2/5 stars.

Moka (2017)

Following the tragic loss of her young son, Diane (Emmanuelle Devos; Coco before Chanel) is unable to lead a normal life. She still sees visions of him and doesn’t know how to move on. Her son died in a hit and run and no one has been convicted yet. There aren’t even any suspects. Unable to wait any longer, she decides to take matters into her own hands. Using a list of cars in the area that match an eyewitness description, she sets out to find the killer herself.

Diane’s detective work puts her own objectives at risk. As she tries to understand the character of her son’s potential killers, she accidentally embeds herself deep into their lives. She finds herself falling into accidental friendships with them and her inquisition reveals more than she expected. When they were nameless murderers, possibly going uncharged for their crimes, Diane had a clear plan. Her conviction was strong and she knew what her response would be, but learning about their lives shakes the foundation of her beliefs. The details she learns humanizes them. Are these people really capable of committing a hit and run? She sees them as regular, flawed human beings rather than the cold villains she pictured and is unsure what to do next. Director Frédéric Mermoud delicately balances the crime, the criminals, and Diane’s need for justice by calling the impact of her plan into question. Even if these are the right people, how could anything to undo her loss?

Diane’s demeanor isn’t unstable enough for there to be a true risk of violence.

This is intended to be the source of the film’s tension. What will Diane do? A grieving parent may not act rationally, but as Mermoud points out, is there a rational response? Diane’s behavior is contrasted with her recently estranged husband. He says the police are working on it and that they should let them handle things. But the crime occurred seven months earlier and they haven’t had any new developments. Her husband is law abiding, but can look complacent. However, the director prevents him from appearing detached by showing brief glimpses into the husband’s own pain. The difference between him and Diane isn’t how much they loved their son, it’s how they channel their suffering. He points it inward whereas Diane throws it outward.

While the moral issue is evenly evaluated, the story sticks too closely to its genre and Diane is too predictable as a character. This is a procedural about vigilante justice and follows those tropes. Diane tails her suspects like a shabby private investigator and there is even a scene where information is exchanged on a park bench straight out of a spy thriller. Even with the extreme measures taken to find her son’s killers, Diane would need to be perceived as dangerous for the film to create suspense. There needs to be a believable threat that she could do something drastic. Devos is sympathetic as the lead, but her performance doesn’t have the unhinged menace required. She loved her son and is visibly broken by his passing, but the restraint she shows around the suspects prevents her from ever seeming deadly. She doesn’t seethe with hatred, instead she broods in pain. Without a set of equally credible outcomes, Moka loses the suspense of its central moral dilemma.

3/5 stars.

The Beguiled (2017)

Re-adapting a book originally published in 1966, Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation) makes full use of her female cast. During the American Civil War, Martha (Nicole Kidman; Eyes Wide Shut) and Edwina (Kirsten Dunst; Melancholia) run a school for girls in the south. They live by themselves until one of the girls finds a wounded Northern soldier and brings him back home. Instead of immediately turning him in, they decide to help him recover first because it is “the Christian thing to do”. The soldier’s co-habitation leads to some unexpected results.

The film is unexpectedly funny. Initially, the humor feels unintentional, like the filmmaker doesn’t know that her serious attempts at drama are awkward, but Coppola’s plans soon become clear. The film isn’t just a twisted tale of what happens to a soldier brought into a house full of women. It’s about how those women, deprived of any male presence in their lives, react to his arrival. Their scrambling for his slightest acknowledgement and the way each character flaunts it over the others is incredibly comical. They each have their own unique way of trying to connect with him. Elle Fanning (The Neon Demon) as the oldest girl is the standout as she quickly switches from distrust of a Northerner to being the boldest of the group, all while trying to maintain an air of propriety.

Watching the women compete for the soldier’s attention is always entertaining.

The soldier’s impact is to immediately disrupt their priorities and their social order. Coppola expertly dissects the delicate hierarchy between the women. She is acutely aware of how women can establish and maintain their own ranks with Kidman as their alpha-female. She commands the others and they obey, that is, until a new factor is added. Suddenly, their rankings are open for renegotiation. The contrast between the adults and the girls best exemplifies this natural order. The women know their standing with each other, but it always implicit. The girls on the other hand haven’t yet learned discretion. After the soldier enters their lives, they begin competing for his attention. The women do this subtly by wearing jewelry or nicer clothing, but the girls explicitly shout “I’m his favorite!” or “He doesn’t like you”. They know that his affection has become the new determining factor of power within their household. His presence rattles their standings and puts the house into temporary disarray when Martha can no longer wield the power she is used to.

The film then turns this power dynamic on its head again. Having examined the ways in which women can be divided, Coppola pushes into how they can unite. After more changes occur, the hierarchy is again reshuffled with the women no longer competing against each other. What they are capable of and, more importantly, the proper manner in which they handle it is hilarious. Coppola embeds the film’s narrative turns in the etiquette of the time making even heinous actions appear somehow polite and, for a lack of a better term, “lady-like”. The Beguiled is a smart, feminist take on intra-sex rivalry wrapped in the tropes of a twisted thriller.

4/5 stars.

Maudie (2017)

Sometimes our hobbies can unexpectedly turn into our professions. Maudie is the story of Maude Lewis (Sally Hawkins; Layer Cake), a woman with who, due to damage from childhood arthritis, is deemed unable to take care of herself and lives with her aunt, painting for own enjoyment. Tired of being bossed around by her aunt, she answers the ad of Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke; Before Midnight), a local fish salesman, looking for a live-in maid to clean his tiny 1-room house. The film covers her path to becoming a famous artist whose art is sold all over the country.

Our introduction to Maude is almost repulsive. Because the character is based on a real person, her portrayal receives extra scrutiny. Is she getting the respect she deserves? Hawkins is committed to the performance, but, given the character’s serious physical ailment, the film’s approach is manipulative, capitalizing on her appearance for the audience’s sympathy. This is only exacerbated when she leaves her aunt to become a live-in maid for Hawke’s character. We’re supposed to root for her independence and view her aunt as a villain, but the director (Aisling Walsh) hasn’t yet provided a reason to dislike the aunt. Sure, she may be overprotective, but Maude leaving to live with a complete stranger who doesn’t even have a separate room or bed for her doesn’t seem like the right alternative. This exploitation of her condition makes the early section of the film unintentionally uncomfortable.

Hawkins does her best in the role, but it ends up being very reductive.

The romance between Maude and Everett begins in an equally concerning manner. It is immediately clear that the leads are going to become a couple, but their relationship begins as borderline abusive. Everett, as her employer, berates her constantly and belittles her by saying she is less valued than the farm animals. Hawke depicts him as gruff, intellectually limited, insecure about himself, and quick to anger because of it. Everett doesn’t view respect as necessary for his employee and is deliberately condescending. He is even physically abusive when Maude voices her opinions. Everett is hinted at having had a difficult childhood from being raised in an orphanage and some of his behavior may be typical for the time period, but it adds traces of Stockholm Syndrome to their courtship. It makes their eventual marriage seem like less of a true fit for Maude than her only option given her poor situation.

Maude’s eventual rise to success is heartwarming. She starts taking more control of her relationship with Everett and helping him manage his business until her recreational paintings get noticed by her husband’s clients. Her art soon earns more money than Everett’s fish and their roles swap with him taking on the housework so she can devote her time to painting. This is where his affections for her become more explicit and their relationship starts to look like a true partnership. Finally, the often-cloying direction becomes less bothersome. Hawkins portrays Maude with such an innocent spirit that her accidental success in spite of her modest goals is a welcome event. The real-life character is endearing, but Walsh’s coercive manipulation and the suspect inception of Maude’s relationship add an inadvertently problematic tone that lingers over all aspects of the film.

2/5 stars.

The Sense of an Ending (2017)

What does an old man think of in his twilight years? Two things come to mind: his end and his youth. Based on the award-winning novel by Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending follows Tony Webster (Jim Broadbent; Cloud Atlas), a retired man who owns a small camera store. His life is routine until he receives an inheritance letter from the mother of an old girlfriend – his first serious relationship from his college years. She leaves him a diary and the event jogs memories he had buried away for decades. Unsure of why or what she would leave him, he tries to recall his past and reconnect with his ex to understand what could have made her mother remember him through all those years.

Despite its acclaim and short length, Barnes’ novel had been dismissed as a poor choice for adaptation. The novel was defined by its use of an unreliable narrator, a mechanic typically better suited to literature than to film. Its major theme was memory and the way it changes over time with the main character devoting page after page to discuss his own philosophy on the subject. Director Ritesh Batra chooses to overcome this obstacle by moving away from the nature of memories to discovering missed parts of one’s own past. He views Tony’s memories as incomplete due to his own preoccupation rather than inherently subjective.

Batra adds a gentle tone to the story.

Batra continues the intimate style exhibited in his first feature, The Lunchbox. He directs the film with a gentle, affectionate approach. Camera movements are slow and unobtrusive with characters held in shallow focus to not distract the audience. He is interested in the heart of these characters, not a display of style, and Batra’s restrained hand makes Tony a much more sympathetic character than he could have been. His impact is most evident in conversations. Characters speak to each other with a candid familiarity that betrays their remaining feelings. Few actual words are shared because they can communicate the message nonverbally. They have known each other long enough to fill in the blanks. This warm tone makes the film inviting, pulling the viewer deeper into the story and allowing them to let their guard down with the characters which is meant to make the final revelations all the more shocking.

However, despite his strength with mood, Batra can’t overcome issues with the screenplay. The film has mixed success in adapting the book. The script, by necessity of the medium, makes the ending much more conclusive. This may ruin the suspense for some. Where the book sparked conversations afterwards, the film’s explicitly sealed narrative will leave many unimpressed. The lack of an unreliable narrator might have been needed for the translation to film, but it deprives the story of most of its mystery. Instead of questioning each detail for its validity and wondering what else could have taken place, we just wait for the next piece of info to be handed to us. The script’s structure succeeds in keeping the audience following, but not inquisitive. Batra’s gentle direction is greatly appreciated, but the concessions made when changing mediums sap the story of its most compelling feature: its intrigue.

3/5 stars.

Beatriz at Dinner (2017)

There’s nothing like a dinner party gone awry. It’s awkward, uncomfortable, and potentially friendship ending. This is the scenario Miguel Arteta (Cedar Rapids) has brought to life. Salma Hayek stars as Beatriz, a masseuse and homeopathic healer that works in a cancer clinic by day and does work for private clients on the side. After her car breaks down at the house of one of her long-time customers, she is invited to stay for their dinner party until help can arrive. However, she is not their typical house guest. The dinner forces her to come into contact with a local real-estate mogul, played by John Lithgow, who couldn’t be more different from her.

Beatriz immediately stands out from the other dinnergoers. She is plainly dressed and unadorned. She is dwarfed by the other dolled-up, statuesque women and can’t relate to their superficial discussions. It takes several minutes before anyone else even acknowledges her presence. Initially, she is fairly reticent. It’s not until she has had a few glasses of white wine that we get to see her opinions come out. She quickly establishes herself as strong-minded and willing to call out others on their behavior, even to the dismay of her hosts.

Beatriz is completely out of place with the elite, ultra-wealthy guests.

Hayek is completely convincing as Beatriz. Despite being an actress known for her looks, she inhabits the role. Her Beatriz is unpretentious and caring. She bonds with animals and claims to literally feel the pain of others. Even as she starts to disrupt the evening, her intentions are selfless and her heart is kind. Hayek’s greatest triumph is that she is able to portray the character without ever becoming preachy. She doesn’t have a holier-than-thou attitude. She only wants to heal and prevent others from being hurt.

The timing of the release brings new, potentially unplanned, meaning to the premise. With the current political climate of the U.S. divided on immigration, what services may or may not constitute a redistribution of wealth, and an ever-growing income disparity, the characters could easily be seen as symbolic with Lithgow’s character representing the far right and Beatriz as the left. However, Arteta leaves most of the allegory up to the viewer, choosing instead to focus on Beatriz’s reaction when confronted with someone who leads a drastically different life with a polar opposite moral compass (if any).

The allegory becomes less about the rich and the poor and more about those that heal versus those that cause suffering. Beatriz sees healing as not only the most noble, but the most difficult occupation and she has devoted her entire life to that cause. Eventually, she wonders if prevention is better than healing. What if she could stop a source of suffering rather than deal with its aftermath? This becomes her albatross. How does she deal with this man whose actions are entirely damaging? By examining how to stay true to your beliefs when faced with your literal antithesis-made-flesh, Arteta lifts Beatriz at Dinner from a simple comedy of manners to an introspective crisis of morality.

4/5 stars.

It Comes at Night (2017)

In a boarded-up cabin somewhere in the U.S., a family lives in isolation. Paul (Joel Edgerton; The Gift), his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo; Selma), and their teenage son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) lead strictly regimented lives. After a needed, but traumatic act is performed, Travis begins to have nightmares about what their living situation requires. Their routine is interrupted when a man named Will (Christopher Abbott) breaks into their house, claiming to be searching for supplies for his family.

While Travis may be conflicted about their actions, Paul has no such quandaries. Edgerton plays the character with a harsh, but necessitated practicality. Every rule they adopt and action they take is designed to protect the family. He doesn’t view things as right or wrong, he sees them as safe or unsafe. When Will enters the picture, it complicates his perspective. He sees himself in Will, another man just trying to take care of his wife and son, and takes some measured risks to help him. It’s the uneasy trust between the two families in the face of the outside threats that is thematic center of the film.

The cinematography, particularly within the cabin, is incredible. Director Trey Edward Shults (Krisha) moves his camera through the house like a cat burglar, smoothly creeping into each room. It maintains its distance however, adding a sense of voyeurism to the images. The sight of Travis quietly walking around the house is always unsettling. His movement is lit only by his lantern whose light reflects off the wood paneled walls like a flashlight held under one’s face during a fireside ghost story. There is tension with every creaking of his steps and the film is at its best when the seclusion and supposed safety of the cabin is translated into fear of the unknown beyond its one entry point, an ominous red locked door.

The foreboding lighting makes their cabin a precarious setting.

There’s a disconnect between what many will expect and what the Shults is interested in delivering. The title, while fantastic for the right type of horror movie, is misleading. It implies that the film is a monster movie, which it clearly isn’t. This is a film that examines the effect of extreme pragmatism created in the wake of a society destroying event. It’s not about creatures in the dark, it’s about the extent to which people lose their humanity when acting solely in their own interest. It’s the conflict between altruism and self-preservation and the risks that either choice creates. The title and marketing hint that there is or could be something beyond the human dangers, but there isn’t – or at least it doesn’t manifest during the course of the movie.

That isn’t a spoiler, it’s a preface. The film does itself a disservice by playing into the tropes of a monster movie. This decision creates an expectation in the audience for something supernatural which will cause many to be disappointed and overlook the other stellar components of the film. It Comes at Night is a deliberate thriller suffused with atmospheric tension that deserves to be appreciated for what it is and not maligned for what it occasionally pretends to be.

4/5 stars.

The Mummy (2017)

Starting off with its own motion graphic, The Mummy heralds itself as the beginning of Universal Pictures’ Dark Universe, their own cinematic franchise built from their classic monster movies. Unlike Marvel or DC, Universal hasn’t had its characters in the public eye for many years. Their most recent effort was the Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz-starring version of The Mummy, so it’s logical that Universal would use a reboot of those films as a launching point for their franchise. But, this is more than a simple reboot. The previous Mummy films were goofy, Indiana Jones-esque action-adventures that didn’t take themselves too seriously. The 2017 film wants to be the next action blockbuster and has its own mythology with only a wink towards earlier entries.

This version has Tom Cruise and Jake Johnson as soldiers in Iraq that accidentally open up an ancient Egyptian tomb. The archaeologist accompanying their squad, played by Annabelle Wallis, recognizes the importance of their discovery and the sarcophagus is put on a plane back to England. Mid-flight, the mummy’s power manifests in ways that allow it (Sofia Boutella) to escape and continue her quest to unleash the Egyptian god of death, with the intent of using Cruise’s body as its host. Beyond the central plot, the film also lays the foundation for future entries into the franchise with Russell Crowe playing Dr. Jekyll, the leader of Prodigium, the Dark Universe’s own Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D.

Boutella is an interesting choice for the mummy, but doesn’t receive the screentime needed to leave an impact.

Cruise, for all the money he must have cost, is still a capable leading man during the action set pieces. Despite his age, he can hold his own even when leaping out of planes or going hand-to-hand with the undead. His Achilles heel is anytime the script requires him to be the loveable rogue. Many recent blockbusters, from Jurassic World to Guardians of the Galaxy, have shoehorned in a “will they or won’t they” romance between the male and female leads and The Mummy is no exception. Cruise and Wallis are written as the film’s own Han and Leia, but without any of the actual chemistry. Their relationship doesn’t develop as feelings grow, instead the filmmaker’s treat it as the only natural outcome between two attractive leads. The foregone conclusion makes their mutual jabs irritating and unnecessary rather than playful or charming.

The greatest flaw of the movie is that in trying to launch a new, expansive franchise, it bears the burden of appealing to as many people as possible. Unlike the Marvel movies that are able to have their solo character entries occupy a distinct genre, e.g. The Winter Soldier as a spy thriller, Kurtzman and his script attempt to incorporate elements of nearly all of today’s most popular films. There is the large-scale action like the airplane scene pulled straight out of the latest Mission Impossible movie, even going as far as copying their image compositions, the standard “witty banter” between the leads from a Marvel movie, and, surprisingly, the jump scares required of a horror movie. For his part, Kurtzman is adept at handling the action and creating tension even when the overall plot is obvious. He can’t however create a cohesive tone to the film. All the spastic genre switching creates the opposite of their desired effect. Instead of appealing to everyone, The Mummy is a film that doesn’t have enough of an identity create the fervor it so desperately wants. By trying to be everything at once, it spreads itself too thin to leave a lasting impression. It’s competently built but doesn’t make the case for a new fan following and leaves the fate of the Dark Universe in the hands of the subsequent films.

3/5 stars.

Band Aid (2017)

There are few things as uncomfortable as being in the middle of a couple’s fight. The deep-seeded differences and inescapable feeling that the argument is just one of many can be agonizing. Zoe Lister-Jones (New Girl) has used this difficult scenario as the foundation of a comedy-drama. Anna (Lister-Jones) and Ben (Adam Pally) are a 30-something married couple stuck in a rut. Their friends are having children and rewarding careers while they have dead-end jobs and are constantly at each other’s throats. Instead of repeating the same fight over and over again, they decide to start a band and use their quarrels to write music.

As ridiculous as it may seem, the act of singing their frustrations is rooted in psychotherapy. Famous marriage counselors like Esther Perel use similar techniques like blind folding and roleplaying in couple’s therapy to deal with recurring issues. The use of song here abstracts their conflicts from their deeply personal roots and allows the leads to express themselves without descending into damaging attacks. It’s amazing to see how these makeshift therapy sessions allow the couple to address their marital problems.

The songs themselves won’t hold up to repeated listens. They have a very deliberate garage band crudeness without the benefit of a music producer. These aren’t the playlist-worthy tracks of a John Carney movie. While the singing talents of Lister-Jones and Pally are surprisingly adequate, the songs only work in the context of the film to provide humor and healing. The live performances and amateur lyrics are sometimes clumsy but always evocative of the irritating minutiae of a relationship and the positive effect the band has on their marriage is heartwarming.

Lister-Jones is able to balance the pain and humor of a failing marriage.

The sheer amount of humor is joyous. Lister-Jones turns everyday arguments into comedic commentary on relationships and the differences that divide men and women. She is acutely aware of the minor mannerisms that escalate into larger fights and her chemistry with Pally is perfect. They have the familiarity needed to make both their affections and insults feel authentic. Fred Armisen (Portlandia) as their strange neighbor and drummer kills every scene he is in. His unnervingly agreeable nature is a delight in the midst of Anna and Ben’s often explosive interactions and leads to plenty of awkward laughter.

Lister-Jones has stated that her goal was to make “a [John] Cassavetes comedy” and she has mostly been successful. She effectively examines both the male and female perspective in the central relationship without favoring either side. She impressively handles emotional scenes, but does make some larger generalizations about each gender. She posits that most men have a certain type of thinking process whereas most women have a completely different method, going as far as saying that they should be considered different species. The nuances of this comparison are well thought out, but it neglects the similarities that join the genders. Lister-Jones never considers the common ground between men and women which can sometimes make her assertions feel slightly reductive and incomplete. Still, Band-Aid remains an absorbing and consistently hilarious directorial debut.

4/5 stars.

Alien: Covenant (2017)

Five years after Prometheus began the Alien prequel series, Ridley Scott returns with Alien: Covenant. The film picks up with an entirely new cast aboard the titular ship, this time a colonization vessel headed to a far-off target. It is operated by an android named Walter (Michael Fassbender; Shame) until an electrical storm requires him to wake the crew from stasis. As they work on repairs, the ship picks up a transmission from a nearby planet that appears to be a viable candidate for their new colony. The crew seize the opportunity to start their new lives early and dispatch a team to investigate. This leads them to David, the android from Prometheus (also played by Fassbender), curiously alone on the planet,

Fassbender is again the highlight of the film. His performance in the dual role is able to distinguish the two android iterations in very subtle ways. The differences in regard for others, self-preservation, and thinking process all convey the slight reduction in Walter’s humanity and the effect it has on his behavior. Furthermore, the androids provide the biggest source of thematic allegory in the film. There are several biblical allusions, both overt and subtle, throughout the story, but David and Walter as Cain and Abel is a fitting comparison, particularly given David’s own obsession with creation. As the two interact and David examines Walter’s consciousness, the film recalls Scott’s own Blade Runner. The line between independence and subservience becomes a compelling question but is unfortunately only barely touched upon.

The contrast between Walter and David is the film’s most interesting idea.

The major problem with Alien: Covenant is that it devotes too much effort to not being Prometheus. The first Alien prequel had such a vitriolic backlash that it is understandable why Scott would prioritize placating franchise fans, but in doing so he prevents Covenant from having an identity of its own. As flawed as Prometheus was, with its characters acting in nonsensical ways, it had a distinct feel from the main Alien films. It was about big ideas, like the origin of life itself, and had huge set pieces as opposed to the narrow corridors of the early Alien films. The hook of the film, humanity meeting its creators, justified the expedition and the risks it required.

In contrast, Covenant feels like an unnecessary side story. The new cast checks the boxes of an Alien film, but isn’t relevant to the greater fiction. The film can’t compete with Prometheus in terms of its narrative thrust and gorgeous, sprawling sets but also can’t rival the high-strung horror tension of Alien. It even continues the problem of characters making obviously stupid mistakes. They take enormous risks with little caution and without the potential reward to rationalize their decisions which makes the consequences they suffer bring little sympathy. Even when their actions are valid, most of the cast is still inconsequential to the series which gives the audience little reason to invest in them. Without a distinctive personality or greater franchise implications, Alien: Covenant can’t help but feel like Scott is treading water until the next prequel which will hopefully bring the franchise into new, more inspired territory.

3/5 stars.