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Alien: Covenant (2017)
Uneven, unscary Prometheus-Alien-Hybrid with a lot of issues.
Alien Covenant starts quite promising. It's very reminiscent of the original Alien movie (in a good way), while also including the cinematography and wide landscape shots of Prometheus. The sets look awesome, feel real and believable and are a nice mix between the run-down industrial look of Alien and the top-of-the-line high-tech aesthetics of Prometheus. Another great thing is the soundtrack. It immediately manages to evoke memories by incorporating themes from the original Alien movie and Prometheus, while also adding something new and unique of its own. In the first (and best) third of the movie there is tension and curiosity and some intense action scenes full of suspense (that will never be achieved again for the rest of the movie). But then it goes awry.
Shortly after meeting David, everything is totally overexplained. What is revealed about David and the Xenomorphs simply demystifies these horror-icons! And while certain parts are overexplained, other questions, still lingering from Prometheus, are left unanswered. The movie should have been (as originally planned) about David and Shaw and the Engineers, not some random colonists with no character (or brain)! This just feels like a filler episode before (or after) the really interesting story.
Prometheus had its flaws, but it felt original and was pursuing its own story, somewhat independent from the Xenomorphs. The big question of where we come from made for a strong motivation. It was not really a horror movie, but more an exploration story gone wrong. I enjoyed it for that. Yes, some of the characters did one or several stupid things that eventually got them killed, but David and Elizabeth Shaw were interesting characters I was willing to care for and curious about how their journey would continue.
And this is another big sin of Covenant I cannot forgive: Repeating what made me and many others hate Alien 3, to kill characters we cared about from the previous movie in between movies! And instead we get a crew of two-dimensional cliché characters that seem even more stupid than the Prometheus crew and whose deaths feel totally meaningless.
The big exception, of course, is Michael Fassbender (David/Walter), who, together with Noomi Rapace (Dr. Shaw), had also been the best part of Prometheus. Fassbender owns every scene he's in and those are the best moments of Covenant. He manages to differentiate between the two androids convincingly and creates the only two really interesting characters in the movie. Katherine Waterston does a decent job as Daniels, but she and the rest of the humans just feel like side characters, while the real focus is on the androids.
These fine performances by Fassbender make the rest of the movie look even more soulless and derivative. It's sadly ironic, that the scenes the classical Xenomorph is in (the last third of the movie) feel like the most boring scenes of the movie. It's just the plot of Alien again, told in 20 minutes and without any horror. It seems like Ridley Scott felt some pressure to please Xenomorph fans, so he stuffed some lackluster repetition into the end of the movie (however, forgetting how to actually make the Alien scary), to please FOX and "the fans" (who apparently complained about Prometheus) in order to tell his story about David. But Prometheus flaws had not been having not enough Xenomorphs in it (but rather a sloppy script).
Why Scott did not do a true "Prometheus 2: Paradise" about Shaw and David exploring the Engineers and at the same time give Neil Blomkamp and Sigourney Weaver the chance to bring closure to Ripley and the Xenomorphs in "Alien 5" I cannot understand. What did we get instead? A hybrid movie that tries to be both, a Prometheus sequel and an Alien prequel, ending up doing neither work justice. On its own, it's not really a bad movie, just mediocre. But as one with "Alien" in the title, being advertised as a frightening, back to the roots horror story (which it is not, it's never scary) and as a sequel to Prometheus, it simply disappoints.
I'm not even sure what to wish for now. Should Scott be allowed to do another sequel to maybe, finally answer the questions he asked about the Engineers in Prometheus (but would he?) and finish David's story? Or should he be shut down and another director (maybe Blomkamp after all? Alien 5? Please?) be given the chance to do something else with the Alien franchise?
Star Trek Beyond (2016)
Finally a bit of Star Trek spirit again
With rather low expectations after the last two movies, I went into the theater and was actually pleasantly surprised. The exchange of script writer and director really was to the movie's benefit. You can tell that Simon Pegg, who wrote the script, is a fan of the old Trek and tries his best to bring back at least a bit of what made the old series and some of the old movies great.
There is still lots of fancy Abrams-style action (which can be enjoyable), but this time it is balanced out by quiet and slower moments for each character to be explored, for team working, for thinking and solving problems with one's wits and not (just) with a phaser. The climax of the movie is an example of this.
Also the Kirk-Bones-Spock triangle from the original series is put more in focus again, after Bones being put aside in the last movies in favor of Uhura. She on the other hand feels a little more redundant this time, but every crew member gets their moment of course. The villain isn't explored in too much detail though and the final revelation is not totally satisfying. Sofia Boutella's bad-ass character is a refreshing addition to the cast, she and Pegg bring a lot of humor into the movie.
There are again a lot of references to the other series and movies (a ship from the "Star Trek: Enterprise" era; a planet that hints a bit at the TOS paper rock sets; the Enterprise in "Search for Spock" and "Generations") and this time they don't just feel like fan service, but do actually make sense in the plot. It is also nice how Leonard Nimoy's real life passing is mirrored in the movie.
Some call this an expensive TOS TV-episode and they are partially right. But that is actually a good thing, because Star Trek was always best on the small screen, when it tried to tell stories about exploration, science, working together across boundaries and settling things diplomatically if possible. But even though "Beyond" does a better job than its two predecessors, it is still a long way to how Star Trek was in the old series. But let's also remember that most of the old movies where more action orientated and/or featured a villain instead of a scientific or cultural problem like in the TV shows. Overall, if you had your problems with the new movies as I did (though I could still mostly enjoy them as popcorn movies), give this one a chance.
Score as a Star Trek story: 6/10
Score as an (action/popcorn) movie: 8/10