Back in 2012, Ridley Scott attempted to revitalize his science fiction/horror Alien franchise with Prometheus. Despite having a star studded cast and a premise filled with intrigue, Prometheus left me (and tons of franchise purists) a bit dissatisfied. It was by no means a lousy movie, but it failed to answer many of its own questions and was also void of the horror elements that made the original films so suspenseful. Having heard all of the gripes back then, it’s only natural to expect Scott to right the wrongs of Prometheus with Alien: Covenant.
Taking place 10 years after Prometheus, this film follows the voyage of a ship on its way to colonize a new planet. After an on-board malfunction causes them to lose their captain, the crew decides to answer a distress call on a nearby habitable planet rather than re-enter cryogenetic sleep to reach their original destination. Little do they know, there are deadly alien creatures waiting to rip them apart upon arrival.
For the most part the crew (or inevitable victims if you’re familiar with the franchise) is intrinsically likable. Katherine Waterston does an amicable job as Daniels, the Covenant Captain’s widow and the film’s lead. She is humble and does a solid job conveying all the necessary emotions, but it’s admittedly difficult to distinguish the character’s personality from the previous film’s lead (Noomi Rapace). Danny McBride brings surprising emotion and southern charm to his role as Tennessee, the ship’s pilot. Carmen Ejogo and Billy Crudup do their best as the husband and wife duo entrusted to lead the crew after their captain’s untimely demise. Michael Fassbender returns to the franchise as Walter, a humanoid robot built by the expedition’s founder Peter Wayland (Guy Pearce in a cameo role). Just like in Prometheus, Fassbender’s performance is hauntingly magnetic and the film’s driving force.
It’s hard to truly delve into the problems and successes of Alien: Covenant without revealing heavy spoilers. But it is important to note that the film is a direct sequel to Prometheus. This not only means familiarity with the previous film is a must to understand much of Alien: Covenant, but it also makes the movie associate more with its underwhelming prequel than to the beloved first two films in the franchise. Just like in Prometheus, the true villain isn’t a terrifying alien and although there are still tons of creepy horror moments, the movie is more stomach churningly gruesome than it is outright scary.
The movie does deserve credit for making its characters a touch smarter than the ones in Prometheus (but only a slight touch) and unlike the previous installment, Covenant actually manages to answer more questions than it leaves on the table. But it still doesn’t do much to make itself more memorable. While it certainly doesn’t hearken back to the 1979 or 1986 films in thrills or suspense, Covenant does manage to be an intriguing and fun, albeit generic entry worth a watch for fans of the genre but possibly dismissive for anyone else.
FINAL GRADE: B
Like George Lucas creating Star Wars or J.R.R. Tolkein creating the Lord of the Rings, inventing an entire fictional world is no easy task. For that reason alone, J.K. Rowling deserves a seat at the table with the rest of the geniuses of creative fiction. I’ve always been a huge fan of Rowling’s (despite never reading a single Harry Potter book) based on the intricacies of the characters and stories in the eight Harry Potter films. So it only made sense for Rowling to offer up another window into her wizarding world in a new era and with brand new characters.
Loosely based on a novelized version of Harry Potter’s fictional textbook, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them follows Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) a magizoologist who keeps, rescues, and studies magical creatures. His exploits lead him to 1920’s New York where running into a non-wizard factory worker at the bank (Dan Fogler) leads to several of his secret creatures getting loose. When Tina (Katherine Waterston), a demoted former official for the U.S. Magical Congress, and her telepathic witch sister (Alison Tudol) learn of Scamander and his escaped magical animals, they join to help locate them before the already tense relations between wizards and non-wizards leads to war.
There are several suplots in Fantastic Beasts that may make the film feel muddled, especially for newcomers to J.K. Rowling’s universe. One involves an awkward teen (Ezra Miller) being torn between witch hunting with his abusive adoptive mother and helping the film’s primary antagonist (Colin Farrell) track down a dark entity. But the movie really works best when it focuses on Scamander’s search for his lost creatures instead of building an overarching subplot for inevitable sequels.
All of the beasts are fun and interesting from a platypus-like creature that loves to steal anything shiny to a rhinoceros-like beast in dire desire to mate. And all of the best scenes in the movie highlight Scamander’s love for and interaction with these creatures. Eddie Redmayne is born for the role, portraying Scamander with the perfect dose of endearing social awkwardness and genuine heart. As a result, Newt Scamander is an inherently likable character that is different enough from anything we saw in the Harry Potter franchise.
As for the supporting cast, they’re hit or miss. Waterston’s Tina comes off as more annoying than interesting and Tudol’s Queenie Goldstein is pretty and quirky but does little more than make heart eyes at Fogler’s character. Colin Farrel’s villain Percival Graves starts off as an intriguing character with mysterious motivations, but by the end he becomes a sniveling, watered down and less intimidating version of Voldermort. The most enjoyable supporting human in the film is easily Dan Folger’s Jacob Kowalski who provides some fun physical comedy and a fairly charming back story.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them ends up being a fun and mystifying, albeit overstuffed, introduction into a whole new narrative within an already intriguing universe. No, this is NOT Harry Potter and anyone who goes in thinking otherwise may come out disappointed. Pacing and characters are much different than they were in the Potter films, but the tone is still there and along with a loveable protagonist there’s enough to enjoy this movie and look forward to the future adventures of Newt Scamander.
FINAL GRADE: B