Cary, NC – Alien: Covenant is the follow-up to Prometheus, itself a prequel to 1979’s classic horror film, Alien, all helmed by director Ridley Scott. Covenant is mostly successful as a straight thriller, but struggles a bit as it tries to ask big questions about humanity and its creator, though it does gets an A for effort.
Remaking a Classic
The original Alien is one of my all-time favorite horror films, up there with The Thing. Everything about that movie works. The setting, the cast, the creature, but above all, the simplicity. There is no explanation for the alien itself, it simply is just there, taking out crew members one by one. Masterful. Which explains one of my biggest qualms with Prometheus: why do we need to know where they came from? Granted, that film is also asking bigger questions. And while I commend the effort, Prometheus is plagued with poor scripting, featuring characters who are not only making horrible decisions left and right, but they are down right unbelievable.
Covenant still has some of those problems. A few characters freak out just a little too easily but overall it’s an improvement. The crew this time out makes much more sense as a unit and their character interactions are solid. Katherine Waterston (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) is our female hero this time out and she’s a great addition to the franchises’ previous alien killers.
There’s also Billy Crudup (Almost Famous, Spotlight) and Danny McBride (Pineapple Express, Eastbound and Down) in the crew, as well as a slew of character actors that help make these characters memorable enough to at least feel something as they get hunted down.
Star of the Show
But this is Michael Fassbender’s show all the way. He plays two roles this time out, one as David, the android with the ability to learn whom we first met in Prometheus (where he was also the highlight) and Walter, a newer model that isn’t quite as impressive as David.
Fassbender is simply fascinating here, encompassing the main themes of the movie itself, struggling with his creations and creators. It’s genuine movie magic on display when he interacts with himself and director Scott seems to know it’s the most interesting part of the movie.
Fixing What Isn’t Broken
Somehow though, this is where the film struggles a bit as well. Covenant is interested in asking big questions, and again, I commend the effort and love that a big budget sci-fi film is attempting something complicated. But I can’t help but wonder: what’s the point? The first film is unique and simple. We don’t need this explanation, even if it’s as interesting as it is.
We got this movie though; it’s here and not going away. And director Scott really has done a fine job, the film itself is visually stunning and there are numerous set pieces that are tense and work completely.
And actually, I do also have to give the film credit for not being afraid to get genuinely weird. Without spoiling anything, Covenant has multiple moments where I found myself asking “What is going on here?” is the best way. Again, I do love to see a movie of this size trying things like this, whether it’s successful or not.
Overall, I can say that I enjoyed this film much more than Prometheus. If you’ve never been a fan of the Alien films before, I don’t think this will be the one to sway you in, but if you’re even halfway interested in the franchise then there is enough here to justify seeing on the big screen. The conversation with friends afterwards alone was worth it.
Playing this weekend at the Cary Theater, World War I works as a backdrop for this historical romance movie. And while this modern take on Frantz may not have the same weight as its 1930s predecessor, there is a strong emotional core and it is a good gateway for anyone who has not seen the original.
Romance in Hard Times
The story of Frantz is rich with potential for a great and dramatic film. In the years after World War I, a young German woman named Anna is adjusting to life after her fiancé was killed in “the war to end all wars.” But a young Frenchman named Adrien shows up at her door, telling her stories about his friendship with her fiancé and eventually striking up a romance with Anna.
This is a classic romantic set-up for a film, even older than Romeo and Juliet: two lovers from different communities finding a way to come together. And for the many German families that lost their sons, brothers and husbands in the war, a French soldier wooing one of their own is unacceptable.
Director François Ozon (Young and Beautiful, 8 Women) focuses more on this romantic element than in the 1932 film Broken Lullaby this one is adapted from. And while this reduces some important elements, the film’s focus on Anna as a character and her own struggles to come to terms with her emotions makes for a resonant main story.
War and Peace
What Frantz gains in romance, it loses in its anti-war message. Broken Lullaby came out at a time when these feelings of rage toward World War I were very raw and that comes out in the film. But all the way in 2017, it is not quite as strong, even for French and German audiences.
That is not to say Frantz does not address these emotions. One of the most harrowing lines in the film comes from the father of Anna’s dead husband, furious about her relationship with Adrien. He bellows, “Every French man is my son’s murderer.” And there are strong messages against nationalism through the movie.
There is one element of Frantz that has a lot more to say about the aftermath of the Great War but it is a large spoiler so you will have to experience it yourself.
An intense romance, carried by the emotion of post-war Germany on the eve of the coming Nazi regime, Frantz has something for everyone, whether you are a fan of history, romance or just a good drama.
Frantz is playing at the Cary Theater on Thursday, May 25 at 2 and 7 PM; Saturday, May 27 at 7 PM; and Sunday, May 28 at 2 PM.