Saw Alien: Covenant this week. The movie flew under my radar for the longest time, despite my love for the first two films of the series, and my not-quite-hate for Ridley Scott’s previous re-entry into the Alien universe, Prometheus (2012). But, when the opportunity comes to take off work a little early and catch a matinee, I am helpless against the prospect’s siren song*.
So, much to my surprise, the movie is actually good. It’s not an earth shattering revelation of a movie—for such an experience this year, you’re probably going to have to begin and end with Jordan Peele’s debut masterwork, Get Out—but it certainly irons out some of the more forgettable moments that muddied reactions to Prometheus, extending the philosophical rumination on the origins of man in a bleak universe to its natural, psychotic conclusion. It manages to be the kind of head trip that Prometheus so desperately wanted to be, without unravelling into a pointedly turgid lecture more at home in a freshman philosophy course.
And yet, there’s a lot that’s even more familiar about the movie. An egg opens up. The egg spits out a creature that is equal parts spider and Georgie O’Keefe painting. A little guy bursts out of one of the human guys. The little guy grows bigger, uses it secondary head to eat a few other guys. Acid is spilled, airlocks are blown, and everyone goes back to cryosleep, perhaps never to wake up again. It’s the same old story, a fight for love and biological weaponry.
Yes, I’ve seen this movie before. I’ve also eaten plenty of cheeseburgers before**, but it is rare that you eat a cheeseburger that is exceptionally well made, just as it is equally rare that a fairly basic monster movie is made as well as Scott and his crew made Covenant.
And that’s when a borderline-depressing thought occurred to me: the franchise movie is dangerously close to becoming a legitimate form of artistic expression. Sure, this summer we’ll be waylaid by inevitable crap like The Emoji Movie and Michael Bay’s latest attempt to make a Transformers film that isn’t technically a violation of the Geneva convention. But Ridley Scott—a legitimate and respectable filmmaker—has made his plans known to spend a sizable chunk of his twilight years trying to make more Alien movies, an effort many of us can agree he near-perfected in his first attempt nearly forty years ago. Kenneth Branagh went in a few short years from forging full-text productions of the Bard to making Chris Hemsworth a household name in Thor (2011). Sam Mendes made Oscar-bait like American Beauty (1999)***, then made 1 1/2 great Bond movies. Christopher Nolan moved from indie darlings to Batmen, and continues his quest to put the genie back in the bottle with the upcoming Dunkirk. Hell, movie news sites were abuzz just a few months ago with talk that Aaron Sorkin took meetings with Marvel Studios for some unknown project.****
I suppose this all means that original big-budget movies are going to be harder to harder to find. For every Pacific Rim (2013) there’s going to be a Pirates of the Caribbean: One More and Johnny Can Get The Rest of His Wigs Out Of Australia. That’s pretty measurably bad, mainly because I was holding out for 2Dark 2Shadows: Basically Just Mortdecai With Different Opening Titles.
But, it could also mean that the big tentpole movies will be better, on average. That has to be good, right? I mean, an Aaron Sorkin-penned Iron Man 3 would be… Well, it’d have a lot more references to Gilbert and Sullivan than the rest of the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and that has to count for something, right?
*See my ill-advised venture to watch this years undeniably weird, yet nearly shot-for-shot remake of The Breakfast Club (1985), entitled Saban’s Power Rangers.
**Probably too many; I get it.
***We could go on an on about whether or not American Beauty is a good movie. It’d make a half decent blog, if it weren’t for the fact that my answer would be ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
****Yes, every individual named in that paragraph is a man. That’s another issue entirely, and one that Hollywood is working fairly slowly to fix.