May 19, 2017

Double Review: “Alien: Covenant” and “Everything, Everything”

By Carl Kozlowski *
Official movie poster for "Alien: Covenant" / Credit: 20th Century Fox
Official movie poster for "Alien: Covenant" / Credit: 20th Century Fox

With the summer movie season kicking into high gear, there’s plenty of films coming out each weekend – and this time around, you can’t ask for a bigger difference in styles than the latest epic in the “Alien” series, and the teen romance “Everything, Everything.”

“Alien: Covenant” marks the sixth official film in the “Alien” series, which means no one counts the two awful and stupid “Alien Versus Predator” movies made just over a decade ago. Director Ridley Scott exploded into the top tier of directors with the first “Alien” in 1979, and after branching out with an eclectic array of other classics including “Gladiator” and “Thelma & Louise,” he returned to the well with the “Alien” prequel “Prometheus” five years ago.
That film launched a trilogy designed to show how the vicious aliens came into being prior to the initial film’s atrocities, and this weekend he’s back to reveal more of how the aliens originated with “Covenant.” But with less memorable humans in the battle, it’s getting harder to care about their fates.

The film opens with a flashback to an unspecified time decades before when David (Michael Fassbender), the android who played a key role as part of the crew in “Prometheus,” was being trained by its creator, Dr. Weyland (Guy Pearce). As they discuss God and creation, there is a brewing air of tension between the two as David seems to bristle at the idea of being controlled.
But most of the film takes place in 2104, about a decade after “Prometheus,” and features a giant spaceship called Covenant with a 16-member crew in charge of 2,000 people and hundreds of embryos all hoping to colonize a distant planet. All are in cryogenically suspended sleep for the decades-long journey, under the care of an android named Walter (also Fassbender), and another android in the mold of David.

When the Covenant gets caught in a space storm that cuts off some of its power, the crew is forced awake. The captain (James Franco in what has to be the shortest cameo in years) dies in the havoc, leaving Oram (Billy Crudup) in charge amid tensions wrought by the fact he orders them to fix the ship with no real time to mourn the death of their former leader.

The ship suddenly receives a video signal of a woman speaking English, and Oram orders the crew to go off-course and explore the planet it came from. As they land, they are surprised to find it so similar to Earth that Oram tells them to consider it as an alternative place to simply stop and colonize instead of their original destination.

What they don’t yet realize is that the planet is where the Prometheus ship of the prior film disappeared, and everything is covered with alien pathogens. When one unfortunate crewman is infected, they soon find themselves under attack by alien creatures that start out small and morph ever further into the grisly beasts that fans have come to know and fear.

They also stumble across David, who has been living there in darkness for the past decade — leading to tension between Walter and David that could affect them all.

Director Scott continues his tradition of brewing slow-building tension and an intense sense of atmosphere, with the film taking at least 45 minutes to have its first big alien encounter. Once they start, however, the battles come fast and furious, with plenty of inventive ways for the crew to die.

While “Covenant” features a certain interest in engaging philosophical ideas about the nature of creation, the film is lacking in charismatic characters like Ripley and suffers somewhat as a result.  By comparison, the victims are mostly interchangeable pieces of meat here, leaving the film to be less tasty than it might have been for all but its core fan base. 

“Covenant” also has a shocking and depressing finale in which a force of evil clearly wins, and aside from the many moments of nasty blood and bodily fluids spilled out in the alien battles, it features about 40 uses of the F word and a brief shower sex scene that features the woman briefly topless and shows both participants’ derrieres before an alien interrupts in gruesome fashion. It’s definitely not for kids or teens, but adults who have handled the rest of the series or don’t mind gross scares should handle it fine, even though it’s more grim than great as entertainment.

Meanwhile, “Everything, Everything” tells the story of a teen girl who has been trapped in her house her entire life due to being allergic to everything and the new boy next door whom she falls for and risks her health.

Maddy (Amandla Stenberg) is a 17-year-old girl who has never left her suburban Los Angeles home because of having a disorder that makes her allergic to nearly everything in the outside world. She is a virtual prisoner in her home with her doctor mother Pauline, who treats Maddy herself and hasn’t allowed anyone to enter the house other than her longtime maid Carla and Carla’s daughter since her husband and other child died in a car crash 15 years before.

One day, a cute teenage boy named Olly (Nick Robinson) moves in next door, and he and Maddy start flirting via text messages almost instantly. As Maddy develops feelings for him, she reveals her condition and the two find inventive ways to communicate via text, online and the phone, with Maddy imagining some of their conversations taking place in a model she’s building of a diner. 

Eventually, Carla sneaks Olly into the house on the condition the teens don’t make physical contact with each other in any way. Thus, the movie seems like it’s going to show a chaste relationship based on truly getting to know each other.

But Maddy has Olly come over for the 4th of July, when both her mom and Carla are gone, and the couple kiss. When Maddy manages to avoid getting sick, she becomes more determined to develop a real relationship with Olly, but when she runs outside in a panic to help Olly after he gets hit in a fight with his alcoholic father, Pauline forces their contact to end – leading to a plan to escape together.

“Everything, Everything” has engaging performances from its lead teen couple, with Stenberg and Robinson having a fun chemistry together. However, the story is extremely limited and rather claustrophobic since so much takes place in Maddy’s house, so it is easy to lose interest in it fairly early.

SPOILER ALERT: When the couple run away together, the movie also strangely has a very limited portrayal of what a girl who’s basically been a prisoner her entire life would do while discovering the world for the first time. And their sweet romance is tarnished by the fact they have romantically portrayed sex together without moral consequences on their first night away, which sets a poor example for its target teen audience.  

Maddy’s mother Pauline also is proven to have engaged in major deception with Maddy, though they are shown forgiving each other, with a nice portrayal of a mother-teen daughter relationship. END SPOILER

Overall, “Everything, Everything” doesn’t have that much going for it. The teen girls in the advance screening laughed at a lot of the humor and swooned audibly in the couple’s sweeter moments, but most audiences will find that it’s too simple and limited in its plotting to truly care about them. It admirably has almost no foul language, but SPOILER ALERT its casual attitude towards teen sex END SPOILER makes it inappropriate for teens and merits caution for all viewers.

Carl Kozlowski has been a professional film critic and essayist for the past five years at Pasadena Weekly, in addition to the Christian movie site Movieguide.org, the conservative pop culture site Breitbart.coms Big Hollywood, the Christian pop culture magazine Relevant and New City newspaper in Chicago. He also writes in-depth celebrity interviews for Esquire.com and The Progressive. He is owner of the podcasting site www.radiotitans.com, which was named one of the Frontier Fifty in 2013 as one of the 50 best talk-radio outlets in the nation by www.talkers.com and will be relaunching it in January 2014 after a five-month sabbatical. He lives in Los Angeles.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.

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