REVIEW: ALIEN: COVENANT (2017)

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ALIEN: COVENANT (2017)

WARNING: There might be some details here that could be considered as spoilers to those who want to go in knowing as little as possible. Some plot elements had to be divulged somewhat in order to give an accurate opinion. -MZNJ

Prometheus was a pretentious mess that tried to expand on the Alien franchise by delving into our creation and thus that of the Xenomorphs. It didn’t make good on it’s initial ideas and had a crew of supposed genius scientists doing incredibly stupid things. Ridley Scott tries to repair a bit of the damage with Alien: Covenant, which brings us closer to the world he introduced us to in 1979. The flick takes place ten years later with the spaceship Covenant heading to populate a new world with a small crew and over two thousand colonists in hyper-sleep. A massive neutrino burst blasts the ship causing damage and forcing the ship synthetic, Walter (Michael Fassbender) to awaken the crew. While engaging in repairs, they receive a signal from what appears to be a human source on a nearby planet. Upon investigation, the crew finds out not only the fate of Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Repace) and the synthetic David (also Michael Fassbender), but discover an awaiting nightmare that they may not escape from.

New chapter in the Alien saga is definitely better than Prometheus, but that’s not saying much, nor is it by the amount needed to restore complete faith in this prequel series. This one is written by John Logan and Dante Harper, from a story by Jack Paglen and Michael Green and the first hour is actually quite dull till we reach the unknown planet and find the synthetic human David living in what appears to once have been a city of otherworldly beings. There the film picks up a bit as it takes on a sort of Frankenstein twist as David has been quite busy playing God on his new world. It then takes till the last act where we start to get some of the action we came for and some familiar faces make their appearance…and that’s also the other problem. At this point the Xenomorph’s are far too familiar to be really frightening and it is the messianic David that really chills one as there are definitely a few screws loose in his reattached, megalomaniacal head. In these scenes the film livens up and delivers some chills as our unsuspecting, stranded crew have no idea what little ole David has been doing to relieve the boredom…but they’re going to find out. There is some surprisingly abundant gore and the film is sumptuous looking, as are all of Scott’s films, but it all comes to a terribly predictable end that we can all see coming almost an hour away. There are a few scenes along the way with some impact…alien interrupted shower sex anyone?…but otherwise it’s the same ole, same ole right up to how the remaining crew decide to deal with the critter…really, after almost 40 years you’re still sticking with that???

The cast are good, though the characters here are very thinly written and it’s hard to connect on an emotional level with anybody but the chill-inducing David. Katherine Waterston is our heroine Daniels Branson and while she is fine in the last act when she goes all Ripley, she really doesn’t make much of an impact until then. One wonders where all the piss and vinegar comes from as she is played very low-key up till that point. Comic actor Danny McBride stands out a bit as pilot Tennessee. McBride is very restrained here and plays the role very seriously…as the film is basically humorless, anyway. He makes a solid hero even if, like Waterston, he doesn’t get to cowboy-up till the last act. Really standing out doing exceptional work is Michael Fassbender as both David and Walter. As Covenant synthetic Walter we get the boyish innocence and Spock-like logic we expect from these android characters. It is when he gets to chew the scenery as the messiah/Dr. Frankenstein mash-up that is David, he really chills with his performance and out-does the creepy critters in the goosebumps department. His relationship with the newer model Walter is quite interesting as he tries to convince the synthetic to see things his way. The scenes revealing what David has been up to the last ten years are among the best in the movie. Once we go back to the alien loose on the ship format, it gets very ‘been there, done that’. As for the rest of the cast that populate this prequel sequel, they are basically two dimensional alien fodder and we never really care about them or remember their names for that matter.

In conclusion, yes it was better than it’s predecessor, but not by much and it takes over an hour to really get going. The characters are bland, the aliens at this point are too familiar to be truly frightening and their antics are getting stale. What makes this movie worth watching is Michael Fassbender’s truly chilling portrayal of David and the messianic Dr. Frankenstein he’s become. His relationship with the xenomorph’s is a highlight, though it does unintentionally clue us in as to how this is all going to end…and it ends exactly how you think it’s going to. Not the pretentious mess that was Prometheus, but still a long way from the original classic or James Cameron’s awesome sequel.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 alien eggs.

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: X-MEN: APOCALYPSE (2016)

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X Men Apocalypse

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X-MEN: APOCALYPSE (2016)

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While X-Men: Apocalypse is not the worst of this series, it may be the dullest. The film opens in ancient Egypt where a powerful being, En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac) is about to transfer his consciousness into another body when he is betrayed and buried beneath the ruins of a great pyramid. We then cut to 1983 where he is dug up by a cult of mutant worshipers and set free to resume his plan of…you guessed it…world destruction and domination. Now Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and rebel hero Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) must somehow stop the first and most powerful mutant with only a group of young students and CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) at their sides. Worse still, En Sabah Nur has gathered a strike force of his own, Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Angel (Ben Hardy) and Psylocke (Olivia Munn) and only needs one more piece to carry out his apocalyptic plan…Charles Xavier.

As this is the fourth X-Men flick directed by Bryan Singer and written by Simon Kinberg, co-written with Singer, Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris, we see a series in definite need of new creative blood. The story is just another powerful villain looking to annihilate mankind yarn, directed very by-the-numbers by Singer. Gone is the cleverness from his first two flicks, as well as, the energy and the fun. The film plods along for 144 minutes, taking itself way too seriously and we only see a spark of life in the last few moments, when the young members of the team must step up against a god-like being…though a god-like being that never really impresses or exudes much menace. And that is another big problem with this flick, En Sabah Nur…or Apocalypse…is a boring villain. He is never frightening, nor do we ever truly feel the power he is supposed to have. He’s just some blue guy who wants to rule the world…yawn. Even his sidekicks, including the usually impressive Magneto, are given little to do, but stand glowering behind him, till the climactic battle and even then only Olivia Munn’s Psylocke shows a little promise, despite being as underused as the rest of them. Add to that a detour into William Stryker’s (Josh Helman) lair, which serves no purpose other than to give a certain familiar face a cameo and adds at least twenty minutes to an already overlong flick. Remove the sequence entirely and it would have no bearing on the story. Even Stan Lee’s usually amusing cameo is dull, though at least we get to meet his real-life wife.

There are some positive points. There is some solid action and the FX are spectacular, even though the whole city destruction thing has been done to death in recent superhero flicks. Evan Peters has another movie stealing scene as Quicksilver and should get his own movie at this point. Mystique’s graduation to team leader works well and Lawrence again shines in the role, as does Sophie Turner as a young Jean Grey, who has a bit of a scene stealing moment of her own in the final conflict. One of the few moments to show some life and have impact. Newton Thomas Sigel returns with some crisp cinematography and John Ottoman from X2 and Days Of Future Past again scores the soundtrack…of which also contains some cool 80s tunes.

The film has a big cast and the recent regulars like McAvoy, Fassbender, Hoult, Byrne and Lawrence all perform their roles well and we wish they were given something more challenging to do. Oscar Isaac is sadly underwhelming as En Sabah Nur/Apocalypse. He just doesn’t project any power or malice, as the supposedly first and most powerful mutant. It is almost as if he was phoning in the part. Evan Peters is once again amusing as the smart-ass Quicksilver and thankfully he has a bigger role. Sophie Turner is good as young Jean Grey and in her big scene evokes the kind of power Isaac could have used to make his villain memorable. As for the rest of the newbies, Jodi Smit McPhee is fun as Nightcrawler, Tye Sheridan is fine as the new Cyclops, Ben Hardy is given very little to do as Angel, so it is hard to really comment on his performance, Alexandra Shipp shows potential for Storm and Olivia Munn, as mentioned previously, makes an impression as Psylocke, even if she is underused.

What can be said? It’s not an outright bad movie like Last Stand, but even that had some fun stuff in it. While this is a better made and written film, it is also a very drab, uninvolving and overlong one. At least Last Stand had the decency to be less than two hours long. Our main bad guy is heaps of dull and his world destroying plot is heaps of been-there-done-that. On a plus note, the FX are as well rendered, the action is well staged and the recast favorites work well enough, with Sophie Turner standing out. There are a few good new characters such as Olivia Munn’s villainous Psylocke and another fun sequence with the scene stealing Quicksilver. A ho-hum entry in a series which has too many interesting characters to run out of gas quite yet.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 sexy but underused Psylocke’s.

x men apocalypse rating

 

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014)

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X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014)

I really liked X-Men: First Class, it was a great way to reboot a series that had stumbled a bit and put together a really solid cast in both familiar and new roles. I was actually a little disappointed when I heard Matthew Vaughn had passed on the next installment, but remained hopeful upon hearing original franchise director Bryan Singer would return to the director’s chair. But sadly all the fun and energy that Vaughn gave his retro entry and even the spark and intensity Singer gave his first two films is, for the most part, lacking in this overlong and somewhat tedious entry that takes until it’s final act to really get going and by then it’s too little too late.

The complicated Terminator-ish story takes place in a bleak and war-torn future where mutants and any human who may have the potential to give birth to a mutation, have been hunted down and almost completely destroyed by the ruling power and their army of robot Sentinels which detect the mutant gene and eliminate those with it. But there is a slight hope. Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellan) have devised a plan to used Kitty Pryde’s (Ellen Page) power to send Logan’s (Hugh Jackman) consciousness back to his pre-adamantium body in 1973 to contact their younger selves (James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender) and try to get them to work together and stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from murdering the Sentinel’s inventor Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) and setting in motion events that will lead to the war that has ravaged the Earth and caused so many deaths. But at this point in history Xavier and Magneto are not allies and Mystique has gone rogue and Logan may only have hours to change the course of time before their time in the future is up… did you get all that?

Obviously, the film has a very complicated story that involves time travel which, always sets up it own set of difficulties, but considering that the film avoids being a mess, is more of a plus. The problem here is not the story details or the logistics of time travel and changing the course of history, but the deadpan tone with which the usually competent Singer directs this affair. Gone is the energy and fun of the first two X-Men films he directed and instead is a very by-the-numbers presentation of what should have been a fun and suspenseful tale. There are a few entertaining bits like Quicksilver’s (Evan Peters) speedy and clever way of getting our heroes out of a jam, but the film really has no spark until it reaches it’s climactic act and then we get a bit more of the movie we wanted to see, but it takes over 90 minutes of mostly ho-hum sequences to get there…sequences that should have been very tense and exciting but aren’t. The pace is also slow for a superhero film even one with a plot of such dire importance as this. And maybe that’s it. Singer just seems to take this story just a little too seriously and we rarely get those little witty character moments that made the previous film’s so fun. The camaraderie between the characters just isn’t there. Maybe it’s Simon Kinberg’s script based on a story by Kinberg, Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn that simply was too bleak and left out a lot of the fun. Either way X-Men:DOFP just really lacks something till the final scenes and, to be honest, wasn’t very involving till then. I was never bored, but was never fully drawn in. For the most part I was along for the ride, but never really interested in where it was going… and I should have been.

Again Singer works with a very large and familiar cast, but unlike his previous X-Men adventures, the cast here seem to be going through the motions from Stewart to Lawrence to Jackman to McKellen and most of his principles. There is no real passion or energy in their performances despite having all played their roles before save Dinklage. They all seem like they are just performing by the numbers with the only person really giving his role some pop is the young Peters with his smart aleck Quicksilver and sadly his screen-time is limited. Even the usually excellent Fassbender seems like he’d rather be somewhere else. There are plentiful mutant cameos, some familiar and some new, but few of them really resonate other then the amusement of seeing that familiar face or someone intriguing and new. And the new characters, aside from Quicksilver, are really given very little attention, certainly not enough to endear to us to them. Is it possible that these actors have tired of their roles?

It’s not all bad. It is tedious though I never actually got to the point of being bored. The film really did pick up in the last half hour for a pretty decent finale in Washington D.C. that interweaves with the battle raging in the future, though it certainly can’t hold a candle to the Washington D.C. set finale of the Captain America sequel The Winter Soldier and could have had a little more suspense and intensity. The FX are top notch and the scale of the film seems fairly large especially when the action finally starts. Newton Thomas Sigel is back doing the cinematography though, since the film is set in the 70s, I did miss the retro look of John Mathieson’s cinematography on First Class. And maybe that is what one of the problems is, that the film is set in the 70s, but never really felt like it… like, say American Hustle did. John Ottman returns to score from X2 and also did the film editing…busy man…and his score is adequate but a bit uninspired.

So, overall, X-Men: Days Of Future Past may not be an outright disappointment, but it is a letdown and certainly could have been much livelier considering the importance of what was transpiring. Maybe the whole back in time to fix the future thing has run it’s course, or maybe Singer’s time away from Xavier and company has dulled his passion for the material…or maybe it’s still too familiar to elicit a stronger passion. Either way, it’s not the worst X-Men movie, but far from the best. Also stars Nicholas Hoult as Beast/Hank McCoy.

2 and 1/2 X-Men.

x-men DOFP rating

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REVIEW: CENTURION (2010)

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CENTURION (2010)

Neil Marshall’s Centurion is a fictional film based on the legend of Rome’s Ninth Legion, who are said to have marched thousands strong into the Scottish wilds to conquer the land from savage warriors known as the Picts… and allegedly disappeared without a trace. This film takes this historical mystery and turns it into a tale that is a fast paced and bloody action adventure about the slaughter of Rome’s 9th and the remaining handful of soldiers who are now fighting for their lives behind enemy lines. Adding fuel to their already perilous situation is that one of them murdered the Pict King’s son while they were infiltrating the Pict village and trying to rescue their captive general (Dominic West). Now they are stalked relentlessly through hostile territory by vengeful Pict warriors lead by vicious and cruel hunter Etain (Olga Kurylenko) and must fight for their lives every step of the way. Leading the beleaguered band is centurion Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender), a rescued POW who is now forced to take command of the surviving members of Rome’s 9th in an effort to get to friendlier soil with their throats uncut.

As directed by The Descent’s Neil Marshall, Centurion is a fast paced and savagely violent tale of survival on deadly ground. He gives us a group of noble heroes to root for and also instills the Picts with doses of savage menace making them a foe to be feared as they hunt down the fleeing survivors. It’s a no nonsense action adventure that is filled with some gorgeous visuals courtesy of director Marshall and cinematographer Sam McCurdy and a lot of fierce and brutal action. Marshall gives us a lot of tension and suspense to go along with the battles and keeps things moving, but not too fast that we don’t get to know our characters enough to care. 

And as for the excellent cast, including Fassbender, West, Kurylenko and Walking Dead’s David Morrissey, they do well taking the characters from the scripted page and making them very three dimensional, and thus giving the film some added emotional resonance as this small group of survivors become quite endearing and we root and fear for them as they are mercilessly pursued and cut down one by one.

Beautiful Scottish locations are host to the blood soaked story and with a reported $12 million budget, the film is far smaller scaled then 300 or Troy, but is all the more better for it as our focus is on our embattled band of soldiers than epically scaled war scenes. Neil Marshall crafts a solid and entertaining action/adventure with refreshingly minimal CGI and no pretentious overindulgence. Highly recommended for fans action and historical based drama.

3 and 1/2 war axes!

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