What do you believe in, David?
I’m not one of those people who thinks that Prometheus is one of the worst movies ever made. But that class above those people, the people who hate Prometheus, but know it isn’t one of the worst movies ever made, I hate Prometheus the most of that class. I am the person who hates Prometheus the most without thinking it’s one of the worst movies ever made. So I very nearly skipped this one. I’m glad I didn’t, because it’s time for one of my patented Ridiculously Bold Claims®. This movie deserves to stand next to the first two films in this franchise. It is that great. It is a masterpiece.
There’s nothing new in the setup here, but the film does go some interesting directions. This movie did what nothing since the first movie has been able to do, in my opinion, which is make the aliens terrifying. There’s something just bone-chillingly frightening about these creatures here that somehow got lost over the years. It’s the way they move, the scurrying speed of the facehuggers, the contorted stances of the xenomorphs; and it’s the horrible violation of the body, the way they invade and mutilate their prey, a twisting spine bursting out of the skin, the tendrils of the facehugger around the back of the head. These monsters are brutally frightening. There are sequences of real terror; a scene in which an infected soldier is taken to the ship’s medbay is good old-fashioned Alien viscera, an ever-intensifying scene that has a gangbuster ending.
The cast is uniformly solid, but there are standouts. Katherine Waterston is really wonderful; she, more than anyone else, imbues her character with a really intense humanity and she goes full throttle into terror when called upon. Michael Fassbender is astonishing though. He was very good in Prometheus, but the script rather betrayed his character at the end; this movie walks a bit of that betrayal back and Fassbender just gives this one everything he has. It is a dual role, I should say, and the way Fassbender is able to make the two characters he’s playing so unlike each other is kind of uncanny. There’s an amazing scene, probably the best in the film, where the two characters meet and engage in, of all things, a flute lesson and it is so brilliantly put together, both in terms of performance and technical effects, that I basically forgot I was watching just one actor. It may be my favorite “actor playing against him/herself” scene that I’ve ever encountered. This is a performance that won’t be remembered when award season rolls around, but it definitely needs to be; I’ll make a prediction: when the 2017 Oscar nominations roll around, Fassbender’s performance here will turn out to be better than . . . let’s say THREE of the five performances nominated for the Best Actor Oscar; if I forget I said this, remind me. The movie has a surprising approach to death order too, which is refreshing. So much so, in fact, that it kills off James Franco so fast that you’re not even aware that it even IS James Franco in that role until after he’s dead. Okay, well, so that one’s stupid; we’ll move on. And the film has a lot of ideas to give these actors the chance to find something deeper than simple terror. In Prometheus, Scott tried to explore deeper ideas about the meaning of existence & God & other heady subjects like that. In that film, however, such meditations felt ponderous and jarring. In this movie, he’s able to make it fit and make it less explicit, but more meaningful somehow; the themes and ideas of this movie come across powerfully, but they don’t overwhelm the visceral emotion of the piece.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that this was one of the most intense cinematic experiences I’ve had in a while, an emotional and thoughtful character piece, and also an artistic, perfectly executed meditation on fascinating themes. Better than Alien or Aliens? Well, not as a whole, no, though this film is better at certain things. But, while everything else can drop right out to my way of thinking, when future generations sit down to watch the franchise at its best, the first two will endure, of course. But so will this one. 4 stars.
tl;dr – gripping installment stands beside the best of the franchise; intensely frightening horror film takes time to meditate on powerful themes & features an epic performance from Fassbender. 4 stars.