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Director Nick Love knows how to pick up a poisoned chalice. In choosing to tackle a modern day take on Alan Clarke’s 1989 The Firm, he risks the wrath of upsetting those who regard the original so highly, while also being accused of jumping aboard the remake bandwagon. As it turns out, though, he gets away with it all. Love’s version of The Firm wisely uses the early film as inspiration rather than a firm template. Thus, while the setting remains underground football violence, Love switches the attention to a different character, the youngster breaking into the crowd. This allows the narrative to focus on his becoming accepted by the group, and then his struggle to break free, which settles into a solid three-act story. It’s very much aimed at an adult audience, but that doesn’t mean that The Firm is a cheap piece of cinema. Far from it, as it happens. Love’s film mixed in sharp violence with sparks of humour, and does so to very good effect. In the process, it sidesteps comparisons to the original by simply going off in a different direction, and works well because of it. It’s a little more tempered than some of Nick Love’s earlier work too, but perhaps as a consequence, it’s also his best film to date.
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But the movie does not click. In Alien 3, especially its superior Special Edition, we see a lot of humanity, however bleak, and the horror of a new, much faster and more vicious Giger Xenomorph. We meet Dillon, a noble man with a criminal past who approaches all problems from a no-nonsense, religious perspective. His beliefs don't stop him from kicking serious butt when necessary. Even Clemens, Andrews, Morse and a few others hold a viewer's interest. But Alien: Resurrection is every bit as bleak, hopeless, gloomy and depressing as its predecessor, yet this time there's no humanity or characterization to be found anywhere, except maybe in Call, the android who understands the threat the Xenomorphs pose. The Ripley clone is actually kind of a muttering Bride of Frankenstein. We care about Ripley, but that doesn't guarantee we'll accept her staggeringly uninteresting clone. The real Ripley's sacrifice in Alien 3 only prolonged the birth of a new Alien Queen. Anyone who's seen this movie knows how the long-awaited Queen makes the one in AVP look worthy of Cameron's original. The "Newborn" human-Xeno mix is hideous and pathetic and has a baby-poop-yellow color that ruins anything outstanding about the creature design (and there isn't much). Gore is in abundance, fast but still gratuitous. The mercenaries are drab and evil; who cares if they live or die? Who needs all the one-liners in this misguided attempt to restart a film franchise? When the Ripley clone, #8, discovers the seven failures that preceded her, she shows Ellen Ripley style emotion. This scene could have been iconic, but nothing is explored. Gigeresque horrors are done away with through the use of a flamethrower. When I tuck myself in bed every night, I ask the Almighty to please make sure there's never another flamethrower used in an Alien film. When I watched Prometheus I thought Janek should have just shoot a giant flamethrower at the Juggernaut heading for Earth. Star Wars has its lightsabers, and Alien has its flamethrowers. I can't believe someone didn't cremate Shaw's dissected corpse in Alien: Covenant. Lazy writing!
Alien: Resurrection will probably entertain you in some ways. A few of the Alien scenes are memorable. The Queen is horrible, and might have been downright hellish if not for the arrival of the ridiculous Newborn. The Ripley clone has some good scenes, as does Call. But the atmosphere of this movie is heartless. Alien fans loved the casts of the first two films, and many liked the misfits of Alien 3 in spite of themselves. Alien: Resurrection looks like a science-fiction epic but feels like an absurd European art movie combining with a pointless American sci-fi horror vehicle that should go straight to home video. It is the work of a fine director, talented writers, a solid cast, but it never "feels" right. I have watched Alien 3 (both versions) dozens of times but nothing induces me to revisit A:R in the hopes I'll finally like it, finally find something intriguing in it. Twenty years after first seeing it, I like it less than ever.
The only way an Alien movie is ever going to work again is with a cast that viewers care about. I like Shaw (written out like Newt and Hicks in A3), David/Walter, Janek and Tennessee in the new Scott prequels. Covenant almost made me miss the Last Engineer from Prometheus, a pasty-looking baldy-headed "god" who acted like a rampaging King Kong in a pressure suit.
A final note: There is no male protagonist whatsoever in this movie. The Ripley clone and Call are so ambiguous, we don't cheer for them as we have for Ripley or Vasquez. Every character in this fourth Alien installment is either rotten, evil, or empty. I seriously believe this affected the box office returns on a movie that looked to be a return to form.