Alien³ ★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

To give this film some credit, I like that it tried to do something a bit different than its predecessors. It's an unexpected left turn in a number of ways, and given that they could have played it safe and made the same movie over again, I do respect that. In many ways it even seems like a hybrid of the previous two films, combining the claustrophobia of the original with the run-and-gun pace of the sequel. But unfortunately, it's just not a very good film.

Though I was aware that this film doesn't have a great reputation, I still had a degree of optimism at the outset. But it doesn't mess around about disabusing you of the notion that it might be good. Barely ten minutes in we're informed, through cold, emotionless computer readouts, that all the characters from the last film are dead (except Ripley). Hopefully you didn't like any of those characters, because this film is determined to spit on their graves whenever possible. Perhaps the most offensive moment is the viscerally unpleasant autopsy scene, in which tenacious girl-hero Newt is dissected to check for alien parasites.

Ripley is alive at least, but the film treats her with equal contempt. As early as the opening credits the film begins to establish that she was violated by an alien while asleep, which is a pretty repugnant thing to do to your main character. So she's alive, but all the people she learned to love have been horribly killed, she has to autopsy the girl she spent so much time protecting, she's surrounded by people who hate her guts, and she has a hell-beast growing inside of her. By comparison, the characters who died seem to be the lucky ones. The story plays out like it was written by someone who hated the characters and wanted to make them suffer.

Also, for a series that up to this point had been surprisingly egalitarian, this script is deeply misogynistic. In the earlier films Ripley's gender seemed largely irrelevant and the women characters appeared to be on more or less equal footing with the men. Well, so much for that. Through the entire first act of this film, Ripley's greatest foe is a gang of rapist victim-blamers who explicitly state that she was asking for it by existing. (The movie also decides to frame them as "Double-Y Chromosomal," which the filmmakers apparently think is the genotype of toxic masculinity. Suffice it to say that it is not.) The alien impregnation, too, is obviously a form of rape, and not the only one she'll be subjected to before the ordeal is over. And in one of the rare moments where she's allowed to have some sort of human interaction, the filmmakers decide that she would use that opportunity to get laid. We had two films in which a woman used cunning and determination to survive against incredible odds, and now we have this mess, apparently written by people who couldn't conceive that women might do things that don't involve getting fucked.

I figured that if nothing else, this film would have interesting visuals, David Fincher being a very good director in that respect. And it does, mostly. The shot composition is always nice, and there's some unconventional camera work here and there. But overall the visuals seem to be markedly worse than either of the previous films. The sets have regressed to Generic Sci-Fi Factory Stuff that feels more contrived than realistic, and often I found myself thinking about the fact that it was all just a facade built on some soundstage. The alien effects are markedly worse too. The creature appears to have been greenscreened into most of its shots, and as a result tends to have weird visual discrepancies that immediately separate it from the environment. As I was watching this film I eventually concluded that it must have been produced on a shoestring budget. Imagine my surprise to find out that it cost more to make than the first two films combined.

It's not a total loss. I'd never seen Charles Dance outside of Game of Thrones before, and his performance here delivers the same kind of aloof charm that he brought to Tywin Lannister. He's a remarkably charismatic actor and it's strange to me that his career hasn't landed him in many big-league roles. His character is genuinely interesting and likable, and that's sorely needed in a film this unpleasant.

Another thing I did enjoy about the film is that the script was surprisingly funny at times. The other films were fairly humorless, and any scenes that bordered on lighthearted (such as Harry Dean Stanton wandering around meowing) were usually cut with an undercurrent of menace. There were quite a few lines that made me genuinely laugh, and it was a nice change of pace.

But it's not enough. It's still a film that seems determined to be unpleasant and actively tries to tarnish the legacy of its predecessors. I wouldn't recommend it on any level, except possibly to satisfy curiosity about Charles Dance in a different role.

But what's next in the People Avoiding Being Eaten By An Alien Cinematic Universe? Will it be something better? Something worse? We'll find out!

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