Movie Review: ALIEN ARMAGEDDON (2011)
Posted by Jonathan Sullivan on December 6, 2011
Starring: Katharine McEwan, Don Scribner, Rochelle Vallese, Benjamin J. Cain Jr.
Written and Directed by: Neil Johnson
Distributed by: Phase 4 Films
Don’t judge Alien Armageddon by its cover; although it seems like a rip-off of both Cowboys and Aliens and Battle: L.A. it’s actually a work that feels completely of its own. Playing out like a trashy science fiction novel, writer/director Neil Johnson presents 90 minutes that is filled with interesting ideas, above average special effects, and more importantly decent acting. Unfortunately it goes a little overboard with both the information and the set up, slowing down the proceedings and it will most likely test the patience of any potential viewers. Those who stick with it though may be pleasantly surprised.
Johnson has used a race of aliens called the Nephilim as the main antagonists for almost all of his movies, but thankfully Alien Armageddon opens up with a voiceover in the opening credits that explains what has gone on for anyone just getting in on the story now. Here’s the jist: the Nephilim once enslaved humanity, but we rose up and fought back, pushing them off of the planet and freeing our species to mold the Earth the way we saw fit. Naturally the Nephilim finally return and start laying waste to humanity, eventually taking their planet back and enslaving us for reasons yet to be discovered. There’s also a whole Biblical connection to the story but I’ll let you find that out when you watch the movie.
After about a five minute montage of the Nephilim destroying all of the other cities in the world and making Los Angeles its home base (…for some reason), we get into the story which is essentially split into three parts. First we have our main character Jodie (Katharine McEwan) who is holed up with two other people underground. She is captured by the Nephilim and thrown into prison where she shares a cell with fellow inmates Markus (Benjamin J. Cain Jr.) and Sheen (William David Tulin). Jodie’s goal is simple: she wants to find her daughter who was in a small town called Little Rock (not that Little Rock, the California one) when the takeover happened. Unfortunately she needs to escape first.
Meanwhile, a man known only as Cowboy (Don Scribner) is out in the deserts of California defending himself from any potential Nephilim that want to imprison him. Before the attack he was in jail for murdering his son and a whole host other people, a most disturbing crime indeed. After some mishaps he ends up captured anyway. Then there’s the story of Franci (Rochelle Vallese) and Dr. Brenna (Julia Parker) who are working with the Nephilim to come up with some sort of…something. It gets revealed later. Eventually these three stories intersect, but it takes awhile. And to add to that load of plot development we’ve also got some brief scenes with Governor Brent (Duff Dugan, sweet real name), the former head of California who let the Nephilim take over. You know, for flavor.
Movies about alien invasion carry around the expectation of being action-packed, but Alien Armageddon takes a different more dialogue-heavy/storydriven path. That’s both good and bad. The overall storyline is engaging enough and packed with a ton of interesting ideas (many of which spoil the movie so sorry I won’t mention them). But the problem is that it simply takes too long to go anywhere. It’s 40 minutes before our main characters even interact with one another, and before then it’s mostly dialogue and slow build with brief action scenes to spice things up. Jodie’s prison stay is pretty monotonous after awhile: eat, vomit, try to find a way to escape, vomit again, eat again, discuss things with Markus and Sheen, Sheen makes a funny comment, vomit some more. It finds a rhythm but it’s not a rhythm that really moves things forward. Once Franci is thrown more into the mix, things pick up again for a little bit…and then slow down again and it builds to its next climactic moment.
While Alien Armageddon does drag its feet a lot more than it should, the acting itself is good enough to keep you watching. McEwan does a good job as the lead, and Scribner provides a hell of a Sam Elliot impression in his role as the mysterious Cowboy that is both badass and at times comical (he gets a bit Sling Blade-y with the way he talks here and there). Tulin’s role as Sheen is the best out of the bunch; he’s the closest to comic relief, but he also has an interesting story (and interesting fate) to him. Anyone who utters the line “choke me bro” gets a pass in my book. I may say that to my girlfriend next time we hang out. Alien Armageddon also on the whole looks really nice too, with above average CGI for a direct to DVD movie and some cool makeup/creature effects. The CGI does have moments of fakeness though, with the destruction of the cities looking particularly artificial. The Nephilim have an interesting design to them as well, but it’s only one actual design and you never see more than maybe five in the same shot (budget reasons I assume).
Alien Armageddon is another in a series of Johnson’s “Nephilim” stories, so it feels more like the beginning of something rather than its own movie (and ends in a way that screams “SEQUEL!”). Certain elements are thrown in that amount to nothing here but will probably pan out more as the story goes on, and it feels like the world itself is never fully explained (or why not everything ever is destroyed). But despite the slow pace and the lack of action, Alien Armageddon manages to be an entertaining and more importantly interesting watch with some cool ideas, good acting, and a certified cheesy badass in The Cowboy. The CGI and slow build may turn off some viewers, but if you’re a science fiction fan it’s definitely worth a shot; at the very least it’s ahead of the thoughtless empty shell dreck the studios have been passing off as sci-fi over the past few years.