Every now and then, two films are released almost back to back that happen to have the exact same subject matter. Last year it was Hercules and Hercules. The year before, it was White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen. If promises are anything, 2016 is set to see two films go head to head, but be set in the same universe, dealing with the same invaluable sci-fi franchise. I am referring, of course, to Prometheus 2 and Alien 5.
This isn't the same as what Marvel and DC are attempting with cinematic universes. Fox has simply found itself with two contending works both representing the Alien brand. Talks of script edits on Alien 5 suggest the two films are trying not to step on each other's toes. It's worth asking; could Neill Blomkamp's Alien 5 suffer from treading too carefully around Ridley Scott's Prometheus 2? Both films are set to see Noomi Rapace and Sigourney Weaver return as their respective Elizabeth Shaw and Ellen Ripley. The films risk mirroring each other, so who has the advantage when 2016 rolls around?
Monsters - Xenomorphs vs Black Goo
I'll admit right now that this comparison is straight up unfair. Alien 5 has the honour of carrying on a heritage of movies, and using one of the most iconic figures in movie science fiction. Prometheus 2 on the other hand has black goo, the ubiquitous mcguffin from the first film that is as vague as it is dull.
Perhaps that puts it all too black and white. Xenomorphs could well have lost their thematic and cultural weight at this point. We've seen them replicated so often that a whole film containing them could just be boring at this point, especially if Blomkamp tries to convince us they're cool by putting them in mechs or something. While Prometheus 2 is almost starting from the ground up, that does mean it has space for fresh ideas, and maybe could surprise us. Maybe, but for now... black goo? Really?
Story and Setting - Earth vs LV223
I'm gonna do something way out of my comfort zone and say that something related to Prometheus was actually a pretty great idea. This is at least going by early script rumours that suggest Prometheus 2 will revolve around a group of Weyland androids being sent to the wreckage on LV223 to finish the original crew's mission. The androids have always been one of the most interesting elements of the Alien universe. Having multiple artificial people interacting will be fascinating, especially if they're janky pre-Brishop robots that could go haywire any second.
Allegedly, this plot element was why Alien 5 has needed rewrites. Blomkamp's initial idea of Weyland Yutani experimenting on an Engineer ship would render Prometheus 2 pointless (I see what you're attempting there, Neill). While I am excited to see an authentic Alien film, the idea of Alien 5's setting being the Weyland Yutani headquarters and presumably Earth just doesn't sound ambitious enough.
Directors - Neill Blomkamp vs Ridley Scott
In this sense, the two productions couldn't be more different. Neill Blomkamp could still be called an up and coming effects-prodigy who inherited Alien 5 through exhibiting his partly contentious work. Ridley Scott is a genre-shaping Hollywood veteran who's work grew more and more homogenous until he returned to the Alien franchise like a grumpy dad to his man cave. It's fun to see these two directors almost, but not quite, collaborating on these projects.
Regardless of how much Blomkamp likes to scare fans by making tonally crazy films like CHAPPiE, I have more faith in his work on Alien 5 than in Prometheus 2. In recent years, Scott has developed such a trend for showcasing the effects at his disposal rather than using them to create something interesting. Of course, Prometheus was beautiful, but did LV223 feel any more grand and distant than LV426? For all his skewed sensibilities, Blomkamp at least excels at creating tangible worlds you feel you could actually touch, and for that, he fits Alien perfectly.
If Alien 5 and Prometheus 2 do indeed release back to back, it will be most interesting to see one fail and the other praised. Could we see Alien 6, while Prometheus is rebooted? Go on, Fox I dare you! We live in a post-MCU world. No one cares anymore! Do it!