Alien: Covenant aims for two birds with one stone and grazes both; perhaps actually striking one might have been better.
Alien: Covenant (2017), the sequel to the prequel to the original Alien (1979), as well as a potential sequel to another prequel that is a sequel of the original prequel to…have I lost you yet?
Alien: Covenant is the second installment in the Alien prequel series, where director Ridley Scott unveils the origins of the classic monster Xenomorph. His first prequel five years back, Prometheus, received quite a lot of flack from fans for introducing a bald albino instead of the answer to where the Alien came from, so he’s back on the helm, this time following a new group of meatbags – I mean colonists. They include Daniels (Katherine Waterston) and android assistant Walter (Michael Fassbender), and end up landing on an unfamiliar planet where strange creatures lurk. Also on the planet is the android David (Michael Fassbender) from Prometheus, who seems to have his own shady agenda to follow…
Despite its reputation, I liked Prometheus. It definitely wasn’t an Alien prequel, but it was still the beginning of an intriguing sci-fi mythology Scott was writing, and I was on board with it. At the same time, I was also fine if Scott decided to go back to the horror routes of the franchise. So really, it shouldn’t have been that hard to impress me with this film.
…guess who wasn’t impressed after seeing this movie.
To its credit, the film is actually fairly strong for the first act. Its visuals don’t disappoint, being a Ridley Scott film, and with it brings an underlying sense of dread at what this strange new world will unleash, and when the albinomorph (neomorph, whatever) finally comes out, it’s a pretty tense sequence. And if the film had kept like that, I would have liked it a lot more.
But that is when the biggest problem of this film shows itself: a split personality disorder in its story and tone. It is way too obvious Ridley Scott meant to continue his own sci-fi story, but because fans gave him so much sh*t over Prometheus, he had to squeeze in a xenomorph somewhere in there. And an albino xenomorph for good measure. In fact, I don’t need to speculate; he openly admitted in an interview that it was fan backlash that caused him to integrate Aliens into the plot of Covenant.
The thing is, after the first act, the film juggles between Prometheus-esque conversations and Alien-esque horror, and the constant back-and-forth is incredibly jarring, not allowing you to focus on either aspect of the film. Because of it, neither the philosophical conjectures about creator and creation nor the bloody monster attacks have enough impact, and you’re left disappointed in both regards. Consistency is key to any movie, and Covenant utterly fails at it.
It doesn’t help that I can’t see the crew as anything other than pieces of meat at a “don’t let your alien starve” foundation. The actors bring their best, but their best is only enough to make them infinitesimally memorable. In the end, none of them really stand out; even Katherine Waterston’s character Daniels feels like a backdrop to the film’s actual star, Michael Fassbender’s David and Walter.
Not to mention the level of intelligence with most of the characters is honestly baffling. I said in the past I can overlook some dumb decisions if the story immerses me enough, but only to a point. If characters are still refusing to put on protective gear or helmets on uncharted territory, or taking a ship down onto the planet during a storm, or actually trusting an unfamiliar android’s words that sticking your face next to an open alien egg, then those illogical choices get in the way of my immersion. As such, I felt no real attachment to any of the human characters.
But notice how I specified “human characters.” Again, to this film’s credit, Fassbender is the best thing about it. He plays two androids, one with an overinflated ego and an obsession for creation, the other a loyal, more mechanical robot that you can still trust to have your back. The nuance he brings when these two androids interact is captivating, and I would have actually liked to see the film go in that direction. Unfortunately, like I said before, that double Fassbender sequence is punctured by the attack of the albinomorphs, and it ultimately ruins both scenes.
We eventually do get the iconic xenomorph in the third act, and…it’s still bad. This faceless tooth-tongued abomination still looks as creepy as ever, but it never manages to make the same impact it did in previous installments. There’s blood and guts and airlocks, but you know what isn’t there? Actual, well-built suspense.
Think of the original Alien. It slowly crafted an atmosphere of tension that seeped into your mind, making the eventual deaths of the crew all the more intense. But what Ridley Scott did to appease the fans was take Alien and squeeze its entirety into the third act, not even giving you time to be properly frightened by the xenomorph, and as a result, the climax feels more perfunctory than anything else.
Alien: Covenant honestly saddens me. It brought in the alien, but failed to properly utilize it for horror; at the same time, its presence distracts the film from the intriguing mythology of Prometheus. It tried to be a jack of all trades, but ended up more as master of none. Hopefully Alien: Romulus, the reported next film in the series, can follow up with a better story, but at this point, my interest is rather lost in space.
Alien: Covenant is now available to watch on digital and on demand.