Review: Alien: Convenant
Directed by Ridley Scott
By Christopher Spencer
Directed by Ridley Scott, Alien: Covenant stars Katherine Waterston, Michael Fassbender, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride and Demián Bichir. A sequel to 2012’s Prometheus, Alien: Covenant returns to the familiar spaceship crew hunted by xenomorphs that has defined the Alien franchise. But this is a new journey into dread and what the xenomorphs really are.
Alien: Covenant is promoted to be a true return back to the suspenseful, body horror roots of the franchise, all the way back to Scott’s own 1979 Alien. But all audiences must understand: this is a Prometheus sequel first and foremost. Sure, we do have xenomorphs reigning terror on the colonist crew of the Covenant, but Alien: Covenant is still designed to do what Prometheus ultimately failed to do: explain where the xenomorphs came from.
This is an idea that is quite intriguing on paper. The concept of an origin story for what a xenomorph is, what the facehuggers are and what the spaceships seen in 1979’s Alien are, is a good way to take the franchise in a new narrative territory, beyond the Ripley adventures. But the way this concept has been executed in Prometheus and Alien: Covenant has diminished all the intrigue from that idea. Now we have a complicated backstory with genetic engineering from multiple parties, multiple sources such as human and unseen animals and a race known as The Engineers.
Personally I hoped that Alien: Covenant would slightly address the ideas of how the xenomorphs were created and easily wrap up the Engineer subplots from Prometheus, but this is not done quickly or effectively. The movie feels like an apology for how shallow and silly Prometheus was, when it itself is populated with clichéd characters, flimsy philosophy, tired plot points and a complete lack of a second act.
In comparison to the Alien franchise, Alien: Covenant is definitely the best Alien movie since 1986’s Aliens, but that is as good as saying Jurassic World is the best Jurassic Park sequel. Covenant shares the same problems as Prometheus and pales in comparison to the two great Alien movies because its script is poorly put-together, the story is exceptionally dull, and every scene featuring a xenomorph settles for cheap CGI.
We care about characters from both Alien and Aliens because we feel a community love for them; they all feel like crews who want to protect each other. But the characters in Covenant, even the ones in clear relationships, all feel like cold, cynical people who might crack a little joke once or twice and are just there like any character in a lower-grade horror movie: to be killed as brutally as possible.
Michael Fassbender as both androids Walter and David turns in a solid performance as two characters who often will share the same scene, and Fassbender makes each one feel like a different person with ease. Look no further than the “flute scene” for an example of not only perfected facial effects, but the nuances of how great Fassbender can be in even an average movie.
I will also give praise to the fact that Covenant uses its rightfully R-rating (US) to the best effect, featuring excessive gore that would make George Romero smile with glee. Covenant is trying to be more of what Alien fans expect and want, to try and return to the perfect roots of it all. But the attempt is too overbearing, and the end result is pointless and uninteresting.
I don’t feel the power of seeing a xenomorph pop out and destroy a human body, because the movie just flings around their image so freely. I’m not interested in any character arc past that of both androids, because these human characters have no emotion beyond standard shock. I’m not involved in the action sequences because I can barely see them thanks to bad frame rate cinematography.
Alien: Covenant might please some people out there who love gore and general science fiction, and might be the best movie for someone who never saw Prometheus. But my mind, Alien: Covenant doesn’t do enough for me to be anymore interested in this phase of the franchise, and results in a mildly interesting but ultimately flat movie with no second-act whatsoever, just build-up then a 90-minute climax.