Alien: Covenant | Ridley Scott | May 19, 2017
It’s been five years since the Alien prequel Prometheus, giving director Ridley Scott plenty of time to prepare for Alien: Covenant, his latest entry in the ever-growing franchise. Covenant follows the events of the prequel, leaning closer to the Alien series than its predecessor, giving fans a sort of return to form that they’ve been craving. While it does come close at times, Covenant is bogged down slightly by its necessary connective thread to Prometheus.
Scott gives us our first reminder of Prometheus with the opening prologue with Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) welcoming the android David (Michael Fassbender) into the world and explaining to him the purpose of his existence, mulling philosophical questions such as the role of creator versus being created. David is a curious mind and is quick to point out that as an android, he will outlive his creator, sparking both disappointment and jealousy in Weyland.
We skip forward to the year 2104, a full ten years since the events of Prometheus. The ship is the Covenant, a vessel carrying sleep-induced passengers and embryos, a symbol of hope for a new start on planet Origae-6. Their mission for a new colony is set for them, but after a mysterious message arrives that is actually John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads”, they’re sidetracked to the location of where this signal is being sent from.
The newly minted leader of the crew, Oram (Billy Crudup), has a chip on his shoulder and wants to take them off-course, eager to find a new paradise that he can take credit for discovering. He’s much more optimistic than Daniels (Katerine Waterston), who senses how odd this signal is, quickly realizing that this planet must be too good to be true. She basically voices the knowing dread of us, the audience, who know that whatever awaits them isn’t as pleasant and gentle as a John Denver tune. The rest of the crew is rounded out by pilot Tennessee (Danny McBride), his wife Faris (Amy Seimetz), Oram’s wife Karine (Carmen Ejogo), security head Lope (Demián Bichir), and Walter (Michael Fassbender), the android overseeing the Covenant and its crew.
Scott and the film’s writing duo of Dante Harper and John Logan, do take some time establishing the crew, their dynamics (a lot of couples), and their current hardships. Even so, only the major characters are truly fully rounded, with the rest acting as disposable as you’d expect. Being an Alien movie, you know that the gory violence and horror is coming, so although the introductions aren’t perfect, it is done better than most.
Once the crew lands on this promising new planet, many surprises await, such as David, our old friend from Prometheus. He catches up the crew – and us, the audience – on what happened to Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) in the decade since – partly glimpsed in this short prologue. David helps them during the initial welcoming party of bloodthirsty xenomorphs, but his motives and actions become more unsettling and odd every step of the way.
The first two-thirds of Alien: Covenant retains a sense of mystery and intrigue, featuring the sci-fi atmosphere and tense, violent action that Scott can do in his sleep at this point. The film never bores, but the last third of the film is where things become uneven, suffering from some of the same plot issues that plagued Prometheus. Scott always keeps you entertained and the violence is lurking at every corner, but the film’s big twist is one that fans who are paying attention will already see coming, and the journey to finally get there isn’t done smoothly enough to make you overlook it.
Issues aside, this was a leaner and more intense ride than its predecessor that will bring fans many flashbacks to Scott’s work on the early Alien entries. When it goes in on its gory sci-fi violence, it goes all in, earning every bit of its R rating. Seasoned film critics at my screening were still gasping and flinching at scenes of gross body horror – with others smiling with glee as the blood freely sprayed, both things that I’m sure would please Mr. Scott to hear. At 79 years old, it’s amazing just how easy it all seems to come for Scott, who so skillfully can create scenes of awe and wonder and then turn it to devestating sci-fi terror.
Alien: Covenant’s cast is an interesting one, as it’s not built with obvious choices, but all do play their parts quite successfully. Waterson is no Sigourney Weaver, but she gives a strong performance as the female lead who is all business. Billy Crudup is rock solid as always; he continues to prove to me that he’s one of Hollywood’s more undervalued actors. Danny McBride does bring in elements of the comedy that you expect, but he also lays down some emotional layers, showing off his dramatic range to excellent results. Of course, the film is all Michael Fassbender, who plays two different robots, and is able to create some distinct differentiating traits between the two that is quite a remarkable feat. Some of the most fascinating scenes in the film are when the two robots engage in conversation (a particular scene involving a flute stands out), giving us twice the Fassbender, certainly never a bad scene (well, except for Assassin’s Creed).
This film is more or less, the same from this franchise, bridging the gap between Prometheus and Alien. It suffers slightly in doing its necessary due diligence incorporating these new elements, while succeeding in its attempt to deliver the xenomorph violence that thrills at every corner. Sure you’ve seen most of this film before from its previous, better installments, but Alien: Covenant is not a bad viewing experience; it just never quite finds greatness.
Your enjoyment of this new entry depends on whether you want this series to do what it knows best or breathe new life into it. It tries to do both simultaneously, and it doesn’t quite work. The film’s conclusion is somewhat fumbled (and it sets up another movie), but the journey getting there was exuberant enough to help forgive most of its shortcomings.