Alien Covenant, kinda.
Before going in to watch Alien: Covenant, I was confused as to whether it was intended as a sequel to the 2012 science-fiction epic Prometheus or just a newly rebooted prequel to the Alien franchise. After I left the theater, I was still confused on what Alien: Covenant was supposed to be, and I’m pretty sure director Ridley Scott was equally confused while making it as well. At different times, Alien: Covenant wants to be a Prometheus sequel, an Alien prequel, and an Alien reboot all at once. In spreading itself thin, it misses all three marks. Although it remains to be intriguing and mildly entertaining, Alien: Covenant fails to stick out much in our minds. The most positive thing I can say is that it isn’t Alien: Resurrection.
Taking place after the events of Prometheus, Alien: Covenant follows the crew aboard the colonization ship Covenant, looking to begin new life on a remote planet called Origae-6. As the crew are traveling, they are suddenly woken up to discover a new planet in the system; one much closer to them that has the same hemisphere and plant life as Earth does. Curious to see if they could safely colonize on this planet instead, the Covenant crew lands on the mysterious planet to investigate, only to discover something that might lead to their violent, blood-soaked ends rather than new beginnings.
With this being the sixth film in the Alien franchise now, it isn’t hard to see why the series is getting tired. Let’s walk through the plots of each of them:
Introduction: Human crew members are in cryogenic stasis on a spaceship heading somewhere, usually with an android accompanying them.
Setup: Something goes wrong, crew members wake up, travel to mysterious planet.
Complication: Crew members discover threatening alien after it kills a few of them, panic ensues.
Climax: Brave female protagonist convinces crew that alien is too dangerous to live and must be destroyed.
Resolution: Bloodshed ensues, alien is killed, at least one crewmember survives, usually the brave female.
In five sentences, I’ve essentially covered what happens in six two-hour movies. That alone should show you how repetitive the series is getting.
But just because all of the movies have the same plots, it doesn’t mean they’re automatically doomed from the start. Look at Prometheus. That film covers the same ground that every other Alien movie has before it, and yet, it feels like a different experience. That’s because it took a different approach to the series and its characters. Alien was a survival-horror experience set inside the claustrophobic setting of a spaceship. Prometheus was an exploration of our origins and how that ties in to greater ideas involving religion and creationism. While Alien: Covenant didn’t have to be as ambitious as Prometheus was, it did have to make itself unique to the rest of its cinematic counterparts. Instead, all it feels like is a retread, and the entertainment value is siphoned from seeing Aliens violently dismember human beings on-screen.
I know Prometheus also had its dissenters, but the strength that movie had going for it was its thought-provoking ideas and how they impacted the characters around them. If you were frustrated by Prometheus, chances are you will not be able to even stomach the implausibilities in Alien: Covenant.
Take, for instance, the first of this movie’s alien pregnancies. They were not done by the Facehuggers in Alien or the Engineers in Prometheus. No, here they are done by black flower pollen flying into one explorer’s nose and into another’s ears. That’s how it’s done now, I guess. Alien had Facehuggers, Prometheus had Engineers, and Alien: Covenant has ear and nose plant sex. At least the porn parody will have plenty of inspiration to pull from.
Some scenes like that are just silly and illogical, while others are just outright bad or laughable. In the first chestburst scene in this movie, an Alien pops out from a guys back and goes on to attack the other crew members on board. Yet, one girl is so bad at reacting that it felt like she belonged in a Looney Tunes cartoon rather than an Alien movie. First she opens the door to the infirmary where the alien was at, and it would have been simple enough to just leave it in there and starve it to death. Then she slips on a puddle of blood right before shooting, and missing, the alien. And just when the alien escapes and starts attacking her, she fires wildly in every which way and direction, eventually shooting a barrel of fuel, exploding and killing herself, her on-board companion, the alien, and destroying the crew’s only means of leaving the planet. The scene was meant to be scary, yet I couldn’t stop laughing from how terribly it was executed.
The conflicting thing about this movie is that while some scenes are done very poorly, others are done exceptionally. Katherine Waterston, for instance, is outstanding as the lead. Early on in her introduction, we grasp a sense of the tragedy the character is facing, and her tearful portrayal of a woman going through loss and anguish shows how hard Waterston tried for this film. Most other actresses would hear they’re being cast in a Alien movie and would just phone in the performance for the spectacle of the visual effects. Waterston put in the extra effort, and she deserves to be recognized as an action heroine alongside the likes of Ellen Ripley, even if the movie doesn’t deserve the same recognition.
I also really liked Michael Fassbender in the movie as well. In Prometheus, he played the manipulative android David, while in Alien: Covenant he plays another android named Walter. I can’t go too much into his character without fear of spoilers, but he shares an interesting relationship with another character that builds into a conflict of duality between the two. In my favorite scene from the film, Walter is speaking to another android and discussing the unorthodox nature of artificial intelligence. From the intelligent dialogue, to the intriguing points raised, to the steady camerawork, to the subliminal differences between the two character’s performances, this was a fantastic scene that demonstrated how great of an actor Fassbender really is. I’m excited to see what he brings in future installments, although I don’t know where exactly you can take the character from here.
The movie, of course, has the best visual effects out of any Alien movie so far. That, however, is slight praise since that’s also the case with any franchise film produced today. The problem is that Scott never centralizes all of the elements together to make a compelling Alien movie, making the series canon more muddled and confusing rather than streamlined and fluid. The script is incoherent and illogical. The editing makes for some disjointed sequences that fails to make the movie consistently scary or interesting. Even the alien, while looking more intimidating than its previous counterparts, fails to invoke the same sense of fear and dread from its previous installments.
In a strange way though, Alien: Covenant accurately reflects Ridley Scott’s career as a whole. Sometimes he hits home runs, like the original Alien, Blade Runner, and Gladiator. Other times his films are catastrophic, like The Counselor or Exodus: Gods and Kings. Alien: Covenant falls in the middle ground, and that’s the best way to describe Scott’s filmography: the middle ground. Not to mention Scott is planning on making four more Alien films after this. I’m sitting here wondering when we’re finally going to get to LV-426. Surely the round trip didn’t take this long to get there.