There was a time when the terms “Alien movie” and “directed by Ridley Scott” would get your average cinephile excited. With the release of Alien: Covenant that time has passed. This is Scott’s third film in the franchise – he previously directed the iconic Alien (1979) and the imaginative prequel film Prometheus (2012) – but with Covenant N. he gives audiences a mixed bag. And by mixed imagine you’re eating a bag of chocolate M&Ms and half of them turn out to be dried up rabbit turds.
Covenant, the second franchise prequel and a direct sequel to Prometheus, features the crew of the eponymous colony ship in the year 2104 investigating a mysterious planet with a deadly alien species and the android David (Michael Fassbender) from the previous film. With a SPOILER ALERT here is my review in three bites:
#1 The Characters OR Space Apparently Makes You Stupid
One of the things that stands out most in this film is how unlikable and uninteresting the character portrayals are save for Fassbender (more on him later). We have Katherine Waterston as Daniels, a terraforming expert and poor man’s Ellen Ripley. She loses her husband in a cryosleep accident but that barely goes anywhere and she spends most of the time being there and looking sad. The most interesting thing about her is the poofy hair. And when Scott puts her in situations similar to Ripley it just exposes even more how uncool and lame the character is.
But Daniels is not as bad as Billy Crudup’s inept captain character. He was annoying and whiny and was supposed to be a “a man of faith” but we don’t know what faith and the movie forgets about it, so why should we care? The scene where he puts his head into an alien egg is just insulting. And he has company in the stupidity department as the cannon fodder crew touches alien pods and blows themselves up in their own ships. There is a long shot on the planet where crew members are talking and you have no idea who is talking to whom. Even Scott didn’t give a crap about these people.
On the bright side Fassbender is brilliant doing double duty as David and the Covenant’s android Walter. As Walter we get an interesting and engaging android bound by duty and honour. As David we get a sly, creepy and devious villain with a God complex and way too much time on his hands. Fassbender single handedly saves this movie from being another Alien: Resurrection. An honourable mention to Danny McBride as the chief pilot Tennessee because at least he was not forgettable and dumb as rocks.
#2 The Effects OR The Good, the Bad and the Gory
The visual effects are always a highlight of the franchise and in Covenant they range from good to generic. The hybrid aliens bursting from people’s backs and throats and gushing blood all over the place was entertaining. But again the characters were blah so their deaths had all the impact of a Jason Vorhees kill complete with people getting offed while having sex. It was cool, though, seeing the albino hybrids because at least we had something new and interesting to look at.
But then we got to the Xenomorph and we were back to familiar territory, but not in a good way. Alien eggs? Seen that. Facehuggers? Seen that. Chest bursting? Seen that. Adult Xenomorph stalking and killing people? Seen that too. Heroine battling Xenomorph and knocking him into space? Been there and done that. And we have seen it done better by Scott himself. And then there is the baby alien who is not a chestburster but a spindly, tiny version of an adult Xenomorph and he looks ridiculous. Imagine Baby Groot but not cute and without the slick CGI effects.
#3 The Plot OR Uninspired Rehash
Scott left a lot of unanswered questions when the curtain came down on Prometheus but if you were hoping he was going to answer any of them in Covenant you are crap out of luck. Sure David and archaeologist Elizabeth Shaw go to an Engineer planet, possibly their homeworld, but David proceeds to immediately wipe them all out with the black virus thing. So we learn nothing more about the Engineers after an entire movie teasing them.
After that disappointment then we get a generic story of a space crew on a planet which appears to be a paradise but is plagued with dangerous aliens. And it was mildly interesting to learn that David created the Xenomorphs but we understand little of his motivation other than to play God. What is his endgame? It is never made clear.
The story is uninspired, the pacing is off – twenty minutes of ship fixing, yeah! – and there is a little to enjoy other than the gory kills and Fassbender’s performance(s). Is this the Ridley Scott that gave us a riveting, atmospheric, tense, thrilling, beautiful sci fi film with a badass heroine for the generations? In Covenant he gives us a film in the vein of movies that ripped off Alien. So Scott basically rips off myself and by extension the audience.
Rating: Alien: Covenant gets 2/4 Xenomorph jump scares
For my ranking of all 8 films in the Alien franchise you can click here.