I have sentimental feelings toward the Alien franchise, as I was introduced to the films at an inappropriate age on VHS–around the same time I was exposed to Star Wars that explored the lighter side of space, the Xenomorphs represented the dark side.
Thirty-three years after the release of the first Alien, Sir Ridley Scott returned to this universe (where in space, no one can you scream) with 2012’s Prometheus, which wasn’t simply an Alien prequel, but laid the groundwork by centralizing on the mystery behind the space jockey that appeared in Scott’s chiller. Although there was a lot to like about Prometheus in as much as it raised a lot of questions, we didn’t get many answers as the director was setting up sequels, much to the displeasure from fans. As a response to the negative reaction, Scott has followed up his prequel with Covenant, a film that is more in tune with his 1979 classic.
In 2104, the crew of the colony ship Covenant is bound for a remote planet until they intercept a radio transmission from a seemingly lifeless nearby planet. As they go out to investigate this habitable world that seems ideal for colonization, they soon discover horror that is beyond their imagination and that they must escape from hell.
Between the opening sequence which establishes a key character from Prometheus whose arc continues throughout the course of this movie and the introduction of the eponymous spaceship as Jerry Goldsmith’s iconic score plays in the background, Alien: Covenant is trying to achieve two things: simultaneously serve as a Prometheus sequel and the latest in the Alien franchise. Though its goals are lofty, the result is a mixed bag.
Four names under the story and screenplay credits; perhaps it’s no surprise then that the script is doing so much in how it establishes the many characters, the numerous situations and the alien world, yet doesn’t give much context to process it all–certainly not in one screening. Frankly, none of the questions from Prometheus are answered and you’re just left with more questions, from significant ones, such as "how will this set up the journey to LV-426?" (which makes you realize that Ridley Scott doesn’t understand his own universe) to random ones including the questionable growth of a robot’s hair.
Covenant continues its predecessor’s key theme of creationism through Michael Fassbender’s dual performance as the synthetic android David from the destroyed Prometheus, and Walter, who assists on the Covenant. Very much the two scene-stealers, Fassbender greatly shows two distinct perspectives on humanity and they view their purpose differently. Even though some of their interactions can be long-winded, the Germanic Irish actor can display many shades, some of which are as menacing as the monsters on screen.
As for the extensive crew of the Covenant, not all of them are fully established and a lot of their dialogue is plot explanatory, but you do buy into the fear from their performances. Through a small handful of characters that get full-fledged arcs, you are compelled by the likes of Katherine Waterston’s Ripley-ish heroine, Billy Crudup’s struggling acting captain and even a surprisingly dramatic Danny McBride as the cowboy hat-wearing pilot.
When it comes to Ridley Scott, he delivers on the world-building, whether it’s the high-tech design of the spaceship or the naturalism of the central planet. However, trying to replicate his voice in 1979, it seems like he’s putting on a greatest-hits album that incorporates not only iconic sequences from the first Alien but also James Cameron’s Aliens. Although there is a pleasure in seeing the H.R. Giger designs and sequences that are indeed splatter-tastic, because a lot of the film is evoking what came before, there is a lack of suspense and by the time the Xenomorph is finally introduced, you just shake your head in disappointment.
Watching Ridley Scott’s latest is a weird experience and ultimately a let-down as Alien: Covenant tries to do too much with big ideas while trying to deliver the horror thrills that fans wanted. First big disappointment of 2017, I’m sad to report.