Alien: Covenant Review

Posted: May 25, 2017 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

alien covenantWritten by Daniel Simpson

Contrary to a lot of people, I rather enjoyed Prometheus when it first came out and on a rewatch last year I still found it to be a pretty good movie. It definitely has a lot of script problems, but the visuals are fantastic, there are a handful of excellent set-pieces, and its sheer ambition really wins me over. I like that film’s musings on our place in the universe, but more generally I also respect how Ridley Scott was trying to do something new with this world. This last point is why I had a hard time mustering much enthusiasm for Alien: Covenant, which largely looked to be the pandering Alien prequel Prometheus avoided being. The film, it turns out, is more of a direct continuation of Prometheus than expected, it nonetheless feels to be abandoning any of that films lofty ambitions in favour of a return to formula where a space vessel comes across a mysterios signal leading to face hugging, chest bursting, and xenomorphs chasing their prey to gory ends.

Set ten years after Prometheus, Alien: Covenant follows a totally unrelated ship, the titular Covenant, on its mission to colonize a distant planet. The ship however receives signal from a closer planet which also seems to support life and the crew decide to investigate, much to the chagrin of second-in-command Daniels Branson (Katherine Waterston), who believes it an unnecessary risk. Her fears are confirmed to be true when the Covenant arrives to the planet and not only find vegetation, water, and a breathable atmosphere, but also a mysterious chemical biohazard causing violent mutations as well as mysterious alien creatures causing all sorts of violent havoc. The crew are temporarily saved however by David (Michael Fassbender), the android who served on the Prometheus. David forms a particular kinship with the android for the Covenant, an upgraded model still of the same make named Walter (also Michael Fassbender). The crew try to contend with the hostile threat on the planet while also trying to make sense of how David got here.

That plot outline likely evokes other films in the franchise, most notably Prometheus and the original Alien, and indeed, Covenant is happy to ape from the previous films of the franchise. The basic set-up is basically a mash up of Alien and Prometheus, Daniels is very clearly meant to be this film’s Ripley (right down to being the second-in-command who is clearly much wiser than those in charge), and while Prometheus shunned traditional xenomorph action, Covenant embraces it fully. This might sound pleasing to a lot of fans, but in actuality the xenomorph action is actually some of the worst aspects of the film. Rather than stalk their prey silently from the shadows as had been tradition in the earlier Alien films (yes, even Aliens), here, the aliens use brute force, attacking our heroes in broad daylight with the utmost aggression. Not only does this forgo the intelligence these creatures are supposed to possess, but it also robs these scenes of the suspense which has defined the best films of the series. Instead, these set-pieces come closer to simplistic action scenes and they often border on being completely ridiculous, something made all the more jarring by the film’s rich visual style and dramatic performances.

Alien: Covenant also suffers from a generally boring cast of characters. These people are all clearly meant as stand-ins for characters we’ve seen prior but they’re all pretty disposable. Katherine Waterston’s Daniels is clearly meant to echo Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley, but the character arc is not nearly as powerful as it is in Alien and for all of Waterston’s talents as an actress she isn’t able to bring the same presence to Daniels as Weaver did to Ripley. Billy Cudrup has a role as Covenant’s captain and while the character’s religious convictions are emphasized, they don’t really go anywhere nor do they add anything. The rest of the cast is completely forgettable in spite of the presence of charismatic performers like Demian Bichir and Danny McBride. Say what you will about the simplistic characterizations of Prometheus, but at least that film had some inkling of character. The one actor who does stand out is, unsurprisingly, Michael Fassbender in dual roles as David and Walter. David has evolved in interesting ways while Walter’s quiet humility contrasts nicely with David’s eccentricity and ego. The scenes with both characters together are some of the film’s best and it’s really rewarding to watch Fassbender play off himself. David in particular remains a really strong character and his presence alone does a lot to elevate Alien: Covenant.

The other major positive Alien: Covenant has going for it is Ridley Scott in the director’s chair. Through thick and thin, Scott has always remained an amazing visual filmmaker and indeed Covenant looks hauntingly beautiful. It’s clear Scott spent a lot of time crafting his scenes and his passion for this world is well on display. Compared to Scott’s ground-breaking work on the original Alien or Blade Runner, Covenant may not seem so special, but compared to the average blockbuster the film certainly stands out. The cold blue cinematography feels entirely appropriate, Scott does some really striking stuff with lighting, and the production design is pretty great. These technical aspects and visual ambition do a lot to elevate the film and while the screenplay does have a lot of problems, there are some interesting ideas too. I won’t go into spoilers, but I like the premise of what David is doing and while the film does sort of backtrack away from the lofty goals of Prometheus, the way the film does so is still enticing and does feel strangely appropriate.

So overall, is Alien: Covenant a good movie? I’m not really sure. It’s a messy film, even more so than Prometheus which, for all its shortcomings at least had some pretty firm goals and an ambition to try something new with the franchise. Covenant is much more content to rest on the series’ laurels and doesn’t even execute spectacularly well on the franchise formula. Still, I won’t deny that the film did compel me. From the dual Fassbender performances, to the rich visuals, to some of the film’s weirder elements, Alien: Covenant is enticing. This isn’t something I think anyone really needs to see, but it is an interesting little chapter in the Alien saga.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s