-While Alien: Covenant often suffers from competing visions, it still has enough action and mythos to satisfy.
After Ridley Scott brought back the ‘Alien’ franchise with Prometheus in 2012, many fans were frustrated with the direction that the film took, changing the more traditional horror elements that the films seamlessly blended with science fiction to a more expansive look at humanity, the universe, and larger questions about the creatures we had seen in the original franchise. Personally, I am able to distinguish the classic films of Alien and Aliens from what Prometheus tried to accomplish, and really enjoy them both. Prometheus has spawned so many interesting videos and conversations about what its true meaning is that it has to be viewed as a success just for its influence. Now, as we navigate a sequel that admittedly goes away from some of those themes for something more fan friendly, we have to ask how it fits in with the overall universe. Because of the competing visions between the fans’ desire for something closer to Ridley Scott’s original or James Cameron’s Aliens and Scott’s continuing exploration of the Prometheus themes, the occasional dichotomy between the two gives us a film that has good elements of both, but never reaches its full potential. That’s not to say that it isn’t a good movie, because it is immensely entertaining and interesting. It’s just that its flaws are less about the script and production, and more about its overall vision and themes.
We pick up about 10 years after the conclusion of Prometheus, where our new crew (Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride, Billy Crudup, etc.) are aboard a colonization mission to a new planet with a ton of ordinary humans and embryos in hyper-sleep. They have about a seven year window to go, but then Walter (Michael Fassbender), the newest model in our Android family and an update on ‘David,’ wakes the crew when some problems arise. After a few days awake, they realize that they’re near a possible habitable planet, which is consistently sending them old transmissions. When they decide to investigate, they run across disastrous results including some Xenomorph fun, and a reconnection with Fassbender’s David from Prometheus.
The opening of this movie, and once we reach the new planet and reconnect with David does continue the ideas explored in Prometheus pretty whole-heartedly. It partially focuses on where we come from, and further dissects the existence of the “Engineers” or the humanoid aliens who may have created humans. Thrown into this mix is the idea of how lifeforms progress, and deals with David’s god complex, exploring his place as a sentient android who has eclipsed the capability of humans. His fascination with the black pathogen in Prometheus and the life it created continues in this film is a bit ironic, as both David and the Engineers appear to nearly worship the Xenomorphs as the ultimate life form. Is David’s place to rule? Or is David’s place to ensure the success of the Xenomorph species. What ultimately happens is that our crew gets caught in the middle of these questions, and like with Prometheus, they accidentally encounter some of the creatures that begin tearing them to shreds just as they did in Alien and Aliens. If you had remaining questions about what that black chemical did in Prometheus, you may still have them, and if you expected this movie to tie the franchise into a neat ball where the end of this movie directly coincided with the start of Alien, you’ll be disappointed.
That’s really the main problem with Alien: Covenant. We get an hour into the movie exploring these vast science fiction themes, and I was supremely invested in seeing the continuation of Prometheus. Then, when this movie becomes a slasher flick with a Xeno on the prowl, those questions go away for the last 45 minutes. One predictable twist later, and you may leave the theater unsatisfied in a sophisticated lead-up and a splatter-fest ending. I wanted one or the other, and had some issues with the lack of consistency in the film’s message.
That being said, I did love the performances, and Michael Fassbender is again great. He’s chilling, introverted, and shows a ton of range in these two roles that he picks up. Other crew members are somewhat disposable, but do a nice job, like Danny McBride, Katherine Waterston, and especially a vulnerable Billy Crudup. Also, the beauty of the cinematography and the crystal clear landscapes really aid the enjoyment of this movie. There’s such a great look about it, especially when combined with some truly chilling and eerie shots of the new planet. The film-making prowess is clearly there, even if I found the viewing to be occasionally frustrating. However, the scares are set up well enough, the mood and landscapes are gorgeous, and the movie is really well acted. I’d still fully recommend it, especially as an achievement in science fiction, when getting success in that genre gets harder and harder with the expansion of the superhero craze. It may be frustrating for viewers seeking a little more, but it’s a competent, lean, and bloody two hours.
Alien: Covenant (2017)
Genre: Horror (and Science Fiction)
Director: Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner, The Martian, Gladiator, American Gangster, Thelma & Louise, Black Hawk Down, Matchstick Men, Prometheus, The Duellists)
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, and Carmen Ejogo
RT Score: 73%