ALIEN – COVENANT [Review]: A Devilish Symphony of Disappointment.
Prometheus was and still is a bit of a trainwreck, but it is worth defending if it’s ever labeled as the bastard child of the Alien franchise. Alien is classic sci-fi horror, Aliens is the perfect sci-fi action sequel that everyone wanted, Alien 3 is the polarizing threequel that most seem to love to hate, and Alien: Resurrection is this wonderful and enjoyable mess of a film. Despite David Fincher disowning Alien 3 and Joss Whedon’s script for Resurrection being completely ripped to shreds, the sequels are still better than they have any right to be. Prometheus was enjoyable since it accidentally re-introduced the world to intelligent mainstream science fiction cinema. The questions it raised about where we come from as well as its views on creationism triggered this incredible internal contemplation that deserves the highest of accolades. As a sci-fi film it was pretty extraordinary, but as an Alien prequel it left this giant gaping hole in the hearts of our limp and lifeless corpses entirely overcome with anticipation.
In the year 2104 (ten years since the events of Prometheus) , the colony ship The Covenant heads to the planet Origae-6 with a crew of 15 and 2,000 colonists and over 1,000 embryos as its cargo. The planet will take over seven years to reach, so cryo-sleep is needed to survive the exhausting journey. Walter (Michael Fassbender), an android that is an updated version of David, runs the ship while everyone sleeps but a neutrino shockwave disrupts the ship’s otherwise peaceful expedition. This occurrence violently awakens most of the crew, but takes the life of The Covenant’s captain leaving first mate Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup) in charge of the vessel.
During repairs, a transmission is received leading to a nearby planet with an atmosphere that is similar to Earth yet shows no signs of life. The detour seems worthwhile to nearly everyone on board except for the terraforming expert named Daniels (Katherine Waterston), who is very adamant about not veering off course and believes this sudden discovery is possibly life threatening. The expedition team sent to this mystery planet encounters the crash site of the engineering ship known as the Prometheus. The team discovers sources for drinkable water and a plethora of wheat fields; a seemingly perfect place to reboot human civilization. But the planet lacks wildlife of any kind and two crew members suddenly fall victim to an alien spore.
Ridley Scott has said that Alien: Covenant is his way of listening to the fans and correcting what Prometheus got wrong. Fans were in an uproar that the Xenomorph was nowhere to be seen in the supposed prequel to Alien, so Scott finally delivers with the beloved sci-fi movie monster; its first appearance on-screen in two decades (Alien: Resurrection was 1997 and no the AVP films don’t count). But it’s as if Ridley Scott knows what the fans want, dangles it in front our faces, and then allows a chestburster to viciously violate its insides as we watch our hopes and dreams crumble away. Covenant introduces the idea that there are scarier things drifting out in space other than the Xenomorph and it all comes back around to Michael Fassbender’s David.
Fassbender is the highlight of the film, but this new prequel trilogy has basically revolved around him from the start. He does two different accents for the roles of David and Walter in an effort to distinguish the two similar androids apart, but it seems odd to think that the film’s best moments are when David and Walter share screen time which is just Fassbender talking to himself. It also helps that Fassbender gets all the best dialogue. The prologue alone with a younger Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) as he talks with David for the first time is extraordinarily fascinating.
Unfortunately, you don’t really care about anyone else aboard the Covenant. Danny McBride is surprisingly solid as chief pilot Tennessee. McBride brings a toned down version of the raunchy humor you’ve come to expect from the Georgia-born actor, but also showcases some impressive dramatic acting. Billy Crudup’s Christopher Oram spends so much time seething and grinding his teeth on the sidelines that he doesn’t know how to capitalize on being the captain once the opportunity is finally given to him. Oram has his own idea of what respect is and when expectations aren’t met he sees it as humiliation. Oram seems weak since he needs constant reassurance from Daniels more so than his own wife, Karine (Carmen Ejogo).
The main issue is that Daniels is neither Ellen Ripley nor Elizabeth Shaw. Ripley was this monumentally strong female lead and wasn’t afraid of kicking ass while Shaw had this undeniable confidence about her. All Daniels does is whine about a log cabin she wants to build on this new planet, is teary-eyed at absolutely everything, and nearly dies every time she steps off the ship. Waterston does what she can with the role, but it comes up short. The entire crew feels like filler since none of them really have memorable characteristics or notable screen time. You will not remember anyone’s name who hasn’t already been mentioned. Even James Franco is completely wasted in his role portraying a burnt hot dog; it’s as if he’s forgotten this isn’t Sausage Party. A deleted scene gives Franco a bit more screen time, but again it all feels like a huge tease.
What’s unfortunate is that the film slips into major stereotypical territory. Other female characters are either involved in the predictable sex in a shower sequence or cry uncontrollably when it hits the fan. These women panic so hard that they can’t even run straight or say anything coherent through their river of tears and blanket of mucus erupting from their nostrils. In order to re-introduce the world to the Xenomorph some really cliché plot points have to occur like communication being severed and constantly slipping in blood during a chase. Why does this franchise suddenly revolve around stupid decisions? Prometheus had characters making really dumb choices, but Covenant is even worse like who would put their face next to something so foreign just to see what happens? And risking the rest of your crew, the lives of the remaining members on board, and the precious cargo that will likely jump start a new human civilization just to check on something you probably already know the answer to is also imbecilic. Willingly putting your own face in an open Xenomorph egg should be considered suicidal.
Covenant continues to dawdle around where we came from, who created us, and just what the engineers are but it fails to introduce anything that Prometheus didn’t already cover. The new creature, the Neomorph, is intriguing but like the Xenomorph it doesn’t last long enough to make an impact. There’s some good in Alien: Covenant. Most of it lies in how talented Michael Fassbender is as an actor. The concept of the androids being created and admiring art like movies and symphonies yet being completely incapable of creating anything themselves is brilliant and realizing that there is something more horrifying roaming the bowels of space is chilling, but it all comes back around to David. Everything else has become cannon fodder and it’s soul crushing. As a massive Alien fan, Covenant doesn’t deliver. We need to see the Xenomorphs flourish again as a swarm or an army and completely dominant. Xenomorphs are like Batman and are more effective in the darkness.
Despite some potentially promising concepts and Queen Alien-sized anticipations, Alien: Covenant is a massive letdown. All you’ll remember walking away from Covenant is Fassbender teaching himself how to play the flute before making out with himself. Covenant is the bloodiest and goriest this franchise has been in a long time, but it isn’t scary. Alien: Covenant can best be described as this beautiful symphony performed with amateur instruments. It is a hellish workshop overflowing with gut-wrenching disappointment. 3/5 Genetically-Altered Bad Eggs.