Director: Ridley Scott
Writers: John Logan & Dante Harper
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Jussie Smollett, Guy Pearce, James Franco, Noomi Rapace.
I was vacationing in Florida for the past two weeks and my mother, who lives there, really wanted to go see a movie, and since we had watched several of the Alien movies together when I was younger, she asked that we go see this film. As is clear by now, I neither enjoy nor watch sequels, but I had to make an exception for the person who birthed and raised me, in spite of my reservations. So we went to the theater, along with my fiancé, and sat down in those comfortable reclining chairs. I was the only one who had seen Prometheus, which meant that I alone knew the probable mess that would appear on screen, so I was bracing myself before the movie began… [Side note: it’s been a while since I’ve gone to the movies, but the trailers used to be about 15 minutes long, they were 30 minutes long this time, which is extreme and a little out of control, if you ask me. What’s that? Nobody asked me? Ok, I digress!]
Alien: Covenant has no idea what it wants to be. Is it a sequel to Prometheus? Is it a prequel to Alien? Is it an intellectual companion to 2001: A Space Odyssey? Is it a cousin of Interstellar? Does it even fucking matter? Are all these questions annoying? As annoying as this movie was to watch? Ok, I will stop, but I think my point has been made. This movie is a veritable mess.
After watching this film it is immediately clear that Ridley Scott was interested in the mythology that was established in Prometheus, and had absolutely no interest in the Alien part of the film, which is thrown in just to get seats in the cinemas. The film, after a weird opening I will circle back to later, begins as a traditional Alien film with a nondescript and uninteresting crew of astronauts who are all doomed to die horrific deaths, only to give way 40 minutes in to a trash movie about soporific philosophical digressions with absolutely no point or value. There is a special place in my heart for the first four Alien movies. Sigourney Weaver is a badass, amazing actress who brought Ellen Ripley to life, probably the best female kickass action hero of all time. The series also served as a showcase for several directors who would go on to make great movies outside of the genre: Scott, James Cameron (Titanic), David Fincher (Se7en), and Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie). The films do progressively get worse, I am not delusional, but there is something inherently watchable about them, Weaver is magnificent throughout, and they do manage to keep the thrills coming somewhat consistently.
Alien: Covenant left me with so many unanswered questions and an empty feeling. There is absolutely no fun to be had, the horror/sci-fi elements are rushed, it barely feels like a finished film. The ship, Covenant [note the Biblical/religious name of the ship], is tasked with colonizing a new planet. Everyone on board, crew included, has a partner, for procreation is the primary focus of the mission. Walter is the synthetic on board who keeps the ship running while everyone else is in the sleeping pods. Walter is played by Michael Fassbender who played David in Prometheus, he is a newer model of the same android series. This is important apparently. A tragedy at the beginning of the movie causes the ship’s captain to die in a fire (James Franco, who literally has no reason to be in the movie, because he plays a corpse and shows up in a 3 second video and that’s it). The accident awakens the crew, who then discover that there is a closer viable planet for them to visit because of a John Denver recording that has been intercepted (John Denver died in a plane crash, which would be an interesting plot point had Final Destination not already done this 17 years ago). The crew goes to the planet. People get infected by spores and die. People are sad. We barely care. Suddenly the Xenomorphs show up. People are scared. We don’t care. David from the previous movie shows up and brings the crew to his hiding place. Suddenly the action is completely halted and we are instead treated to a Michael Fassbender one man show for the following hour. Playing double duty, Walter and David begin discussing their nature, the status of humans, and the structure of the universe and the very nature of what it means to be or play god. They play the flute. They kiss each other. Nobody knows why. Most people really hated Promethueus, and Scott instead of pulling back, doubles down. Even David’s late entry into the movie is not a surprise, because the film literally begins with a scene between him and his creator, played by Guy Pearce, basically explaining everything that will happen later in the film. The rest of the cast, Fassbender aside, barely registers. Katherine Waterston (Steve Jobs) is supposed to be the closest thing to a lead in this film, but her sad wet puppy of a performance doesn’t really reach any interesting levels. She is definitely no Ripley, but she doesn’t even measure up to the likes of Charlize Theron or Noomi Rapace in the previous film, whom didn’t even set that high of a bar. Everyone else, including famous faces like Billy Crudup and Danny McBride, mostly just serves as Xenomorph munchies.
The set designs and cinematography are lackluster, but the movie also takes place on a predominantly cloudy grey planet. The effects are distracting and a problem. One of the things that made the first movie so great was the lower budget and the primitive effects, which forced Scott and his crew to come up with ingenious ways to show and not show the monsters. Much like Spielberg did in Jaws, hiding the scary stuff just out of sigh or out of the light made it that much more scary. Obviously over the years cgi has gotten better, but the aliens now look more fake as a result, and given that this film technically takes place the first film in the franchise, the effects, and even the guns, should not appear more advanced, but they do – and this bugged me.
By the end of the film I simply didn’t care about anyone involved on screen or their fates. The film had digressed so much, that the whole point of the film was not clear, apparent, and definitely showcased a massive giving up on the part of the director to even appear slightly interested in his audience. He clearly only cared about the philosophical aspect of the movie, but it is so convoluted that he doesn’t even realize that it makes absolutely no sense. The title indicated that this would be a return to the Alien movies, but we got a Prometheus sequel instead, and a bad, messy one at that.