Alien: Covenant, 2017
Directed by Ridley Scott
Starring Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Jussie Smollett, Callie Hernandez, Amy Seimetz and James Franco.
The crew of the colony ship Covenant, bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, discovers what they think is an uncharted paradise. When they uncover a threat beyond their imagination, they must attempt a harrowing escape.
There is a battle raging in Alien: Covenant. Not betwixt man and Xenomorph, but between director and studio. One of the biggest issues with Ridley Scott’s Prometheus was that it always felt like the director was trying to get away from the Alien franchise, but 20th Century Fox was always over his shoulder asking to put more references to the series. With Alien: Covenant, it feels like Scott clearly wanted to do a direct sequel to Prometheus, but Fox would rather he make another Alien movie, hence why all the marketing is Xenomorph-centric. What you get is an odd amalgamation of both, with neither really working.
To discuss the true failings of Alien: Covenant is difficult without revealing spoilers. The villain of the piece (which oddly isn’t the titular creature) is revealed around the mid-point, and becomes the driving force for the rest of the movie. Their motives are clear, but uninteresting. It all ties back into this problem where Scott wanted to make one movie and Fox wanted something else. You spend a lot of time building towards one story, only for a new one to be dropped in during the third act.
Perhaps the movie’s biggest failing, however, is that it’s almost impressive in how un-scary it is. This is Ridley Scott directing an Alien movie, and yet Alien: Covenant is a remarkably scare-free affair. All the terror that Scott brought us in 1979 is missing. That creature that lurked in the shadow, that flash of light that suggested a shape; none of it is present in Alien: Covenant. In its place is a mediocre CGI creature, shown so many times on screen that it looses all impact. Slow build and tension is replaced with an ill-advised and awkward shower scene that would have felt more at home in Jason X. The same creatures that kept millions awake at night in Alien and Aliens are nothing more than time-filling fodder, playing second fiddle to Prometheus follow-ups. Furthermore, because the Xenomorph isn’t the true antagonist, they appear weak when more time is given to the movie’s main threat.
It’s not even as if the main cast of characters are remotely interesting, save for some nice character moments from Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup and Danny McBride. The problem is, however, they’re all the same character moment. Each one of them suffers the same tragedy, and they all deal with it in practically the same way. McBride is the stand-out performance of the movie with the actor showing that he can be more than simply a comedic foil, and he does a great job of driving some of the heroic narrative forward. Waterston on the other hand is put in a difficult situation. Clearly desperate for her not to be compared to Ripley, Waterston is as if Veronica Cartwright was the hero of Alien and not Sigourney Weaver. In some respects this is a good thing as she separates herself from her peers, but by the end of the movie she is more or less a Ripley clone.
Those who enjoyed Prometheus – and they do exist – will enjoy how Alien: Covenant continues on the themes and story from Scott’s return to the franchise, but anyone hoping this would be a return to Alien and Aliens greatness will be gravely disappointed. Like the previous movie, Alien: Covenant is a mis-mash of ideas and an incomplete whole. Outside of McBride there isn’t a character to latch on to because no one is given any true depth, and the lack of focus on the creatures we’re supposed to be scared of means the film is underwhelming in terms of terror. This writer won’t focus on the ‘what if’s in this review, but one has to wonder whether Neill Blomkamp’s Alien 5 would have been a more interesting outing.
In space no one can hear you scream, but they will likely hear you yawn.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Luke Owen is the Deputy Editor of Flickering Myth, the co-host of The Flickering Myth Podcast and the author of Lights, Camera, GAME OVER!: How Video Game Movies Get Made (which you can pre-order from Amazon UK and Amazon US). You can follow him on Twitter @ThisisLukeOwen.