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, Noomi Rapace, Guy Pearce, and James Franco.
The crew of a colony ship, bound for a remote planet, discover an uncharted paradise with a threat beyond their imagination, and must attempt a harrowing escape.
Don’t be fooled by the header Alien, as the newest interquel titled Alien: Covenant still deals with the multiple, more philosophical themes present in director Ridley Scott’s preceding foray back into the sci-fi horror franchise, 2012’s highly divisive Prometheus. Creationism vs faith and man’s place among the gods are both once again points of debate, but this time with more Xenomorphs, Neomorphs, Facehuggers, and all different kinds of nasty creatures tearing poor interplanetary saps apart to bits and pieces. The question is, how does this entry fare by directly inserting Alien lore into the more sophisticated and ambitious storytelling approach rather than the previous, looser connection, with the answer being a bit of an identity crisis but still an intense ride. Aliens and chest-bursting gore almost feel like glorified fan service mandated by Fox as a consolation prize to Ridley Scott and letting him further explore the aforementioned ideas that he is clearly more interested in nowadays.
The one major link between prequels is also Alien: Covenant‘s greatest strength; Michael Fassbender returns as an updated Weyland android named Walter, who shares the same childlike curiosity for life’s origins and stiff mannerisms as Prometheus‘ David. Quite literally resembling David in physical appearance, Walter acts as the ship-keeper for the Covenant crew while they (along with some 2,000 more passengers intended to colonize a new, human inhabitable planet) are in stasis throughout the multi-year space voyage, offering a greater and appreciated sense of continuity among prequels just from audiences having his familiar presence. It’s also not really a bold statement to make, but David and his internal struggles to unearth his position in the hierarchy of lifeforms and place caught somewhere between man and god made for the only true standout element of Prometheus, which tackled one too many themes and subplots. Fassbender was chilling in his uncomfortable levels of maintained composure, which he once again brings to the role here. Also, without spoiling much, Fassbender has two roles to play (sometimes opposite himself in the same scene) delivering another exceptional film carrying performance.
His human companions are a mixed bag; the mission of the Covenant is to colonize a planet, but there’s no real relationships worth caring about between the several couples on-board. The introductory moments briefly cover who is in love with who, doing little to define their characters over the course of the 2 hour running time. James Franco actually appears in an uncredited role as the Covenant’s captain dying as his hibernation pod malfunctions during the film’s opening, receiving a touching, visually impressive space mummification type funeral sendoff. His lover Daniels (Katherine Waterston giving a hardened and badass performance in her first real noteworthy crack at Hollywood blockbuster stardom) is initially sad, but well, there’s just no time for crying. The various relationships do influence the decisions of some characters for better or worse, but not enough for viewers to develop any emotional ties. Furthermore, the bigger issue is that the team of scientists and explorers are mostly one-dimensional with only the aforementioned Daniels and pilot Tennessee (played by Danny McBride offering up less comedic relief than one expects going in) emerging from the pack as worth rooting on.
Anyway, as previously mentioned there isn’t much time for mourning, as the Covenant crew are actually woken up early to handle a mysterious and random destructive ship impact threatening their likeness to reach their destination safely. Soon afterward, the crew unintentionally intercept a transmission from a nearby unknown planet, and choose to investigate its potential for colonization since hey, anything beats going back to sleep.Then again, maybe not.
After a good deal of setup and searching around (close to 50 minutes worth), the crew encounter multiple unkind alien lifeforms that begin picking them off one by one. It should also be heavily noted that Alien: Covenant is far bloodier and straight up gorier than expected; Ridley Scott is basically murdering off the cast in between waxing philosophical. A bunch of characters here are also downright stupid, doing things ripped from the horror genre stereotypical idiot playbook (slipping on blood while firing off their assault rifle, stupidly attempting to save clearly infected teammates, etc) meaning viewers will undoubtedly end up cheering on the hell-spawns dishing out violent deaths. Thankfully, the second half (which is in general far more entertaining than the first half and where the tones of Prometheus and Alien finally begin to click as a cohesive package) allow Daniels to partake in some dazzlingly intense action sequences; she’s a fighter that Ridley Scott can easily base future prequels around.
It’s also a welcome surprise that the movie isn’t entirely CGI, instead using a whopping amount of practical effects and creepy animatronic work. If anything, the film smartly utilizes digital effects only to enhance these touches, leaving audiences with a feature that can conjure up modern-day scares without abandoning its beloved roots. After watching this movie there’s a strong guarantee you’ll never want to shower aboard a space vessel; there’s a gleefully entertaining kill for the ages. The cinematography is also a high point, as vast landscapes are framed from both close and wide angles filled in with Greco-Roman aesthetics and a bleak color palette suggesting that doom awaits. Naturally, exterior views of the Covenant depict outer space with grace and beauty, making for a nice contrast between the hell roaming around on seemingly empty, grey planets.
There are definitely segments in Alien: Covenant where the philosophical themes come across as pretentious and annoyingly boring (Michael Fassbender teaching Michael Fassbender how to play the flute will certainly be one of the summer’s weirder and more bizarre moments), but Ridley Scott is successfully able to marry the wildly different tones and styles of Prometheus and Alien into a unit boasting both substance and chaos. Would they be better off as separate franchises? Probably, but there is no denying Alien: Covenant packs some action thrills and ends on a promisingly sinister, albeit predictable, note. There’s optimism for future projects and a strong curiosity as to what happens next.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★