Running Time: 123 minutes
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Katherine Waterston, Michael Fassbender, Danny McBride, Billy Crudup and Demián Bichir
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.
“Look on my works, ye mighty and despair!”
I get the feeling that Alien: Covenant will prove just as divisive a film for Alien fans as Prometheus did when it was released back in 2012: some applauded its attempt to bring the franchise back to the realm of serious sci-fi, whilst others bemoaned its lack of any real Xenomorph action.
Despite a marketing campaign and title that suggested the franchise is returning to its roots, Covenant is first and foremost a direct-sequel to its predecessor and attempts, if not wholly successfully to answer some of the unanswered questions Prometheus raised, but ultimately failed to address.
It’s deeply flawed, I’m saying that right from the get go and don’t expect me to proclaim Covenant as an instant classic, because it simply isn’t: much like Prometheus it feels like a film that’s being pulled in two very different directions. Firstly by a filmmaker who doesn’t seem that interested in Xenomorphs and face-huggers, but more so wants to explore lofty ideas about creation and destruction. On the other hand there’s a studio that wants to reignite a franchise and give the people what they want!
The compromise it seems is a film that bandies about those lofty ideas in a universe that has Xenomorphs and face-huggers. It’s a brave move and I’ve a huge degree of respect for Scott in attempting to do so, he’s at least not trying to rehash what’s been done before, but trying to do something very different.
A World of Gods and Monsters
The result is a film that doesn’t quite work, the two different ideas never really sit well with each other but that doesn’t mean I don’t like it: If the Fast & Furious films can go from a series of films about car thieves to a pseudo super-hero franchise then the Alien franchise can evolve into something else. Scott has tried to switch the focus of the series from the Xenomorphs themselves onto their creators and attempt to explain the genesis of these ‘perfect organisms.
Now personally that’s not a question I’ve ever really asked myself anytime I watch either Alien or Aliens, but I do think it’s the right thing to do. Let’s not forget the Alien franchise had long lost any serious credibility with those two terrible Alien vs. Predator films and there’s very little that could be done to top either Scott’s original film or Cameron’s equally impressive sequel.
Whereas Prometheus managed to feel more standalone, apart from that terrible Xenomorph cameo in its closing moments, Covenant feels like it’s trying to move closer to the existing films within the franchise. In doing so I feel it’s actually moving further away from the events of previous films: I’m struggling to comprehend how they’ll ever get back to LV-426 for the crew of the USCSS Nostromo to have their closet of close encounters.
But I’ll come back to this later…
The Prometheus Factor
I’ll defend Prometheus any day of the week and its attempt to do something different and interesting with the series, but in doing so it tied itself up in so many knots with its deeply convoluted screenplay that raised more questions than it answered. Covenant at least attempts to answer some of those questions, whilst choosing to ignore others; we never learn why the engineers decided to destroy mankind with their black goo! Even more frustratingly this film raises new questions and completely fails to address them at all.
Set 10 years after the events of Prometheus the film sees the crew of the Covenant, a group of colonists from Earth who are on a mission to establish a new outpost for humanity in the far reaches of the universe. After a neutrino shockwave hits the ship,killing its captain (James Franco in the briefest of onscreen cameos) and severely damages the vessel.
The ship’s crew is awoken to repair their spacecraft and this sets about a chain of events that ultimately leads to the Covenant receiving a cryptic message from an uncharted planet. When scans indicate this planet mighr that make a suitable outpost than their intended destination, the crew decide to change course for this supposed paradise, hoping it’s not too good to be true.
As you can imagine when they land on the planet things quickly turn south, with all manner of gruesome gruesomeness occurring, all I’ll say is the less of the film’s trailers you’ve seen the more you’ll enjoy this movie. Much like with Prometheus the trailers have given away far too much and diminish the shock value of the onscreen nastiness: particularly the film’s new creation, the Neomorph.
Recapturng the Tension
Yes the violence levels have been considerably upped for this instalment and there’s bucket-loads of the red stuff onscreen, but that doesn’t make the movie any scarier than what’s been done before. Scott’s original film relied on the tension to create its terrifying atmosphere onboard the darkened corridors of the Nostromo, this time round it feels like he’s merely trying to repulse us.
That said if you pardon this play on the old pun about the genie in the bottle, but the chest-burster has already burst from the torso, so there’s little shock value to be found in re-watching what’s been done before. So Scott might have brought those iconic creations back, but this time he plays with our preconceptions.
Back in 1979 when John Hurt first discovered that egg, no one knew what was lurking inside it. This time round everyone does, Scott knows, the audience knows so we’re one step ahead of the Covenant’s landing party. We know exactly what’s gonna happen to poor ole Billy Crudup’s character the moment he first encounters that alien egg.
This time round we’re not watching a man unintentionally stumbling into the path of a parasitic entity ready to give him the French kiss of French kisses; but more so we’re watching a man being insidiously led to his demise by the film’s principle antagonist, David.
We Need to Talk About David
Just like he did in Prometheus Michael Fassbender steals the show, playing not just one android this time round, but two. David last seen flying off with Elizabeth Shaw in the engineer’s spacecraft returns with his head now firmly reattached and oozing more menace than ever.
His other synthetic character Walter on the other hand is a much more caring character than his counterpart; boasting an American accent and channelling Leonard Nimoy’s Spock he looks after the crew of the Covenant without the air of menace that hung over David when we first met him onboard the Prometheus.
There’s some lovely, if a little bizarre interchanges between the two ‘synthetic brothers’ throughout the film, including some fantastic innuendo filled dialogue like ‘watch me, I’ll do the fingering” (ooh er missus) as David explains to Walter why they no longer need to be subservient to their human masters. What Fassbender does so well is make the two characters feel completely different, yet still one in the same (If that makes sense).
Sadly most of the other Covenant’s crew are largely forgettable and ultimately interchangeable, Danny McBride manages to stand out from the rest because he’s well Danny McBride and wears a cowboy hat.
Even the film’s female lead Katherine Waterston isn’t really given that much to do, much like Noomi Rapace’s character in Prometheus her character Daniels feels like a pale imitation of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley.
In Prometheus David was neither hero nor villain, but here he’s clearly cast as the film’s principle antagonist, a synthetic being with a god like complex and a distain for humanity. It feels like a step-too far to have him as an outright villain, he’s the Doctor Frankenstein to his monstrous creations, whereas in Prometheus he was merely a creepy android following his programming.
In a clever bit of retro-fitting within Covenant’s opening moments we see a brief exchange between David and Guy Pearce’s Peter Weyland, set before the events of the previous film the two discuss mankind’s obsession with meeting their maker. It lays the foundations for David’s action within this film and showcases his contempt for humanity’s weak-nature.
Throughout the film David constantly reminds us of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, a poem where Lucifer proclaims that it’s better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven. This sets out the entire ethos of David’s synthetic psyche: he no longer wishes to be subservient to mankind, but more wishes to be the creator of a new perfect organism that will ultimately lead to humanities destruction.
As I’ve said earlier I deeply admire what Scott’s trying to do, I think he’s trying to do something new and different to the franchise, bringing a hint of Blade Runner into a series and moving away from the copy and paste approach that’s been done before.
I tend to agree with Rodger Ebert’s statement about the Xenomorphs back when Alien 3 was released: “I lost interest, when I realized that the aliens could at all times outrun and out leap the humans.”. So I think the shift of focus works well, although here it’s not done as successfully as it was in Prometheus.
Getting back to LV-426
In doing what it does in this film I think Scott has inadvertently (or knowingly we just don’t know) moved down a path and it’s hard to see where they go from here, or more importantly how they get themselves back to LV-426 for the start of Alien: with the engineers now seemingly destroyed how does one of their ships end up back on the planet?
No matter what Scott did there’ll always be Alien fan-boys clambering for the return of James Cameron to the franchise and demanding another film in the mould of Aliens: or much like with William Gibson’s proposed screenplay for Alien 3, Neil Blomkamp’s vision for a possible Alien 5 will go down as yet another great Alien movie we’ll never get to see!
My answer to that I’m afraid is bullshit, you can’t judge a film from mere storyboards or screenplay alone and as for fans demanding another Aliens film I saw just go re-watch Aliens, you’ll never be able to replicate the magic of that film ever again: the closest we got was Alien: Resurrection and if I remember correctly that film doesn’t have too many fans (Apart from our very own Gerard Torbitt).
Although I loved this different approach my biggest frustration with the film is that its finale onboard the Covenant reminded me so much of Scott’s original film that I wished it would’ve lasted longer. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy spending time on the Engineer’s Giger-esque inspired home world, but the finale felt too rushed and lacked any real tension, even the much-hyped ‘shower scene’ (sadly also teased in the film’s trailers) fell so flat: it just felt so unnecessary and only included to titillate viewers.
It’s a minor niggle because I loved this film’s downbeat ending, it’s probably the darkest since Fincher’s Alien 3 and I’m intrigued as to where they take the series from here.
Looking Back at the Alien Franchise
Covenant is flawed, deeply flawed but I still enjoyed it! I’d rather a director try something and fail rather than rehash what’s been done before. Fassbender’s performance steals the show and it’s interesting to see how Scott’s new vision for the Alien franchise evolves from here
Oh and the Score is Amazing!!!