6 out of 10
Michael Fassbender as David / Walter
Directed by Ridley Scott
Alien: Covenant Review
If you take the first Alien and mix in a little Prometheus, you have Alien: Covenant. While there are cool new alien effects and a solid cast, everything is just too familiar to be satisfying.
Ten years after the events of Prometheus, the spaceship Covenant is on its way to start a colony on a distant planet in the farthest reaches of explored space. En route, they are struck by a solar flare that severely damages the ship. The crew is awoken from cryogenic sleep by the ship’s computer “Mother” and the robot Walter (who is a newer model of the robot David).
As they repair the ship, they catch a stray signal from a nearby planet previously unknown to them. When they investigate the planet further, it appears it may be suitable for a human colony and seven years closer to reach than their original destination. Captain Oram decides to check it out despite the protests of his First Officer Daniels.
When they arrive, the planet at first appears perfect for human life. But as they investigate further, they discover a hidden threat from the Alien Xenomorph and more details on the horrific legacy of the Engineers.
Alien: Covenant is rated R for sci-fi violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality/nudity.
Your opinion of Alien: Covenant will more than likely reflect whatever your opinion of Prometheus was. Whether you loved it, were okay with it, or hated it, that’s pretty much what you can expect from this Alien prequel / Prometheus sequel. That’s because it’s largely the same in content and tone. Let’s focus on the positives first.
If you were missing the aliens in Prometheus you’ll be glad to know they’re in this film more, but not a lot more. If I had to guess, I’d say they’re in maybe 10 minutes of this movie. And that’s a shame, because when they’re on the screen, that’s when the film is most entertaining. Ridley Scott finds new variations of the chestburster, which makes the audience cringe. You also see variations of the Alien, which explains why they were so different between their Prometheus version and their Alien version. Our heroes get into two impressive battles with the classic “Big Chap” Alien and it’s a lot of fun. I’d honestly like to see more of that, especially with modern computer animation.
What may surprise audiences is that this movie is much more about the Walter and David robots than the Aliens. Ridley Scott is clearly more interested in them and it shows. That’s fine, but if you walk into an Alien movie wanting Aliens and get Fassbender robots, it may be a disappointment to you. That being said, Michael Fassbender does an excellent job in his dual role as David and Walter. As in the first film, you are constantly kept guessing what his motives are and what he’ll do next. He has a number of scenes where he’s acting against himself and they’re fairly intriguing though pretty creepy. This ultimately ends up being one of the top performances of Fassbender’s career.
As for the rest of the cast, they all handle their roles as victims of the Aliens well. Katherine Waterston is this film’s Ripley as she plays Daniels. She handles the character’s sadness, unease, and fighting spirit well. Billy Crudup is also good as Oram, the new captain in over his head with something to prove. But the real surprise is Danny McBride as Tennessee. I never in a million years would have cast him in a Ridley Scott Alien movie, but he works very well here. He handles the dramatic scenes with ease but he also brings much-needed comic relief to this otherwise dreary, depressing story. And it’s just the right amount of comedy, not his usual over-the-top shtick we expect from him.
Finally, there’s a cool Easter Egg for H.R. Giger fans. Keep an eye out for some drawings clearly inspired by or drawn by the eccentric artist who designed the original Alien.
What Didn’t Work:
While there’s plenty to like about Alien: Covenant, there’s plenty to dislike as well.
First off, it largely follows the formula of Alien and Prometheus blended together. A diverse and likable crew travels through space, gets a distress signal, discovers an extraterrestrial ship, gets infected by Aliens, then is slowly killed off one by one. When you throw the Engineer storyline in along with the David robot, you start seeing the Prometheus elements. It’s all very predictable and familiar and the similarities go on from there. It’s only the details that are different. And like with Prometheus, the ending makes you think, “Well that’s a good setup for a sequel. I bet that’s a better film.” If Alien: Covenant is any indication, the sequel to this film will be more of the same. It’s hard to believe Ridley Scott wants to do two more of them.
Alien: Covenant repeats a number of the sins committed in Prometheus. First off, the humans make epically bad decisions. If you landed on a planet for the first time and it is full of new life forms, would you explore it in a protective suit of some sort or in regular clothes and a baseball cap? You can guess what our characters do and you can guess how it ends for them. On the scary new planet, do you split up or stay together? If someone looks infected, do you quarantine them or let them spew blood in your face? If there’s an Alien stalking you, do you stick together or go off and have a bath by yourself? I think you follow where this is going.
There are also a number of bizarre choices by Scott in this film. When an Alien bursts from the chest of a victim, it has a bizarre interaction with David that is one of the weirdest moments in the Alien series. Late in the film there’s a shower scene that comes across as incredibly gratuitous. It is only made more absurd when an Alien is thrown into the mix. Then there is the weird relationship between David and Walter. It drew snickers from the audience I was with watching it.
Finally, Alien: Covenant ruins some of the groundwork that the previous films laid out. One of the appeals of the Aliens was the mystery surrounding their origin. This film entirely lays out where they came from and it’s a bit of a letdown. And one of the few appealing things about Prometheus was the promise of further adventures with Elizabeth Shaw and David. This film rather quickly throws that out the window, puts it in reverse, backs over it, then runs over it again. It’s a disappointment.
The Bottom Line:
If you like the Alien series, then Alien: Covenant is worth checking out on the big screen. Even if you don’t love the film, it is beautifully shot, mildly entertaining, and it fills in enough gaps in the Alien lore that you’ll want to follow it whether you love it or loathe it. But if you did not like Prometheus, don’t expect much more from this.