Movie Review: “Alien: Covenant” (R)
Supreme visionary Ridley Scott returns with “Alien: Covenant,” a film that attempts to answer questions raised in the beautiful-looking but ultimately frustrating “Prometheus,” all while giving us an even bigger dose of “Alien” backstory. The end result is undeniably stunning to look at, but ultimately, “Covenant” feels like a wildly uneven fusion of the films that inspired it.
In “Alien: Covenant,” a crew aboard a colonization spacecraft seeks refuge on an uncharted paradise. But upon arrival, a deadly virus, creatures not of this Earth, and the emergence of a mysterious being with a God complex lead this helpless crew to the sudden realization that this particular paradise might not be all that it’s cracked up to be.
While “Alien: Covenant” certainly functions as a follow-up of sorts to “Prometheus,” there’s a clear-cut reason why this movie is called “Alien: Covenant” and not “Prometheus 2.” This is to say that the same species of creature that terrified audiences in Scott’s 1978 masterpiece and its subsequent follow-ups, is front and center in this picture. So yes, if you’re coming into “Covenant” hoping for impregnations, facehuggers, and aliens, you’ll certainly get those things. Furthermore, while the prerequisite chest-bursters are on full display, “Covenant” offers up other icky forms of alien births. Lots of blood in this one, folks. Gore aplenty.
But aside from all the alien carnage, “Covenant” also offers up a handful of ambitious themes. There are plenty of big ideas bubbling just beneath the surface of this sci-fi monster movie ranging from the dangers of artificial intelligence to playing God to good old-fashioned good vs. evil. Unfortunately, though, most of these themes take a backseat to the “slasher in space” scenario. Scott even goes so far as to include a shower scene.
Having said that, it should be noted that “Alien: Covenant” is far more uptempo and far less frustrating than “Prometheus,” mostly because Scott and his screenwriting team don’t spend the majority of their time answering questions by way of more questions. Instead, Scott seems more interested in putting an emphasis on the monster aspect of the plot. The flipside, of course, is that some of this stuff isn’t very consistent with the rest of the mythology. I’m still foggy on the alien gestational period. When John Hurt was impregnated in the original film, it took a whole lot longer to give birth than it does in this picture. Semantics.
As for the performances in “Covenant,” they’re pretty good. As crew member Daniels, Katherine Waterston is solid. The mere sight of her crying is enough to break your heart. Of course, Daniels isn’t all soft and vulnerable. At one point in the picture, she’s given an opportunity to go into full on Ellen Ripley mode. Elsewhere in “Covenant,” Billy Crudup pops up as an officer who assumes responsibility of the colonization ship after tragedy strikes. It isn’t an easy transition as he spends a great deal of “Covenant” on shaky ground, desperately hoping to earn the respect and admiration of his recently acquired crew. A generally funny Danny McBride goes a little more serious here as the loyal man at the helm. Don’t worry, though, this funny man does have a few moments of vintage McBride-inspired smartassery.
As expected, “Alien: Covenant” really belongs to the great Michael Fassbender, and it’s a smart move on the part of Scott and his screenwriters to double down and give this exceptional actor the opportunity to sink his teeth into two roles: the childlike and inquisitive Walter and the self-sufficient and scheming David, whom we first met in “Prometheus.” Fassbender is terrific as both characters, bringing subtle differences to a pair of androids who are virtually identical in appearance but considerably different in terms of their outlook at life in general.
Again, Ridley Scott has fashioned a movie that is truly beautiful to look at. The man certainly knows how to frame a shot, and he knows how to give the audience a good shock. If only “Alien: Covenant” didn’t feel like such an “Alien”/”Aliens”/”Prometheus”/”Blade Runner”/”Terminator” smorgasbord. If only this film didn’t rely on so many CG alien effects. If only this film didn’t give us answers to questions we really didn’t want answered (particularly the one involving eggs.) And if only “Covenant” didn’t feature so many characters making so many baffling, seemingly dumb decisions. Seriously, there are moments when a few of the characters in this picture make the space explorers in the recently released “Life” look like absolute geniuses by comparison. Furthermore, there’s a bit of a character twist in the final act of the movie that, while chilling in terms of the way it’s played, doesn’t really work because it isn’t really much of a surprise.
In the end, “Alien: Covenant” isn’t a bad movie, but it’s definitely a mixed bag. It’s visually sumptuous, well acted, and reasonably well paced, but while it’s certainly more entertaining than “Prometheus” as a whole, it can’t hold a candle to rest of the films in the “Alien” franchise. And yes, this includes the unfairly maligned “Alien 3” and the virtually forgotten “Alien: Resurrection” (and for the record, no, I don’t consider the “Alien Vs. Predator” series part of this universe).
Scott says he’s got a couple more “Alien” pictures in the pipeline. But honestly, I’m hoping he stops here, especially if he has more projects like “The Martian” in him. I’d much rather see this visionary look forward than back.