Alien Covenant

‘Alien: Covenant’ Review: Prometheus, Now with More Aliens

'Alien: Covenant'

Movie Rating:

3

‘Prometheus’, Ridley Scott’s return to the ‘Alien’ franchise, was supposed to reignite excitement and deepen the series’ mythology. Instead, it was beautiful to look at but stumbled through failed grasps at profound themes and irritatingly stupid writing. The long-delayed sequel, ‘Alien: Covenant’, at least improves and expands on what ‘Prometheus’ hoped to accomplish, even though it feels like a mid-level entry in the beloved franchise overall.

The flick kicks off with a bizarre prologue featuring Michael Fassbender’s eerie android David and Guy Pearce’s diabolical Peter Weyland to re-establish the last film’s themes of man playing God. Then we’re shot deep into space on a massive ship filled with human colonists planning to set up shop on a new planet. An updated version of the David android, named Walter this time (Fassbender again, with the names a sly reference to ‘Alien’ writer/producers Walter Hill and David Giler), roams the halls while the humans sleep, until a sudden accident awakens the ship’s core crew and kills off many others. The likes of Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup and Danny McBride play the survivors, some pained that they’ve lost loved ones, all panicking about what to do next. Then they receive a distress call from nearby planet and set out to investigate, finding a world that seems perfect for colonization. Unfortunately, the planet also features that mutating microscopic black death goo from ‘Prometheus’. Soon enough, creatures are bursting out of flesh, death hangs in the air, and a familiar face from the last movie shows up to usher in a third act where things get even worse and the iconic Xenomorph finally returns to the franchise.

‘Alien: Covenant’ is a movie that feels uneasy with itself at times. It wants to continue the epic multi-film philosophical narrative of ‘Prometheus’ that gives added symbolic weight and mythology to the iconic ‘Alien’ creatures. At the same time, Ridley Scott and his team are aware of the problems viewers had with ‘Prometheus’ and have also fused in a remake of the original ‘Alien’ as well. It’s an uncomfortable mix of old and new. Even though most viewers will show up because they’ve been promised a new ‘Alien’ movie, all those sequences feel like they were tacked onto a planned ‘Prometheus’ sequel that wasn’t supposed to catch up to the original series just yet. It often feels like being force fed a ‘Prometheus’ sequel within a perfunctory ‘Alien’ remake, and oddly works best when expanding on the unpopular movie rather than retreading the hallowed ground of the 1979 masterpiece.

This massive franchise tentpole is also a rather angry and morbidly thoughtful movie. While juggling ‘Frankenstein’ themes about the horrors of creation and playing God, Scott layers in a vicious exploration of death. The alien-munching and blood-spewing set-pieces aren’t just horrifically R-rated, they also hurt. Viewers are forced to watch characters grieve in great anguish over deaths, and there’s rarely any fun to be had once the lambs are led to slaughter. Oh sure, the redshirt crew members written as alien food might act like dummies in a slasher movie, but their deaths reverberate amongst the survivors in tragic tones that are downright depressing. It almost feels like Scott might be working through some issues. (It’s hard not to read into the fact that the director developed this sequel after a rather public family tragedy.) That may be an ambitious personal spin on a marketable Hollywood franchise, but it’s also often tonally ugly in ways that dilute the popcorn fun.

Still, the filmmaking is some of Scott’s best on a technical level. No matter how morbid the scene, Scott shoots it with an absolute mastery of all cinematic craft. The film is stunningly beautiful, especially when the content of the images is gut-wrenchingly disturbing. Performances from the core cast of Waterston, Crudup, McBride and Fassbender (who steals the show in spoilery ways that shouldn’t be revealed – but get ready for one particularly unsettling sequence that’s all Fassbender without an alien in sight) are all strong. Even the one-note alien-food actors admirably commit to their roles. The evolved ‘Prometheus’ creatures are disgustingly gorgeous creations and get some of the biggest scares. H.R. Giger faithful such as the facehugger, the chestburster, and the xenomorph are as horrifying as always, even if Scott doesn’t have many new tricks up his sleeve for how to use those monsters that have appeared in eight movies and counting.

‘Alien: Covenant’ is both enthralling and disappointing. There’s no faulting the craft of the production and it’s a viscerally unsettling movie that’s hard to shake. However, problems from ‘Prometheus’ persist, including the overwritten script filled endless dull discussions of themes (most of which were elegantly presented in the original ‘Alien’ through imagery), as well as awkward plot holes and forced mythology that don’t make the monsters any more effective.

There’s a ‘Star Wars’ prequel quality to these ‘Prometheus’ movies, needlessly piling on backstory to explain things best left mysterious and unstated in the original films. Still, there’s no denying the horrifying beauty of the production, the visceral thrills, a few impressive performances, or the handful of intriguing ideas that resonate. Ridley Scott has created an ambitious, nasty, and potent new ‘Alien’ film that’s an improvement on its predecessor without living up to the two stone cold classics that kicked off this franchise decades ago.

‘Alien: Convenant’ is worth a look and offers enough of an improvement on ‘Prometheus’ that the third time might be the charm for this series of ‘Alien’ prequels that Ridley Scott is determined to will into existence. It could be worse. It already was. Approach with caution, a removable thinking cap, and a barf bag.

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21 comments

  1. Deaditelord

    I was one of the apparently small handful of people who actually enjoyed Prometheus so I’m glad to hear that the intriguing ideas raised in that film have not been completely abandoned in Alien: Covenant. I wish the movie was in 3D though since Prometheus was the film that sold me on the format. In any case, I plan on seeing this over the weekend.

    • Csm101

      That’s a good point, Deadite. I just assumed there would be a 3D version. I thought Scott enjoyed shooting in 3D. Now I’m not so sure.

      • Deaditelord

        He’s said that in past about filming in 3D. I wonder if it was studio thing where they just didn’t want to pony up the extra money to film it that way?

          • Deaditelord

            I will grant you that at least as far as Firfield and MIlburn our concerned. TEven by horror movie standards of characters doing dumb things, the scene where Firfield watches as Milburn attempts to pet the snake alien that – shock of shocks – wraps around and breaks his arm is incredibly stupid. However, for some reason I didn’t have a problem with the rest of the movie and actually liked Noomi Rapace, Idris Elba, Charlize Theron, and Michael Fassbender in their respective roles. Couple that with Ridley Scott’s gorgeous camerawork (the man knows how to shoot a movie for maximum visual impact) and I was able to overlook Prometheus’ flaws and enjoy it.

          • Jiden

            I fall into this category too where I like Prometheus, and Alien Covenant ended up being exactly the movie that I wouldn’t want as an Alien sequel / prequel. Here goes (and spoiler-warning for both films abound):
            Phil says in his review that Prometheus “stumbled through failed grasps at profound themes and irritatingly stupid writing.” I’ve held the belief that Prometheus wasn’t the victim of bad writing as much as bad editing and I encourage anyone who feels otherwise to view the deleted scenes. In them are scenes that show Millburn’s excitement for worms (our first life form) that makes the scene with the Hammerpede more sensible. Janek also relays a story of working at a military base where they were experimenting with dangerous stuff, that something goes wrong and he watched that base be blown up because it was too dangerous, justifying his conclusion about the vials on the planet, as well as his suicide run. Also, the tension of the extended scene of the engineer hunting down Shaw in the end would have made the scene much better. I’m someone who absolutely subscribes to the subtext of the Space Jesus theory of Prometheus. There’s still some dumb decisions (why does Shaw immediately want to electrify the head they find, for example), but it’s not a disaster that a lot of people portray. Most importantly, Prometheus dared to do something different and even if it wasn’t completely successful on that, I would hope there would be kudos for trying.
            Alien Covenant, on the other hand… where do I begin? I’d love to understand how Alien Covenant improves upon ANYTHING that Prometheus or the Alien movies have done before. There are so many rip offs from the earlier films that it’s not even homage. Distress beacon: check. Damaged lander: check. Breaking quarantine: check. Android bad guy: check. Escaping on a ship with the Xenomorph clinging: check. Blowing a xeno out the airlock for finale: check. There are literally ZERO surprises in this film.
            Say what you want about the characters of Prometheus, but they had a ton more definition than ANYONE in Alien Covenant. “Meh, they’re meant to be eviscerated anyway” you might say. And yet, Alien and Aliens presented some extremely memorable, nuanced characters. With the dynamics between the Nostromo crew and the Sulaco, it’s very easy to remember Parker, Ash, Dallas and Hudson, Vasquez, Hicks, and Apone. While Prometheus’ characters weren’t as strong, I liked Shaw and enjoyed her journey, was interested in Halloway’s motivations and feud with David, Vickers iciness in the wake of being an unappreciated child, and I might just like Janek because his Idris Elba. And David was a curious bastard who made everything happen the way it did. Alien Covenant’s characters were about a superficial as it gets, minus David. The only character names I remember outright are Daniels, Walter and Tennessee (because who the hell has that name?). Billy Crudup’s character talks about faith, but that goes nowhere. He’s a weak secondary command. And that’s it. We learn nothing about the girl (looking her up now, here name is Faris) who lands the lander ship except she’s married to Danny McBride. Couldn’t tell you the names of the first two guys infected in AC, but I damn well remember it was Kane in Alien. Walter is an upgraded version of the David model who is incapable of being “creative”, but he goes through zero arc. Tennessee is married to the girl who landed the initial ship. Anything else? And then there’s Daniels who is a cheap knockoff of a Ripley character who disagrees with the authority and has the bad haircut, but zero of Ripley’s charisma / heroism.
            Let’s talk about writing. For those that complained about the logic gaps in Prometheus, let’s talk about ALL the dumb decisions made by people in this film. Billy Crudup decides that they should explore this perfect planet that nobody noticed before, against better judgment. When they land and the one geologist starts taking soil samples, her companion marine gets sick, so what does she do? She gets in nice and close and starts hauling him back to the ship, like I good scientist / doctor would. Faris, watching the ship, freaking MENTIONS QUARRANTINE in her transmission, yet gets in close too and gets blood coughed all over her. She then locks the geologist in with the infected guy (quarantining everyone but herself?), he dies via Backbreaker, which then proceeds to eat the face of the geologist. Faris, again despite mentioning quarantine, goes and gets a gun, decides NOW is the time to open the locked door, attempts to shoot the damn thing, slips like a chump and misses, runs away and hides from the creature she had JUST captured and then released, then starts firing indiscriminately at the backbreaker and ends up blowing up the ship and herself. For all of the complaints about Vickers not running to the left or right during the rolling ship sequence, her death was freaking Shakespeare compared to this travesty.
            Continuing, Tennessee is ok with putting the ship of over 2000 colonists in jeopardy by flying into a hurricane. Makes sense. Despite David leading the crew into a necropolis of former engineers, and literally acknowledging David hanging out with a neomorph standing next to the body of a freshly killed crewmate, Billy Crudup’s character follows David into his experimental basement of horrors and has zero qualms about shoving his face into the egg of a facehugger. Brilliant. During the escape sequence, Daniels decides it’s a good idea to dangle from the flying ship via a crane and try to take out a clinging xeno. Reckless, but I guess an action sequence demands it (I put this on the same level as the surgical pod in Prometheus only being configured for males). And then obligatory chestburster is released on the ship (advancing to adult stage within minutes, in contrast to the timeline in the first film) and we do a quick rehash of the entire first Alien movie, via sealing shafts and blasting out the airlock and all.
            David easily is the most defined character of this movie, but I don’t buy his transition from Prometheus. In the first film, curiosity is what defines him. He pushes every button he can, and he even gets Halloway to say “I’d do anything” to find what he’s looking for, leading David to put some black goop in his drink and see what happens. He’s not vindictive. He saves Shaw during the storm, warns her when the last engineer is headed her way. Between movies, Shaw repairs David, and they go find the planet of engineers, so what does he do? He goes full megalomaniac, committing immediate mass genocide with all of the vials he has onboard, uses Shaw for his experiments (again, after rescuing her twice), and for some reason, stays there experimenting to create his perfect life form. Why the change of heart? And if he was REALLY curious about experimenting further, why didn’t he leave? Assuming he messed up his ship somehow, I would certainly hope the engineers would have had at least ONE OTHER SHIP on their planet. I guess I’m not supposed to think about that. Instead, David’s a recluse, at least until the Covenant shows up and then all the experiments continue. There’s an opportunity for David and Walter to learn from each other (Walter says that the older models were flawed in their free thinking, David obviously appreciates his own ability to be creative), but where does this go? The obligatory block-buster fight against yourself because we can afford it, of course. Despite Walter “having upgrades”, we don’t see the conclusion of the fight, just one of the two androids running for the quickly escaping ship. And through it all, despite David randomly cutting his hair earlier in the film to match the length of Walter’s, the movie insults the audience’s intelligence, pretending that Walter has made it back, holding that thread until the last minute of the film, when only a moron would have actually believed it (I guess this includes our heroes). Also, with the xeno running around, why would David continue to play along, fully allowing Daniels to get into a position to blast his perfect specimen into space, AND THEN reveal himself when she’s locked down in her sleep chamber. Did he really need the two extra bodies of Daniels and Tennessee when he had 2000 more onboard?
            I also don’t understand this movie’s handling of Shaw. Clearly Noomi Rapace was available, as she appears ALIVE in the prologue on YouTube, entitled “The Crossing”. But after all of her struggles, the questioning of her faith, the loss of her companions, and the optimism of her continued search for answers at the end of Prometheus, Alien Covenant decides to eliminate her offscreen (because everyone thought that was a brilliant idea for Hicks and Newt in Alien 3), only appearing in the film as a photograph and a bunch of pixels in a hologram. And with that, you can forget about an answer of why the engineers created and wanted to destroy us (though again, the Space Jesus theory is always out there). Why David rescues her twice and then utilizes her as patient zero, but with some weird affection (I think?), I won’t understand and I guess the movie doesn’t really care to explain. Lazy, shoddy writing all around.
            The movie is beautiful from a cinematography standpoint and the gore was surreal, sure. Same with the music when it recycles Jerry Goldsmith’s original Alien theme, but these are the only real positives I can find in this film. Everything that it sets out to do has been done before and far better than what’s presented in 2017. I didn’t care about the characters. There were no surprises. Plot holes and logic gaps galore. It touches on the philosophizing of Prometheus but doesn’t do anything with it.
            Needless to say, I did not like this film. In fact, I think I’d argue it was worse than Alien 3, even with all of that film’s production problems.
            So yes, I’d love to know how this film is an improvement over Prometheus. And please don’t ban me.
            End rant.

          • Thulsadoom

            Jiden, I didn’t read the whole of that, but I’m with you. Covenant actually gets worse the more you think about it. Prometheus, in my mind, was ruined by mind numbingly stupid characters and illogical progress to the plot, but the overall story was fine, with a lot of potential. Shaw was a reasonably interesting character, David was interesting, and even Vickers managed to be a liitle interesting due to how icy/cold/mysterious she was. They weren’t great, but they did have something a little different to them. The end of Prometheus, with Shaw departing to discover answers in an alien spacecraft, was actually quite a redeeming point for Prometheus after all the stupidity.

            Covenant… Oh my… On the surface, it’s not as bad as Prometheus. I came out of the cinema feeling a little “Okay, at least it was fun.” But the more I thought about it, the more I realised some fun action had masked, on first viewing, that it was even more stupid than Prometheus. The characters were worse, and it even manages to ruin the mystery of the alien’s origin, and render the entire set up of Prometheus and Shaw searching for answers, completely pointless!!! That was perhaps the worst aspect of the entire film. Have a previous story, then completely negate everything it was leading toward, for a typical ‘humans are the real monsters because it’s our creation that has turned bad and created the Alien…’ message (And David turning evil-scientist-recluse stereotype without any decent motivation)

            Prometheus at least tried to be different, rather than a poor-man’s Alien with a dash of Aliens that discards its own prequel (and this from the man who made the original Alien!!!)

          • Jiden

            Same happened with me, Thulsadoom. I came out thinking “ok, that was… alright” and it was my wife who had a much stronger negative reaction to it. And in talking it out with her, it became apparent that this movie is a mess and doesn’t bring anything worthwhile to the table from a status of storytelling.

  2. Clark

    “Covenant” better than “Prometheus”? Come on! “Prometheus” at least tried to be different and to expand the mythology, while “Covenant” is just bland. And Katherine Waterston is NO Sigourney!

    • Thulsadoom

      Totally agree. Prometheus was badly flawed, but at least had some ideas, even if the script/characters introduced them badly. Covenant has none of the ideas, and actually wastes what Prometheus set up.

  3. Thulsadoom

    *Spoilers*

    For me, Covenant was as flawed as Prometheus (possibly more so) ], but in a different way. My problem with Prometheus was never the lack of ‘Alien’, but the mind-numbing stupidity of the characters and illogical progress of the plot. Nothing wrong with the overall ideas.

    Covenant improves (a little!) on the characters. The situations are damn stupid, but at least the characters aren’t always as dimwitted, despite the facepalm idiocy of every damned horror cliche in the book, for why characters get killed… Go off alone? check. Panicked character shuts a door that leaves someone stuck with monster? Check. Character slips on blood so they conveniently don’t shoot monster and end the threat early? check! Character trips/injures themselves to slow them down in their escape? Check! Character conveniently ignore/don’t see blatant threats until it’s too late? Check!

    Then, after all that, we get the most disappointing origin excuse for the alien, a mini version of the movie Alien (without the build up) and where Prometheus actually saved itself with an interesting potential-filled finale (Shaw taking off in the ship with David’s head to find answers), Covenant goes the other way and gives us the most stupid finale of them all, completely relying on a ‘twist’ that the viewers are obviously supposed to guess (I hope so, anyway… It was so blatantly obvious) but the lead character being so stupid as to not even check the obvious possibility until it’s too late…

    To be honest, Covenant is a weird one in that it’s not as initially annoying as Prometheus on first viewing, but Prometheus at least has more staying power and originality in its overall story and potential. Covenant not only lacks any of that, but destroys any of the interesting potential Prometheus set up.

    As usual, Ridley’s direction and visuals are superb, just let down by a bad script/story.

  4. Curt

    I treat these as monster movies and have enjoyed most of them. These last two wer better then 3. Don’t remember the fourth one too much.

  5. Chapz Kilud

    I watched Prometheus several times, including the alternate beginning and ending. But I’m still very confused. I was hoping the Covenant would help explain a few things. But it didn’t at all. I saw Alien: Covenant on rare IMAX showing. I’m disappointed it wasn’t in 3D like Prometheus. Overall, I agree with some people that Prometheus racks in more points for trying interesting ideas, whereas Covenant was just useless sequel.

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