“Alien: Covenant” is the latest entry in the Xenomorph franchise that has graced cinema screens for almost the last 40 years. It is both a sequel to 2012’s “Prometheus” and a prequel to 1979’s “Alien”. Yep, things are getting pretty complicated, and that’s without even going anywhere near parts 2, 3, 4, and the “AvP” spinoffs. A person could give themselves an aneurism trying to link all those plotlines together. I’m going keep things as simple as possible and stick to those films most relevant.
The year is 2104 and the colony ship Covenant is already well underway on its 7-plus year mission to deliver two thousand colonists, a thousand embryos, and a small crew of couples to the distant planet Origae-6. Because of the long journey, every human on board has been put into cryo-sleep. Only the android Walter (Michael Fassbender) remains conscious, tending to the ship’s and passengers’ daily needs. When an unexpected and near-catastrophic event damages the ship and awakens the crew, the journey is put on hold as repairs are made.
During this time, a mysterious signal is picked up emanating from a nearby planet. Realizing this new planet may be as good a home, or better, as Origae-6 (and a hell of a lot closer), and itching to find out more about the source of the signal, they change course and head off to investigate. What they find not only threatens to turn their dreams of a paradise amongst the stars into a nightmare, but also reveals the fate of The Prometheus – a ship that mysteriously vanished ten years before – and its crew.
And I’ll leave the plot right there.
Man, I’m really torn on this movie, as there was a lot to love. Let’s start with the production design. This movie is gorgeous. As far as the spaceship stuff goes, it’s pretty much what we’ve seen before. The sets once again have a real blue-collar feel to them, and I still love that aesthetic. However, once they get down on a planet;s surface, things really begin to pop. The planet itself actually looks a lot like my homeland in East Canada, so I hope I’m not just loving it for the memories of years past. However, Canadian scenery aside, there are some wonderful sets to behold once we get deeper into the story.
Ridley Scott, director of both “Prometheus” and “Alien”, is back behind the camera, and he continues to do what he does best. That is, he makes those beautiful sets and landscapes look even better. The man is one of the best visual directors working, and he doesn’t disappoint here. Along with cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, Scott guides us through landscapes of wonder and terror, sometimes making it difficult to discern one from the other. Even at their most horrifying, his visions can be things of beauty.
Speaking of, the horror in “Covenant” is amped way up from what we saw in “Prometheus”, and I loved every bit of it. I’m going to warn you now, if you’re not a fan of body horror, brace yourself because things get really juicy. Great work from the effects department, and it is a thrill to watch things progress as we continue to get closer and closer to that gorgeous xenomorph we all know and love so well.
Of all the actors in this, Michael Fassbender is the standout. Was there ever really any doubt? Again, I am loathe to say too much about him for the sake of those who are plot-point sensitive. I’ll just say that whenever he is on the screen, you can’t help but be drawn to him, and most of the emotion in the film lies solely with him, which is funny considering he’s the only non-human on the crew. And I also want to give a shout-out to Danny McBride. He had a much bigger role than I expected, and I was really worried that he would end up being too much of a goofball, but those fears were ultimately unwarranted. He keeps his character very grounded, has a few heart-felt moments of his own, and ends up being a pretty important player.
And we do get some actual answers. Yes! I know a lot of people were disappointed at the end of “Prometheus”, and I’m here to say that you do learn more as to the fate of David, Elizabeth Shaw, and their quest to find the engineers. I’m not going to say how many answers you get, but you do get some. Emphasis on “some”.
Sounds pretty good, huh? Well, don’t get too comfortable, because it wasn’t all wine, roses, and chestbursters.
First off, the rest of the cast. While there was no one I would call bad by any stretch of the imagination, there was no one I would call all that memorable either. Like in many of these kinds of movies, a lot of the minor characters are there pretty much just to be alien fodder. I liked them, but I didn’t shed any tears if they ended up as monster-chow.
Sadly, especially since she spends so much of the movie in the thick of things and has the largest role next to Fassbender, I wasn’t all that taken with Katherine Waterston as Daniels. She is obviously meant to continue the tradition of the strong female lead in this series, but she has nowhere near the presence of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley or Noomi Rapace’s Shaw. It’s a shame. She is obviously a talented actress, but this really does seem to boil down to miscasting. Nowhere is this more apparent than in a key action scene in the final act. Waterston does everything the character is supposed to, but something just looked way off. However, I could easily see Sigourney or Noomi pulling the same scene off effortlessly.
Remember how I said “some” of the questions left by “Prometheus” were answered? As good as it was to get those answers, it of course means some questions weren’t. And some of the resolutions that are revealed are sure to upset, especially with regards to….dammit, spoilers again. Let’s just say it was a big part of “Prometheus”, and I don’t think a lot of people are going to dig how it turns out. I certainly didn’t. And with a couple of more sequels already announced, there are all new questions to drive you batty for the next few years as we await the next chapter.
Speaking of questions, there’s been a lot of talk these past few years of how TV is changing, turning out product that is often every bit as creative, visually arresting, daring, and captivating as what your local cinema has to offer. I would even argue that a lot of what the old boob tube has to offer these days puts the majority of big screen fare to shame. Remember how films of the past like “Jaws”, “The Goonies”, the original “Star Wars”, “E.T.”, and so many other favorites from the 70s and 80s used to grab us and just hold on, refusing to let go? Hell, thirty years on they still cling to us, their mere mention enough to send us scurrying off to iTunes or the DVD shelf for another visit.
That doesn’t seem to happen as often these days. The last time a flick grabbed me like one of my beloved oldies was 2015’s “Mad Max: Fury Road”. Boy, that movie was certainly a gift from the Celluloid Gods. These days, those old feelings of wonder and magic are most often found with the whisper of titles like “Stranger Things”, “Westworld”, “Black Mirror”, and “True Detective”. And just as TV shows are becoming more like movies, so are movies starting to become more like television.
With all this focus on sequels, prequels, and universe building, going to movies like this is starting to feel like tuning in to this week’s episode of my favorite show. Instead of having things all tied up at the end, I’m left hanging until next time. And that definitely happens here. The only problem is that’s all fine and dandy if you’re watching “The Walking Dead” or “Game of Thrones”. You only have to wait a week or a few months at the most. The next “Alien” is at least a couple of years down the road. Sure, a lot of movie franchises can pull off the long haul storytelling style – “Star Wars” and “Lord of the Rings” are two examples that quickly come to mind – but I don’t think “Alien” is particularly well suited to that. A couple of movies maybe, but not four or five. Especially when some of the answers you do choose to sprinkle around aren’t worth getting that excited about. Or are just infuriating.
Finally, I come to what irked me the most about this movie. Simply put, there are more stupid white people in this movie than the last three or four slasher films I saw combined. I am not kidding. I could not believe the utterly stupid decisions these characters kept making over and over again. And I am not blaming the actors here. I put responsibility for this squarely on the shoulders of the writers and the director. It was mind-boggling. Whether it was in regards to their personal safety, the safety of their comrades, or the safety of the thousands of colonists on the Covenant, almost every choice made in this was the absolute wrong one. My eyes weren’t just rolling at a lot of this, they were shooting out of their sockets and barreling up and down the aisles.
Listen, I can accept the odd wrong move here and there. Hell, sometimes the story needs someone to be a dumbass, but almost everyone in this went way beyond the call. It was actually distracting and took me out of the movie on more than one occasion. My three favorites – and I’m keeping them extremely vague – are Danny McBride’s views on ship safety protocols, Faris’ (Amy Seimetz) handling of quarantine procedures and firearm safety, and Oram’s (Billy Crudup) actions when presented with…..sorry, I have to stop. That last one was the kicker and it’s actually making my head throb thinking about it. You’ll know it when you see it. Un-freaking-believable.
So, when all is said and done, we have a lot of good, and a lot of not so good. I know it got a bit heated there towards the end, but it’s hard for me to not be a bit disappointed. I am a big fan of the “Alien” franchise and am always hoping for the best with each new installment. The problems I had with this aside, I think it deserves to be seen in the theater. There’s good action, great horror, and wonderful sights. I can honestly say I was never bored during the entire two hours. The only thing that really, really annoyed me was the unending procession of bad, bad decisions. If you can get past that, I reckon many of you will even call this a great film. I truly wish I could.
Damn you, Billy Crudup.
Starring Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride, Billy Crudup
Written by John Logan and Dante Harper
Directed by Ridley Scott