If you haven’t yet bore witness to Ridley Scott’s latest foray into the Xenomorph universe with Alien: Covenant, turn back now. I mean it. Close your browser and retreat because I am about to gripe loudly and harshly about this film, which involves spoiling every idiotic action I can think of that occurs within.
Much like the moronic scientists aboard the Covenant, you’ve clearly been warned.
As a film critic and even as a devout fan, I’m often asked “what is that moment in a movie where they lose you?” As in, what is that specific action or cliché which always takes me out of the element? As a critic, you force yourself to look objectively and search for positives amidst the rubble. No filmmaker sets out to helm a disaster, and that’s a point often lost on today’s cynical critiques. It’s a struggle sometimes, to find the beauty amidst the wreckage, but it is a necessity. As a fan though, it always depends on preferences, and those can often be cyclical. Every once in a while though, a movie comes along that is so special, so unique, that it drips acid blood over every ounce of my enjoyment. It’s as rare as a solar eclipse for me, which makes Alien: Covenant that much more unparalleled.
I think Ridley Scott is one of the most visually exciting directors working today. The man knows how to frame a shot, where to light it, exactly when a crane is needed, etc. He also has made several films in the past decade stuffed to the gills with characters making awful decisions. Not simply poorly conceived or ill-advised, we’re talking abysmal resolution skills. He’s not writing these movies, mind you, but he’s not correcting the course either. The Counselor, Exodus, Prometheus, the list goes on. Yet generally, I can always point to the cinematic beauty of it all. The vast landscapes, the atmospheric dread, the bold conceptual novelty, the uncomfortably long shots focused on any actor named Fassbender. Like I said, the guy knows how to shoot.
Walking into Alien: Covenant, my expectations were already lowered. Our reviewer, David (there’s irony here somewhere), already explained the frustrating character choices awaiting audiences for this semi-Prometheus sequel. I had an inkling there would be some eye-rolling, but to be fair, that’s kind of expected in Alien films. If characters don’t occasionally do dumb things, there’s no movie to sit through. A certain amount of negligible idiocy pits a character in danger, which sooths a horror fan’s soul.
Then Alien: Covenant happened.
And much like that recent jackass who decided suing resolves his poor dating habits, I contemplated legal action for this personal insult of a movie. I lost track of the insanely feeble-minded decisions these characters continued to make, over and over. Were we being Punk’d? Was Ridley Scott so sick of Alien rip-offs that he decided to bury his own franchise? WTF is going on here?
I know what you’re thinking, hyperbole. “It’s not that bad, Aaron. Critics liked it, I have some friends who liked it too. You obviously just didn’t get it.” No, I didn’t WANT it. If the fate of the universe was left in the grasp of these idiots, let’s just bounce out of the air lock sans suits. It’s already over. I’ll wait for Dom and the Furious guys to give me a ride. They’ve got to be Tokyo drifting into space by now, right?
By the end of Alien: Covenant, not only was I pissed that I just wasted two hours I could have better spent watching The Blacklist finale or even watching clouds form; I was also insulted. Claim it’s a horror or science-fiction film all you want to justify its ludicrousness; it still requires buy-in, doesn’t it? Don’t we need at least a modicum of belief that these characters, these scientists who TRAINED 10 YEARS for this mission, that they are actually fairly intelligent people?
When our “heroes” first wake from cryosleep, they lose their Captain in a particularly harrowing event. Ok, you’ve got me. My sympathies are with them, this is tough. As they’re fixing the ship with some state-of-the-art safety precautions (and solar charging!), Danny McBride finds some static and a John Denver song that gets everyone excited. Was it a distress call? Perhaps a clear indication that everyone should show up for one hell of an intergalactic mixer? Nope. It’s just Denver static. I know that always moves me to risk the lives of thousands of innocent strangers currently snoozing in the holding bay awaiting their final destination.
So, when Billy Crudup’s Commander Blue Dong – points if you get that reference – takes the Captain slot, he risks 10 years of scientific data, strategy, planning, and HUMAN LIVES to randomly check out the location where this mysterious signal is emanating from. Yes, even after a mild crew protest, he rolls the dice on an entire civilization to venture off-course because hey, my gut feels it. This is literally one of the worst movie decisions I have ever witnessed. And that isn’t hyperbole, that’s sheer and utter pissed-offery.
Then they take the ship’s lone drop ship – what is this, the Titanic? – and most of the crew down to do a quick reconnaissance of the surface. Why does almost everyone need to go when there’s an entire ship full of civilians to protect? Because it’s in the script, the one written in crayon. That’s why.
A couple people are infected almost immediately because they can’t stop doing stupid shit, characters instantly lose any semblance of common sense and begin panicking, putting everyone else in jeopardy. I know what I do when I’m freaking out because of a dangerous infection, I expose my friends to certain death, put on my best Stallone face and shoot up my only ride home, how about you? Idiots.
After the survivors find themselves stuck on Planet Death, they decide to not waste their time doing anything smart, instead they immediately take faith in that one evil robot who looks just like THEIR sweet Texas robot. Because on a world stuffed with dead corpses everywhere, faith is definitely the theme sensible folk would lap up.
But worry not, the idiocracy continues!
Danny McBride (I refuse to call him “T”, I’m not a savage) decides to get in close to his friends, because he thinks he’s Harry Stamper. Everyone on the ship tells him how dangerous it is. Every sensor on the ship tells him how dangerous it is. THE DAMN SHIP LITERALLY TELLS HIM HOW DANGEROUS IT IS. And still, this macho man casts intelligence and respect for his fellow passengers to the wind and risks it all to save…like the three or four people left. McDumbass.
Meanwhile, back on Planet Death, the Captain starts to suspect David is a bot bent on mass destruction, yet he spots a bitching little vibrating egg slathered in lube over there in the corner. I know I’d want to get a closer look. Maybe even dip my face in it a bit, feel the warmth of new life, the smell of OH MY GOD IT’S EATING MY FACE! You deserve that life demotion, Blue Dong.
Lastly, we have the twin bots. These synthetics look and sound alike, aside from that dodgy Southern accent. The only discernible difference is Walter seems like a bot I’d have a beer with, while David seems like a rapey freakbot who plays the flute as he plots universal domination. When our heroine, Daniels, escapes this psychobot, she takes ole Walter back to the ship with no questions asked. Because she’s apparently never seen a movie from the 21st century, or a soap opera. Isn’t there some kind of security protocol for synths? And why is Walter the only one stationed on this ship? This is a long mission and I know my Samsung can’t last a decade, what are the odds Walter can? Regardless, Daniels isn’t intelligent enough to verify this is the correct Walter and therefore, mankind is about to suffer some pretty hefty casualties.
This sounds like a wild bitch fest, and you’re absolutely correct. If I had kept a tally of each head-poundingly poor choice, I’d have run out of paper. It has been a long time since a film infuriated me this much with so many endless opportunities for humans to embrace their stupidity.
Visually, Ridley Scott once again has a stunner of a film. The baby aliens are fascinating to watch evolve, and the scares back on the ship evokes memories of the first two Alien films. This guy can still shoot better than most filmmakers of any era.
As a structured narrative, though, as a cohesive story launching off of the promising ideology first glimpsed in Prometheus and expanded on here, in all of these aspects, Alien: Covenant is a glorious insult to the IQ of its audience. Not an insult in the same way a film like, say, Transformers is. No, those films aren’t trying to be anything smarter than a kid’s toy. But Covenant is attempting to continue delivering heavy thematic material while incorporating genre clichés, and failing miserably on all counts.
So what is that moment where Alien: Covenant lost me? Hell if I know. My eyes rarely stopped rolling long enough to pinpoint a highlight. What I do know is that I’m more pissed than ever that I’ll likely never see Neil Blomkamp’s vision of Alien with the rumored return of Sigourney Weaver’s eternal badass, Ripley, and it’s all due to the idiots aboard this colossal mess of a ship named Covenant.
In space, I sure hope they can’t hear me scream.