Starring: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Jussie Smollett, Callie Hernandez, Amy Seimetz, Nathaniel Dean, Lorelei King (voice), Goran D. Kleut, James Franco, Guy Pearce.
Director: Ridley Scott
Rating: R (for sci-fi violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality/nudity.)
Running Time: 122 Minutes
Release Date: May 19, 2017
Brandywine Productions, Scott Free Productions, TSG Entertainment, and 20th Century Fox.
Written by: John Logan and Dante Harper (screenplay); Jack Paglen and Michael Green (story); based on characters created by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett.
I want to love the Alien franchise as much as the next person, but after the intermittently frustrating and entertaining series prequel Prometheus in 2012, Ridley Scott‘s Alien: Covenant only adds to the realization that perhaps this whole endeavor has run out of inventive ways to re-purpose and re-generate its story of a future war between nasty, vicious alien monsters and the “Aww shucks, golly, gee whiz” Earthlings who continue to stumble upon these horrific beasts.
Scott has called Alien: Covenant “a thinking man’s horror movie,” which is really a dismissive statement to anyone who watches this movie, ponders it, and, you know, actually thinks about it. Quite honestly, we have waited with breathless anticipation for five years and we are paid back with a repetitive, empty, and hollow film that ramps up the horror, dumbing down everything else.
I guess I just don’t qualify as a Ridley Scott Thinking Man. It’s alright. I will survive.
This time around, though the film is a sequel, we have an entirely new crew to become familiar with. It is 2104, ten years have passed since Prometheus, and on the “Covenant” ship we have a number of couples traveling with 2,000 cryogenically-controlled colonists and more than 1,000 embryos. The destination is Origae-6, a dream planet, perfect for colonization. With everyone in deep, deep slumber, the ship is maintained by Walter (Michael Fassbender), an intuitive android, resembling Prometheus’ David. Walter speaks with an American accent, unlike David’s British incantation, and he has a nice, working connection with the ship’s omniscient internal computer, the female-voiced “Mother” (Lorelei King).
Very quickly, a tragic event forces Walter to rouse everyone out of their sleep pods, far earlier than anticipated. This forces first-mate Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup) to take charge of a shaken crew. The discovery of a habitable planet, much closer than Origae-6, convinces Oram to re-route and touch down early and in a location unknown to those on board. The crew member most affected by the tragedy, Daniels (Katherine Waterston), has her doubts, voicing them directly and honestly to Oram. Undeterred, he forges ahead, ordering his crew to anchor down on this unnamed and mysterious planet.
If anyone has ever seen a movie, like any movie at all, it becomes obvious that things are not going to go well with Oram’s rampant stubbornness. Screenwriters John Logan and Dante Harper infuse him with a faith-based inner monologue of sorts, which could actually serve as a curious and thoughtful contemplation the film could explore, especially when it returns to themes of Creation later in the film. Instead, Scott opts to merely dabble with Oram’s faith for a couple moments and then discards it and moves along. As it turns out, unexpected and alarming events begin taking place, catching a naive and ill-prepared crew completely unable to stand up to the challenges they suddenly are facing.
For those who thought Prometheus was too heady and in the weeds on screen psychology and lumbering ruminations on creation and evolution, Alien: Covenant restores the blood, guts, creature-bursting and face-hugging days of yore. And while that may make some of you smile, Scott plays this tune so often and with such obscene predictability that the movie becomes little more than a slasher film; albeit one that is gussied up with impressive visual effects and science-fiction doom-and-gloom. For two hours, we get a film where every human character is likely doomed to die alongside an obvious conclusion of good versus evil.
Without revealing a couple of surprises, one of which is telegraphed from miles away, Alien: Covenant does answer some lingering questions from Prometheus and continues to push towards the events which preceded 1979’s Alien. The one big problem is that significant portions of Covenant feel like a remake of that first film, which leaves you scratching your head and wondering if this is Scott trying to have the best of everything.
Alien: Covenant wants to be the sequel, the prequel, and something of a reboot all at once – the film suffering mightily for trying to please literally everyone imaginable. This isn’t so much a movie as an appeasement. Scott just feels lost in trying to figure out who this movie is made for.
A shuddering letdown, perhaps the most aggravating element of the entire film is that Scott squanders a tremendous performance from Fassbender, who captivates yet again as an emotionless android, giving audiences much to enjoy when Walter crosses paths with a Prometheus character, we may not have anticipated encountering.
For all the good that is Michael Fassbender, this rag-tag mix of crew members are perhaps the dumbest collective we have seen to date in this franchise. For all the talk of Danny McBride joining the cast, he pretty much just finds himself bumbling around with next to nothing to do, while Jussie Smollett and Callie Hernandez offer less than nothing of merit with their entire screen time, except for a head-shaking scene near the end, between the two, which comes off as cheap and salacious.
All in all, Alien: Covenant may be the film diehard Alien fans think they want, since Xenomorphs, Neomorphs, and carnage reigns down upon the hapless crew in ample supply. Honestly though, you’ve seen all of this before. And as a film of any substance, purpose, or profound depth, Alien: Covenant lacks any heart or soul to speak of.
SHOULD I SEE IT?
- Fans of the hard-R horror from this franchise, will be thrilled to see those elements return in this entry.
- Michael Fassbender is almost good enough to overlook any of the film’s failings. He is far and away the best thing about Alien: Covenant.
- Did you want this to be a prequel, a sequel to Prometheus, and/or a reboot of sorts for the franchise? Congratulations! You win ALL of it!
- I recognize that I may be a bit harder on this film than others, but strip away all the Alien wrapping paper, and this thing is little more than a slasher film, where dumb people make dumb decisions.
- I am not entirely sure Ridley Scott has much left to say and perhaps, should try turning this over to a new face, with a fresh set of eyes, who can move this thing forward in a proper and just manner.
- The film has no depth, no real enthusiasm for its storytelling, and just fawns over cliche and hyperbolic behavior. A major letdown. And it’s okay. Just don’t let a love of brand blind you to the fact that this is simply not a very good movie.