Alien: Covenant Review - Ridley Scott Delivers The Scares, But Falters Elsewhere

– by Nick Doll

Alien: Covenant is a strange hybrid of Prometheus and the original Alien. If you thought adding "Alien" to the title was a sign that director Ridley Scott was in some way erasing Prometheus or righting the ship after fan response to that film, you're dead wrong. Prometheus is essential viewing before seeing Alien: Covenant. Though the film steps into far too familiar territory with the return of eggs, facehuggers, and the Xenomorph -- all seen in the trailer -- it is still Prometheus 2; not so much a prequel to Alien as continuation of the last film and a set-up for whatever comes next. It delivers plenty of blood, gore, and fantastic scares, but falls short in terms of characterization, narrative, and pacing.

The title refers to the colony ship, Covenant, just as Prometheus was named after the featured spacecraft in that film. The Covenant is unlike the ships we've seen in either Prometheus or Alien, as in addition to its crew, made up entirely of couples, there are over 2,000 colonists in hibernation as well as drawers of frozen embryos. Just as David (Michael Fassbender) manned the Prometheus while its crew lay in hibernation, the more robotic Walter (also Fassbender) tends to the Covenant with the help of MU-TH-UR (back from Alien!). That is, until an accident causes some systems to fail and the crew of the Covenant must be awakened seven years short of their destination. 

Due to loss of life in one of the sleeping pods, Oram (Billy Crudup) has to assume the mantle of captain, a position apparently denied to him due to his faith. While repairing the ship, Tennessee (Danny McBride) picks up a signal is from an oddly habitable planet that was somehow missed when the original expedition was planned. Not too keen on returning to their pods after the first disaster, the crew of the Covenant decide to check out the formally unknown planet that is two weeks away, rather than seven years. Upon landing, they find a planet lush with Earth's vegetation, but no animal life of any sort. I think you know what direction the film goes from there... mostly... mostly.

Alien: Covenant's purpose is to both bring you back to the familiar aspects of the franchise you love, and continue to explain the origin of the Xenomorph. If you've had enough facehuggers and Xenomorphs by this, the sixth film in the franchise, and don't really care where these classic monsters come from, there isn't much for you here, except for some really great, gory scares. If Prometheus left you a little baffled, Covenant is here to explain the next step in the creature's evolution and clear up a few odd bits of Prometheus left unexplained or intentionally murky back in 2012. 

Unfortunately, having to follow Prometheus makes the beginning of this film painfully slow. Alien: Covenant falls into the same trap as Beneath the Planet of the Apes, which had to basically repeat the reveals from the first film as we were seeing the world through the eyes of a new character. With this new crew, there is far too much time spent building up to the first fatality on the planet. There is too much, "Oh, wow, what is this?" following a film that was entirely about the unknown and discovery. That being said, Scott is great at providing tension even before we meet any alien organisms. There's never really a moment to relax, as tension seems to build with each passing minute. 

The film is strongest in its second act, after everything has gone to shit and the origins of the Xenomorph becomes the focus. While I felt Prometheus did a terrible job explaining how black goo spawned all the monsters in that film, Covenant is quite clever in the slow reveal of the evolution of cinema's scariest alien. The film is at its most original and entertaining here, with the most unpredictable scares coming from the new Neomorph, unique enough compared to any of the critters from Prometheus or Alien. This is when the tension as at its height, as things are not simply terrifying, but fresh as well.

The third act feels like a separate movie completely, and is where the film begins to feel too familiar and most predictable. The would-be twists throughout the film all feel obvious, save for one, fantastic reveal that I won't spoil here. I think Alien: Covenant would be most enjoyable for someone who has only seen Prometheus, due to an overabundance of similarities to Alien

I found the characters in Alien: Covenant less interesting than those in Prometheus, for the most part. The crew is serviceable and slightly less moronic than the far too curious scientists in Prometheus, the stand-outs being Daniels (Katherine Waterston), Oram, Tennessee, and Walter. Daniels is a decent lead, but pales in comparison not only to Sigourney Weaver's Ripley, but also Noomi Rapace's Elizabeth Shaw from the previous film. The cast is far too large; basically Scott filling a bench of expendable characters that would all be wearing red shirts, if this were Star Trek.

Fassbender, on the other hand, is on fire as both Walter and David, the synthetic from Prometheus. In fact, I'd say David is easily the second most interesting character in the entire franchise, behind Ripley, naturally. Every scene David appears in is a delight, especially when the scene is simply comprised of two Fassbenders interacting; the old model and the new. 

Alien: Covenant isn't as philosophical as Prometheus, but it continues a few of that film's loftier ideas, as far as what it means to be a creation vs a creator. And it does this in a cleaner, more straight forward manner. Combine this with the some of the best kills and scares in the franchise, and you have a very watchable, but flawed popcorn flick, good enough for a hot May afternoon. But, if you're looking for a return to form for the franchise, or something that feels original, you're out of luck. Alien: Covenant gets the job done, but it doesn't elevate the franchise to new heights or introduce anything game-changing. Just another gory adventure in a franchise that may never end.

Grade: B-

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Film, Reviews, Featured Alien: Covenant, Alien