Five years ago Ridley Scott’s return to the Alien franchise, Prometheus, promised much but even its staunchest defenders would admit underwhelmed; the film less concerned with running away from drooling star beasts and more with finding the big G and the Meaning Of Life. Fair enough. Films in this franchise have always been dripping with as much subtext as the aliens have slime but such lofty ambitions were undone by clumsy plotting and caricatures of human beings at its core. Looks nice though. Alien Covenant then feels like more of an attempt at making a (ugh) spiritual sequel to Scott’s first foray into this universe (Hint: there’s actually an alien this time) than to the flawed Prometheus but despite leaning slightly more towards the ‘slasher movie in space’ territory that Scott perfected in 1979 it still wants to have it’s space cake and eat it, asking The Big Questions that weren’t that interesting in the first place. Looks nice though.
Colonization ship, the Covenant, populated with two thousand settlers in suspended animation is on route to terraform a distant planet when the dozen or so flight crew are rudely awakened by an errant solar flare which kills several of them including the captain/husband of Daniels (Katherine Waterson). When repairing the ship they receive a transmission from a nearby planet, which they investigate and find it to be the final destination of the doomed Prometheus mission 10 years earlier. Although that’s not all there is on the suspiciously free of wildlife surface.
It’s aliens. There are aliens.
Despite being a prequel, it’s still the sixth film in a franchise (eighth if you count the AvP movies, but you shouldn’t) in which we’ve seen people run away from aliens a lot, so even adding some new ones into the mix doesn’t generate much interest, as we’ve seen it done much better before. And obfuscating the established(ish) origins of the aliens just to justify the uninteresting God complex that returning android David (Fassbender) has is tantamount to sacrilege. Maybe Scott is put out that’s he’s not directing the new Blade Runner and is shoehorning it in here. Does David dream of electric sheep? Probably, but watching him teach his android brother Walter (also Fassbender with a dubious “American” accent) to play the recorder, to create is not very compelling. The Alien franchise has always had something else bubbling under the surface, even if it’s been unsuccessful, but it’s always been show and not tell. Prometheus and Alien Covenant ram everything, facehugger-like, down your throat. The subtext rapidly becomes just text. Looks nice though.
Ridley Scott knows his space onions when it comes to constructing a world, and the Alien franchise has mostly always excelled at production design and Covenant is no different. Claustrophobic spaceship corridors and stunning vistas in which the carnage takes place. The fact too that the characters feel a bit more like real people this time out as opposed to the ciphers in Prometheus is a welcome addition. A neat plot wrinkle has the flight crew populated by couples which gives us a bit more of an emotional grip on the proceedings. Not a lot though, they’re all still mostly cannon fodder who you won’t care about or remember their names when they inevitably get minced; the only members of the cast who stand out are the ones around whom the plot ostensibly revolves or in Danny McBride’s case, wears a hat.
So yeah, eggs, alien, blue collar Joes, androids with hidden agendas, female protagonist. Sound familiar?
If your only exposure to this franchise has been Prometheus, you might enjoy this. For anyone else, it’s more Prometheus 2 than Alien 0. Make of that what you will. Looks nice though.