"Alien: Covenant" (2017) - Rated R / Runtime: 122 minutes
Directed by Ridley Scott
Written by John Logan & Dante Harper
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Michael Fassbender, a bunch of people with Billy Crudup, and Danny McBride playing it straight for the first time in his career
Review by JJ Mortimer
I'm not sure this film knows what it wants to be - an Alien film, or a Prometheus sequel. By all facets of what I saw on screen, Alien: Covenant (the eighth Alien-related film in a struggling franchise) has no right to be called an Alien film. This barely even constitutes as a continuation of what director Ridley Scott brought to the table philosophically in Prometheus. This is by all means a movie that tries to enlighten us with ideas and themes of creation and purpose in its first act, but then suddenly feels riddled with action pieces and moments of gore for the sake of just having them in an attempt to wash the taste of audience's general dislike for Prometheus out of their dumb mouths.
What Alien Prometheus: Covenant, Part II instead becomes is two half-baked movie concepts - one that tries to capture and simplify the grander ideas brought by its predecessor, and then another that tries to satisfy the cravings of general popcorn chewers who want the infamous "Xenomorph" to appear and rip a spaceship's crew members to shreds. All of this leads to what feels like a five-star chef attempting to cook a miraculously protein-infused chocolate cheesecake, but then a bunch of suit-wearing bureaucrats show up, taste it, and then claim it needs more granulated sugar face-fucked into its core, and then cover it with store-brand ripoff Hershey's syrup.
And that's the nature of Alien: Covenant - a film that goes half-good/half-bad with just about everything it presents. Director Ridley Scott still has an eye for finding the right people to make his films LOOK good, but he himself feels as though he's directing on autopilot in his advanced age and waning singular vision. Most of the visual effects look pretty great with the spaceships and environments, but the Xenomorph (the "alien" to the laymen) effects look light years-cheesy compared to the physical costumes and puppets in the films from four decades ago. The acting is serviceable, but none of the characters stand out as anyone we give two shits about. We get a half-baked Ripley clone, a couple throwaway tough guys, and a pilot named Tennessee because, you know, the first film film had a "Dallas" as its captain
I want to try to not be too general with my concepts here, and a lot of what I want to say I feel like I need to say face-to-face with a camera so that I can communicate frustratingly at how much I wanted to love this movie, but every time I was almost on board something horrendous, ridiculous, or completely out of left field would show up and make me wish the movie would end.
One of the saving graces (if not the only real saving grace) is Michael Fassbender in two roles, as "David" from the first film (his head, we are told, had been reattached by Elizabeth Shaw in the time between Prometheus and this), and as "Walter," an "upgraded downgrade" from the androids the Weyland company created after they learned of the problems with giving artificial intelligence too much free thought and creativity. But again, much of Fassbender's performance moments are hindered by story twists that are too easy to see coming, and an impromptu fight scene between two androids that feels like a parody of the more serious film Ridley Scott should have been making (which did make for some great unintentional comedy). There is even a very tense moment involving the first alien reveal as it tears from a man's spine, along with another crew member stuck in a quarantine chamber and no place to escape. The scene works really well and had a lasting effect on me until the remaining crew members move on and moments later seem to be unaffected by the deaths of their mates.
Coventant's non-existent story results in a film that suffers the same fate as last year's piss-poor Star Trek Beyond, that in which an entire film is filled with so little story and narrative progression that could easily have been fitted into one or two acts of a much bigger and fulfilling motion picture. After a promising start, Alien: Covenant feels like it keeps taking steps backwards from what the fans have waited and wanted to see for the years since the franchise's pinnacle that was Aliens, James Cameron's masterful, Oscar-winning 1986 sequel.
As a sequel to Prometheus, Covenant falls flat. Despite audiences general dislike for that film, I personally found it amusing and containing a lot to be wondered and talked about. I thought the film was given a much harder rap than it deserved, and at least it was ABOUT something and had grand ideas (maybe a little too many). Prometheus edged a narrative thread into the direction of a particular concept about humans and their creators. Covenant, on the other hand, kills of those ideas (in some cases literally) and trashes philosophy for blind, mostly-unexplained malice and studio producers' general need to "give the fans what they WANT!" without first fabricating a script that satisfies the tension, dread, and fear produced by the 1979 original. Despite Ridley Scott's name attached as director, this feels ominously like "film by committee."
I was bored by the halfway mark. The film lost all credibility with David's Obi-Wan-like hooded reveal and following martial arts fight between Walter and his progenitor. The movie felt like a scaled-back, watered-down version of Prometheus that decided halfway through to also be an Alien film and have blood and severed heads strewn about instead of having meaningful discoveries about life, Creation, and existence, as well as giving protagonists we can attach ourselves to and relate to. Instead Alien: Covenant chose to focus on Death, which all but describes where this franchise has been headed for years.
As a side note, we were teased a couple years ago with the idea of a direct sequel to Aliens that was to be directed by Neill Blomkamp (a young director with a passion and a vision) and would wipe away, somehow, the third and fourth turds that proceeded it. It was to return stars Sigourney Weaver as Ripley and MIchael Biehn as Hicks (rather than having him and Newt killed off screen because producers didn't want to pay the actor to be in the film). We were about to get a film that fans of the Aliens franchise could be excited and intrigued by. Instead we got another prequel - "sequel to a prequel," if you may - to a film that was generally hated, and directed by a film maker who has barely made a film he seems to care about in the past fifteen years.
Alien: Covenant has no idea what it wants to do and ends up being about nothing, with an ending that would have been enticing were the entire film that led up to it be worth a damn. This sci-fi schlock fest forgets to let us care about its characters, and doesn't deliver on the promise of something closer at heart to Alien or even Prometheus, for that matter. It's a hybrid just like its titular monster, and mutilates any general narrative purpose in its path. This movie and its dry action scenes and empty ideas made me sad.