Alien: Covenant (2017)
The path to paradise begins in hell.
There’s something frightening about the unknown, particularly when it comes to the claustrophobic darkness of traveling through space, and it’s this inexplicable terror that made Ridley Scott’s seminal Alien such a skin crawling ordeal back in ’79. But it’s 2017, the era of prequels, sequels and multi-universe madness, meaning that it was only a matter of time till the ghastly Xenomorph reared its black, banana-shaped head back onto the big screen. That said, Alien: Covenant, the sixth movie in the series, sees the father of the franchise over explain how these HR Giger horrors were created, Scott suggesting that the acid-bleeding dragons were actually engineered by a guy with an overblown God-complex, this join-the-dots narrative killing any of the mystery surrounding the lethal species — seriously, couldn’t the Xenomorphs simply just exist (why does everything need to be so convoluted these days?)
Before I get into it, it’s important to note that Alien: Covenant takes place ten years after the events of 2012’s Prometheus (a far better film, in my opinion), a quasi-prequel that was supposedly produced to set-up Scott’s initial Alien movie — Prometheus telling the story of man’s quest to find the Däniken-esque origins of humanity.
Alien: Covenant opens in 2104, aboard a Weyland-Yutani colonization vessel, the USCSS Covenant, where 15 cryo-sleeping crewmembers, 2,000 pioneers and a bunch of embryos are floating through space, on their way to a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy named Origae-6, to establish a new colony for humanity. Some of the key players on the ‘all-couple express’ are Captain Jacob Branson (a blink-and-you-miss-him James Franco) and his wife, Daniels (Katherine Waterston), head of terraforming operations. Then there’s second-in-command Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup), whose spouse Karine (Carmen Ejogo) is a biologist on the craft. We also have flying ace Tennessee (Danny McBride) and his sweetheart Faris (Amy Seimetz), along with (the now token) same-sex couple, head of security Sergeant Lope (Demián Bichir) and his partner Hallett (Nathaniel Dean). Traversing with them on the interstellar voyage is Weyland automaton Walter (Michael Fassbender), who’s taking care of the Covenant until it reaches its final destination.
Then, borrowing a plot point from last year’s Passengers, the ship encounters a freak electrical storm, destroying its energy-collecting sails, which wakes the crew and causes oodles of casualties, an ill-fated accident leaving Crudup’s extremely religious Oram in charge, and Waterston’s Daniels as his subordinate. While repairing their damaged vessel, the group encounters a rogue transmission — in the form of a strange woman singing John Denver’s ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’— which leads them to an uncharted habitable planet that’s far closer than Origae-6. With the crew reluctant to return to their deep sleep chambers, Oram decides to investigate further, Daniels completely against the idea, suggesting that they stick to their original course. As the Covenant re-plots its route, the team find themselves on a dark, eerie Earth-like world, walking around without their protective gear on, stepping on pod-like plants that shoot deadly particles into their various crevasses — I thought these people were supposed to be smart? Haven’t they ever seen a horror movie before?
Ditching most of the philosophical, pseudo-religious stuff that made Prometheus unique and different, screenwriters John Logan, Gladiator (2000), and Dante Harper — working from a story by Jack Paglen, Transcendence (2014), and Michael Green, Green Lantern (2011), — return to the classic nuts-and-bolts of the series with Alien: Covenant coming across as retread rather than something fresh and exciting. However, just like Prometheus, the claustrophobic aesthetic of its predecessors has been pushed aside to make way for a larger canvas, à la sweeping shots of wide-open spaces and cloud-capped mountains, as well as a deserted Pompeii-looking alien city. People die, monsters burst out of chests, backs and even mouths, and yep, those nasty facehuggers are back, too, a scene that sees one attack Crudup’s Oram not nearly as shocking as director Scott probably thinks it is. Moreover, all of the big ‘Why are we here?’ questions that were brought up in Prometheus have been completely ignored, swept under the rug with Scott trying to course-correct his series, this blatant dismissal making the past venture feel kinda pointless.
On a more positive side, a flashback that illustrates the fate of the Engineers — bridging the gap between Prometheus and Covenant — is fantastic, while the new creatures are actually kinda cool, chiefly the ferocious lil’ (newborn) Neomorph and its larger incarnation, a cross between the classic Xenomorph and those white dudes from Prometheus. Sure, the digital effects might annoy some, but the flick’s excessive use of CGI was always evident in its trailers, so patrons should know very well what to expect.
The film’s headline star Michael Fassbender, X-Men: First Class (2011), gets an inflated duel-role, portraying humanoid robot Walter, an obedient servant devoid of ego, while reprising the character of David, who still believes that his all-encompassing knowledge makes him far superior to his creators, the humans — the Covenant crew finding David marooned on the stormy new planet they’re exploring. Director Scott knows that Fassbender is one of his movie’s biggest assets and therefore milks the shit out of him by subjecting us to more of David’s ‘search for perfection’ arc with elongated scenes of Fassy teaching himself how to play the recorder (coz that’s what we’re all paying to see, right?), these strange interactions elevating the unspoken sexual tension between Fassbender and umm … Fassbender. Katherine Waterston, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016), confidently jumps into the role of Daniels, who’s clearly a variation of Sigourney Weaver’s ass-kicking Ellen Ripley, Waterston light on words, her character edging more towards Walter after her husband’s passing.
The rest of the cast are pretty interchangeable, their characters so poorly written that when they realize the aliens bleed acid, no one bothers to mention it, almost as if they’ve seen it a dozen times before — just like the audience. Nevertheless, Danny McBride’s, This Is the End (2013), maverick pilot Tennessee is probably the most memorable of the lot, along with his communications and navigations experts, husband and wife Ricks and Upworth — Jussie Smollett, The Skinny (2012), and Callie Hernandez, Blair Witch (2016), respectively — the pair sharing a gruesome shower scene together. Last but not least, we have (an uncredited) Guy Pearce, Memento (2000), who shows up as Peter Weyland in the film’s prologue, once again instilling his belief that everything is meaningless unless we know how mankind came to be — a bit that looks as though it were chopped out of Prometheus simply to remind viewers who David was.
Slickly shot by Dariusz Wolski, The Martian (2015), Alien: Covenant looks great and features a few good moments, along with some excellent production design work from Chris Seagers, Deepwater Horizon (2016). Sadly, I can’t help but feel as though it’s still a bit of let down. Is it because of the film’s thinly veiled characters or a last-act twist that viewers will most likely spot from a mile away? No. Alien: Covenant’s biggest disappointment comes from Scott’s decision to complicate and expose the Xenomorph’s creation (and purpose), the parasite far more chilling when it was just an unknown life form that the explorers on the Nostromo stumbled onto on Acheron (LV-426).
2.5 / 5 – Alright
Reviewed by Mr. Movie
Alien: Covenant is released through 20th Century Fox Australia