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Alien Covenant Review

May 19, 2017 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
Alien: Covenant
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Alien Covenant Review  

Directed By: Ridley Scott
Written By: John Logan and Dante Harper; Story by Jack Paglen and Michael Green
Runtime: 123 minutes
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Michael Fassbender – David / Walter
Katherine Waterston – Daniels
Billy Crudup – Chris Oram
Danny McBride – Tennessee
Demián Bichir – Lope
Carmen Ejogo – Karine
Amy Seimetz – Faris
Tess Haubrich – Rosenthal
Lorelei King – Mother (Voice)
James Franco – Branson
Guy Pearce – Peter Weyland
Noomi Rapace – Elizabeth Shaw

Visionary director Ridley Scott returns yet again to the sci-fi franchise that he put on the map, and vice versa, with Alien: Covenant. When the quasi-prequel Prometheus was released in 2012, Scott discussed making multiple sequels exploring the expanded mythology for the Alien universe. However, while anticipation was at an all-time high for Scott’s then-return to the genre of science fiction, the overall response to Prometheus was fairly mixed. The fans who went into Prometheus expecting a prequel to Alien left disappointed. And those wanting a more intelligent level of cinematic sci-fi were left confused and befuddled by some questionable writing, editing and story decisions. For whatever the reason, development on the continuation of the Alien prequels stalled. Maybe it was the lukewarm reception for Prometheus, and Scott still being amazingly active as a filmmaker for his age. Regardless, it seems the materialization of the sequel for Prometheus really dragged. It got to a point where it seemed District 9 director Neill Blomkamp was developing his own sequel to the franchise that would’ve brought back Sigourney Weaver into the fold as Ellen Ripley. Based on Scott’s own words, that project is now summarily dead, and the series is left with Alien: Covenant.

Despite some amazing production bells and whistles, Alien: Covenant suffers from a questionable script, weak main characters and contradictions out the wazoo to Scott’s own 1979 sci-fi classic. Alien: Covenant is an ultimately misguided attempt to walk back how far Prometheus went off the beaten Alien series path and integrate more familiar elements of the franchise, while Scott attempts to still pay homage to the grander ideas he introduced in Prometheus. Unfortunately, this results in a product that looks and sounds admittedly great, but the film lacks the elements and cohesion that made Alien such a memorable experience.

Some years after the events of Prometheus, the interstellar spacecraft, the USCSS Covenant, is on a long-term colonization mission to a previously charted and vetted planet dubbed Origae-6. Unfortunately for the Covenant, the shockwave of an unpredictable neutrino star flare runs smack dab into the Covenant, causing significant damage and disrupting the cryotubes of the crew. Senior crew officer Daniels (Waterston) can only watch helplessly as the cryotube containing her husband, Captain Branson (Franco), malfunctions and burns him alive before James Franco can even utter a single line. The damage leaves the Covenant and its crew badly shaken, and executive officer Chris Oram (Crudup) is promoted to captain. Covenant isn’t stranded like a rock in space, but the ship is still about seven years away from reaching its original destination. Then, a rogue signal that sounds like John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” points the Covenant crew right to a nearby planet that appears to already be habitable and capable of sustaining human life. The crew isn’t too anxious to return to sleeping in their flaming death pods, excuse me, cryotubes, after watching one of them barbecue their captain as he was rousing from his hyper-sleep. What even kept those things running? Gasoline and matches? I digress. Oram recognizes that the crew isn’t eager to wait seven years to get to Origae-6, so he opts to investigate the signal and the nearby planet as a potential colonization substitute. Daniels acts as the only voice of reason, noting that Origae-6 was the planet the mission carefully charted and vetted. Oram decides to show he’s top captain and sends the Covenant to orbit the mystery planet.

It turns out this planet was the destination Elizabeth Shaw (Rapace) and the Weyland Corp. android David (Fassbender) were trying to reach at the end of Prometheus; the Engineer home world. With Oram leading the landing party, they manage to locate the ship David and Shaw took to the planet, which appears to have crash landed. Unfortunately, things go fubar rather quickly. The seemingly deserted planet is home to deadly plants that release spores that infect two of the landing party’s unsuspecting crew members. This pathogen infects its host and results in inevitable death and the release of some type of aggressive hybrid parasite (sound familiar?). Daniels, Oram, and the remaining crew are inexplicably rescued by a scraggly haired David, who managed to survive the crash of the Engineer ship. Did I forget to mention the Covenant had its own Weyland Corp. android model named Walter (Fassbender playing dual roles)? As the crew are led by David through the remains of a highly advanced city littered with corpses, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out exactly what has happened. The naturally inquisitive David has likely found his next guinea pigs.

For all of the flaws and problems of Prometheus, its biggest blunder is probably the fact that it is a prequel to Alien. Ridley Scott probably would’ve been much better off had he simply started a brand-new sci-fi series completely disconnected from the Alien franchise, where he was free to explore the grander ideas of highly advanced alien societies creating humanity and the idea of Heaven or Paradise being a place that was quite terrifying. The attempt here to unify the new ideas and concepts of Prometheus so it hues closer to the Alien series is a failure. The revelations and explanations about the mysterious creatures that first terrified audiences in 1979 are worse than you ever would’ve imagined and completely unnecessary. One thing that’s great about the original Alien is that the audience doesn’t really need an explanation about why or how these creatures exist. Sometimes you can enjoy Darth Vader without knowing what he was like before as a child or teenager in the Star Wars prequels. Sometimes the ideas and personal explanations the audience is able to interpret in their own imaginations are far better than the reality concocted by a room of hack screenwriters and studio executives. Mileage on Alien: Covenant may vary, but after learning the truth of the Xenomorph species, there’s a desire to wish that the truth was never revealed at all.

In favor of Covenant, it’s incredibly well made. The production values are impressive. Scott does know how to make a movie and world like this look fantastic. There’s a nice scope and sense of weight to everything. Everything looks and sounds topnotch. The score by composer Jed Kurzel manages to mix in classic cues from both the Alien franchise and the more memorable pieces from Prometheus. On a technical level, Alien: Covenant is exemplary and looks topnotch. It’s the story and narrative where the more questionable choices are made.

As a would-be protagonist, Waterston does not leave much of an impression as Daniels. She never really comes into her own as a character. The audience meets Daniel in a moment of tragedy and emotional devastation that never feels natural. The grief of losing her husband and lover in such a way is quickly forgotten about midway through the film, where she makes the sudden transition to Ripley-lite. At least Noomi Rapace managed to leave somewhat of an impression with Shaw in Prometheus. What became of Shaw for this sequel is yet another disappointment. Ridley Scott and screenwriters John Logan and Dante Harper simply do not offer Daniels the necessary time and development she needs, and Waterston lacks the chops to truly leave her mark as this film’s defining leading lady.

The character Scott is clearly most infatuated and interested in spotlighting is Fassbender as David. He’s really the true star and protagonist of this story, even as he makes the transition into your typical sci-fi mad scientist. For better or worse, David has far more agency and development in this story than any other character. And to Fassbender’s credit, he totally commits to his performance as David, as well as his more docile “brother,” Walter. Except a major problem is that the route the story has gone with David is a complete contradiction to the previously established continuity of this franchise. Dots that never needed to be connected are done in a haphazard and sloppy fashion.

The monsters on display here are decidedly lacking. They never manage to live up to the threat the original Xenomorph presented. It seems Alien: Covenant has reset the creature rules back to an Alien Versus Predator level of fast-acting gestation in minutes. A newly-born chest-burster emerges from a victim already looking like a fully formed adult Xenomorph, which was strange. The other monsters, the Xenomorph’s more primitive precursors, are written out just as quickly as they are introduced and barely explored at all. The return of the Xenomorphs under Scott’s direction just lacks the grand execution one would expect. The worst scene in the film was already given away in one of the trailers, when the Xenomorph interrupts a couple in the shower. The setup for the scene is even dumber than previously imagined. The fact that Ridley Scott would direct such a scene, that belongs in a bad slasher horror film, and place it in an Alien film, is symbolic of Alien: Covenant‘s disappointment.

Those hoping for an expensive creature feature with violence, gore and slime might find Alien: Covenant to be a satisfying experience. The film is not without its finer points. Some of the more grandiose ideas that Scott is clearly fixated on are interesting, and how this film is presented might work for certain viewers. However, if this storyline marks the future of where the Alien film series is heading, another three films to get to the point of the Nostromo finding the Derelict in the original is, like the origins of the Xenomorphs, better left to the imagination.

The final score: review Poor
The 411
While some might find the answers for the creation of the Xenomorphs species as fascinating, I found it to be incredibly disappointing. Alien: Covenant is a movie that looks great, and it sounds great. Unfortunately, it features a story that contradicts the classic installments of this franchise and offers answers you never really needed to hear. Katherine Waterston is a poor imitation version of Ripley, and Scott is clearly more invested in exploring David as his own personal cinematic realization of HAL 9000. If this is what the future of the Alien series has come to, I'd rather not see what else Scott, his writers and the studio have planned.