The Alien series is one of those cases where the drop-off in quality between the films that when you hear about the stories of studio interference you fully believe them. The first two films are stone cold classics, no dispute there, landmarks in the realms of sci-fi, horror and action and, for those of you who don’t know, Aliens is my favourite film. However, Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection are disasters, albeit with some interesting elements, and the less said about the Alien vs Predator films the better. When Prometheus was announced, there was some renewed hope for the series, mainly due to Ridley Scott returning to the series, but Prometheus was plagued by a terrible script and badly written characters. However, there were enough interesting elements of that film to make it so we could get an interesting sequel. What we get with Alien: Covenant though is a film that ignores all the solid criticisms of Prometheus, thinking instead that the reason Prometheus was such a disappointment was that it lacked the Xenomorphs. Now there may be a few spoilers in the film, I’ll try to avoid them as best I can The film takes place a few years after the events of Prometheus, focusing on the ship Covenant, which is on it’s way to establish the first large scale off-world human colony. After a solar flare results in the loss of some crew members and damages the ship, the crew decides to land on a nearby planet with Earth-like conditions instead of the planet they were originally heading to, which was still 7 years away. However, when the crew of the Covenant land on the planet, they find it to be eerily empty and find David, the android from the Prometheus, alongside mutations of the black goo from Prometheus that ends up leading to early versions of the Xenomorphs being unleashed on the crew. Now there are interesting ideas that Alien: Covenant brings up regarding the nature of faith in science, the God complex and the uncanny valley through David, but the problem with the film is that none of these themes are given time to develop. The characters talk about them, but only in the most generic ways, the whole philosophical underpinning of the film being sidelined to give more attention to the Xenomorphs. This also creates an issue where none of the characters are interesting. The only interesting character in the film is David, and that’s only because of the character development given to him in Prometheus. The other characters are either empty vessels with absolutely no character whatsoever or are complete morons. The characters here rival those in Prometheus for sheer stupidity, mainly going on an unidentified planet, which hasn’t been researched at all so there is no knowledge of any pathogens on the planet, without protective suits. If you look back at Alien and Aliens, we get to know the characters, understand how their minds work, here, all off the necessary character work is in the marketing materials, cut out of the film so we can see more of the Xenomorphs. There are some genuinely creepy and scary moments in the film, but some of these are undercut by how bad the script is. There’s one scene involving David and the android of the Covenant, Walter (who really should have been called something like Edward to follow the tradition of the other android names in the series), that, due to the poor writing, had the screening I was in burst out in laughter when it should have been unsettling. Then there are the ties to the other films. Firstly, all of the questions raised in Prometheus regarding the Engineers are completely ignored and it’s likely that we’ll never get an answer to them, along with ignoring the questions of faith raised by Prometheus. Most importantly though, the way this film presents the evolution of the Xenomorphs means that the other Alien films cannot happen because of what we see of the Space Jockey in the first film, you’ll understand what I mean when you see the film.
The only reason why some of the characters are interesting is due to the strong performances from the cast. Katherine Waterston as Daniels, the terraforming expert, gets some good moments to show the intelligence of her character (she is the smartest person in the film) and some good moments of grief, whilst Billy Crudup overcomes his characters poor writing to create a character filled with doubt over his skills and guilt over his actions, although the elements of faith through his character needed to be explored further. Michael Fassbender gives a solid duel performance as David and Walter, being a deliberate invocation of the Uncanny Valley, showing the affection that Walter has for Daniels and the God complex that David develops, even if the poor writing here means David is less interesting here than he is in Prometheus. The only other cast member who gets some interesting stuff to do is Danny McBride as pilot Tennessee, his desire to protect the crew at any cost and his love.concern for his wife, who’s on the planet being well presented. The other actors though are given so little to work with that, despite their best efforts, their performances are so bland because the characters are non-existent, which is a shame since you’ve got talented actors like Carmen Ejogo, Demian Bichir and Amy Seimetz in those roles.
The technical side of the film is the one area where Alien: Covenant mostly succeeds. Whatever else can be said about his films, Ridley Scott is an incredible director and, working with DP, Dariusz Wolski, creates a brilliantly disturbing world, making up for the elements where the script lets them down. However, they are not immune to problems from the script. The way the first scene with a version of the Xenomorph is written is laughable, despite the best efforts of Scott, Wolski and editor Pietro Scalia to make the scene work whilst another scene involving the results of a facehugger is directed to be incredibly creepy and unsettling, but the music completely destroys the tone of the scene. The CG of the Xenomorphs meanwhile is a mixed bag, sometimes it creates a great, unsettling moment, whilst other times it is laughable.
Overall, Alien: Covenant is a crushing disappointment. Instead of learning from the lessons of Prometheus and creating a solid story first and an Alien prequel second, this film focuses so much on the Alien set-up that it forgets to having interesting characters, ignores the set-up from Prometheus and results in a dull, frustrating film that makes it so the other films in the Alien series cannot happen. If there is a third one of these prequels, the first point of order would be to make sure the script is right.
My Rating: 1.5/5