Alien: Covenant Review

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Alien: Covenant stars Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, and Danny McBride. Directed by Ridley Scott, in theaters now

The Alien franchise has managed to stick around for close to 40 years, and has survived terrible sequels, a couple of awful spinoffs versus Predators, and a quasi prequel reboot, that left many longtime fans longing for the days of Ripley’s battles with the xenomorphs. Alien: Covenant is the newest incarnation of this long running franchise, and serves as a direct sequel to 2012’s Prometheus. One of the criticisms that Prometheus received was that it asked too many questions, and answered almost none of them. Covenant seeks to continue the thread of Prometheus, and to help bridge the gap between it, and the original Alien. Thankfully, Covenant does a better job of mixing the philosophical ideas present in Prometheus, with the more classic horror elements of the franchise.The film follows a group of colonists on an expedition to a far off planet, that all of their research points to being just as habitable as earth. The premise is fairly basic science fiction fair, and as expected, things do not go according to plan. The action is almost immediate, save for a brief prologue which should have been maybe marketing material, as it does not really have anything to do with the film’s larger story. While it may make sense in the larger context of the universe, and serve as a reminder for those that have seen previous film, as well as an introduction for newcomers, it does not serve a purpose to this films story. When the film’s opening credits finish, and we find ourselves acquainted with the crew members of the Covenant spacecraft, the story begins in full. The first moments aboard the ship are quite good, as there is a beautiful shot of the massive spaceship, and a glimpse into the dangers of space travel. The crew is very much resembles other Alien films, with fairly standard tropes, the overzealous captain, the reserved second in command, the “good ole boy” type, complete with Jack Daniels and an affinity for John Denver, plus a small number of ancillary supporting characters. sticking with familiar archetypes makes sense, especially given the history of the franchise, which typically sees most of the crew members die. Having familiar enough characters means that the film does not need to tell you much about who these characters are, because you have seen them before, and you understand who they are. This approach works for the most part, however a bit more could have been done to flesh out some of the characters.

From a story perspective it is overly formulaic, and extremely reminiscent of Prometheus, which isn’t always a good thing, as the story is fairly predictable. Once the story forces the Covenant ship to veer off course towards, the bulk of the film then takes place on the same planet as the previous film, and the imagery and locations are more or less the same as they were before. As with the previous films, Covenant is all about survival, and watching the crew fend for themselves on this planet is much of what the story covers. The slower moments of the film focus on fleshing out the larger universe that is being created, and watching these scenes play out is enjoyable, but not all of them work. There is a scene in particular where the android Walter learns to play the recorder, which does give the littlest bit of pertinent world building information, but ends up being more silly than it should be.

Despite the predictable nature of the film, there is still a fair amount of tension, but unfortunately not enough to make the film truly scary. There are more than a few altercations with alien creatures, but since the film takes place on an open planet, much of these sequences lack the feel that the creatures could come from anywhere. Much of what made the original films so intense was the claustrophobic nature of the encounters, and while there are a few in this film, it is never as scary as it should be. Tension is also severely lacking due the sheer amount of dumb decisions that the characters make, which in some instances contradict things that happen only moments before.When characters are not smart in films like this, it removes any feeling the audience has that wants them to stay alive, which is crucial for a film where you know going in that most of the people are toast. In fact, most of the better elements in this film are the deaths themselves. directory Ridley Scott crafted more than a few new ways in which to kill this group of cannon fodder, and seeing more than just the standard chest burster was a nice inclusion.

One of the saving graces of this film is the main cast, as the character that the story chooses to showcase are interesting enough, while the more supporting characters end up being too stupid, and therefore not engaging enough. The standout is Michael Fassbender, who once again plays an android aboard the ship. The moments with Fassbender make for some of the better scenes in the film that don’t have action set pieces, as the story is really driven through his performance. Katherine Waterston plays more or less the main character Daniels, who has maybe the most complete arc of the film, but still doesn’t feel super important, as a lot of the action moments happen around her, but don’t really involve her. Her portrayal of the character is quite good, but the character is a whole is lacking. Danny McBride is the aforementioned “good ole boy,” Tennessee, and his character is also quite good, but is relegated to more of a supporting character. These two are also the only two smart people on the ship that don’t have a computer for brain. The opposite can be said for Billy Crudup’s Captain Oram, who makes the wrong decision at nearly every turn. HIs character is first put in charge and worries that he won’t gain respect, and then proceeds to get angry over characters mourning a fallen crew member, almost instantly losing him respect.

The other characters of importance are the aliens themselves, and while the Xenomorph of the original films is back here, there are also newer creatures that are shown in more of the film. The newer aliens, dubbed neomorphs, are the main antagonists of the film, and are faster and more vicious than their counterparts. While their scenes are especially gory, the design is lacking in making them a truly scary force. They are still imposing, but yet they do not instill the same sort of terror that the original does, which is disappointing.

Ultimately much of this movie is disappointing, as there is something here, but much like Prometheus the film is not sure what kind of film it wants to be. Had Covenant merely tried to answer long lingering questions that had been posed in the previous film, it might had been more compelling, but wouldn’t have felt like an Alien movie. However has the film focused more on the survival element, and the horror, it would have felt like an Alien film, but may have also felt like a cheap imitation. As it is, the film is bookend ended by sequences that feel very much like Alien, with Prometheus sandwiched in the middle, and as a result is very disjointed. That feeling, plus the predictable story ruining much of the better elements of what is overall just an ok film.

Final Score 6/10

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