New Review: Alien: Covenant (2017)
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Michael Fassbender, Danny McBride, Carmen Ejogo, Amy Seimetz,Demián Bichir, Callie Hernandez, Jussie Smollett, Nathaniel Dean, Alexander England, Uli Latukefu
The first time we see David the android, once again played by Michael Fassbender, in Alien: Covenant, he’s speaking for the first time with his creator Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), founder of the Weyland Corporation. Weyland tests him out by telling him to play a musical piece on the piano and then pick out a name for himself, and when David begins to consider his own creator’s mortality, Weyland promises that both he and David will eventually encounter Weyland’s creator later on down the road.
The opening scene here hints at the possibility that screenwriters John Logan and Dante Harper were interested in continuing to explore the ideas introduced in the last movie Prometheus, and for a moment, I was hopeful. I enjoyed Prometheus for the fact that the horror scenes seemed to develop from the film’s many engaging ideas. While it was far from a perfect movie, I felt like the pros far outweighed what problems it may have had (I can’t remember them, since I only saw the movie once during its 2012 theatrical run), and by the time the film had reached its end, I was curious to see where director Ridley Scott would take this franchise next.
Unfortunately, Alien: Covenant soon abandons its promising ideas for the sake of treating us to some very predictable Creature-on-the-Loose mayhem. The body count is very high this time, and it’s very easy to guess which character is going to bite the dust next, because they’re usually wondering off by themselves, poking at things they shouldn’t with their bare fingers, firing off their weapons like mad, slipping on bloody puddles on the floor, and looking inside a recently hatched alien egg because a character they know to be less-than-trustworthy tells them to.
There are some promising moments sprinkled throughout the movie (all of them involving Michael Fassbender), but when we get to a scene of two characters having sex in a shower, with the running water drowning out an alarm blaring throughout the ship, the movie begins to resemble a Friday the 13th movie rather than something from the much more compelling Alien franchise. The movie then concludes with a major twist during its final scene, but it isn’t nearly as clever as the filmmakers seem to think, because they practically give it away with a single shot of a hand reaching for a knife.
The story here takes place in the year 2104, ten years after the events from Prometheus, and follows the space ship Covenant as it flies through space on a colonizing mission to a remote planet called Origae-6. There are a little over 2,000 colonists in hyper-sleep and at least 1,000 human embryos, and they’re all looked after by the watchful and trustworthy android Walter (also Fassbender), who’s an upgrade from whatever model David was. Walter is forced to order the ship to wake the crew from stasis after the ship is hit by a neutrino burst. There are some casualties as a result from the incident, including the ship’s captain Jacob Branson (an uncredited James Franco), who was burned alive in his sleep pod.
Taking over is first mate Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup), a seriously religious man who has doubts about his ability to perform his duty as captain of the ship. After the crew repairs the ship’s damages, they intercept a distress signal from a nearby planet. Against the wishes of Branson’s widow Daniels (Katherine Waterston), who believes that they should stay on the course, Oram mounts a rescue mission to go and investigate the signal.
As is the case with many of Scott’s films, the alien planet is a masterpiece of art direction, production design, and special-effects. I especially loved the alien city ruins our heroes discover later in the movie, which is littered with the dead of the city’s previous inhabitants. The planet is filled with giant trees and majestic mountains, and even has a wheat-field positioned near a lush body of water, suggesting that they may not be the first humans to set foot there. The characters can walk outside the ship without helmets and breathe in the air, hinting that it might be an ideal place for them to colonize.
As the old saying goes: If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Two crew members becomes hosts to the xenomorphs after they’re infected by microscopic spores (one of the best shots in the film shows the spores entering the ear canal of a potential human host), and soon the aliens are on the prowl once more, picking off the humans one by bloody one. David, who’s been living on the planet for a decade by himself (Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) has died, although the nature of her death is best left unsaid here), eventually shows up and offers them a temporary shelter, but since he wasn’t the most trust worthy character in the last movie, we assume that he has some ulterior motives for helping the humans out.
Some of the best and most richly written scenes in the movie show Fassbender’s David interacting with Walter, the latter who’s nowhere near as misanthropic as his older model is. The one stand out scene comes when David shows Walter how to play a recorder, and watching Fassbender play out both roles is far more engaging than all the gory horror scenes in the movie. Unfortunately, the bulk of the movie focuses on characters wandering off in times of danger, and the evil alien dispatching them in gruesome ways. When two characters with machine guns walk into a room and split up because one of them wants to “go down these stairs,” you know what the outcome is going to be.
And through it all, it becomes mighty difficult to work up much sympathy for the people on screen, because they’re more like interchangeable genre types than three dimensional characters. As far as alien horror movies goes, Alien: Covenant is certainly miles better than this year’s dreadful Life, which wasn’t even a very good looking movie. Alien: Covenant is ambitious, visually beautiful, and well-acted by the cast, but if you’ve seen so much as one Creature-on-the-Loose horror movie before, then there shouldn’t be too much here that’ll surprise you.
Rated R for strong bloody violence, profanity, brief sexuality/nudity
Final Grade: ** ½ (out of ****)