REVIEW – “Alien: Covenant”
2012’s Prometheus was received with mixed reception, to say the least. It’s a film that I admire for its ambitions, but find a vast amount of flaws underneath the surface of them. With that being said, I’ve been looking forward to Alien: Covenant due to Ridley Scott’s excellent return to form with The Martian and the marketing alluding to this being a blend of the large ideas and philosophy of Prometheus and the gnarliest bits of Alien. The film follows a new crew aboard the colony ship The Covenant, in the year of 2104, ten years after Prometheus takes place. Due to unexpected events, they stop at a different planet than intended, due to finding a mysterious distress call. I won’t go much further into the plot, but as you can imagine, this opens the doorway for tons of nightmare-fueled, terrifying, fun.
One of the brightest spots of the film is behind the camera – and that is Ridley Scott. He continues to prove that he hasn’t lost a step when it comes to direction. He deliberately paces this film with fierce brilliance, weaves in his philosophical discussions and moments of humanity seamlessly, and incorporates body horror, gore, and suspenseful terror unlike anyone else in the business today. Much like in Alien and Prometheus, the way he puts in detail to this world and builds it around these characters is simply astounding. This film also walks a tough line when attempting to expand the mythology of the Alien franchise, without trying to ruin or convolute the larger universe that has been running since 1979. I won’t spoil anything, but this film takes large steps forward in expanding the mythology and actually brings up intriguing questions that makes me want to learn more about the Xenomorphs and their history between this and the original Alien. At the very least, this did a better job at convincing me that we could actually use an Alien prequel more than Prometheus did. Still not entirely sold, but we’re getting there.
The performances here are also a surprise to me, considering I was expecting a majority of these characters to be disposable and unmemorable. While I still think this film has an issue when it comes to dumbing down supposedly smart scientists, giving them weak dialogue, and using a majority of them to simply lead to a grotesque demise – I thought Katherine Waterston was a damn’ good lead with a solid blend of humanity and personality to make her an intriguing character among the gore and terror. Danny McBride also gives a surprisingly heartfelt and human performance with decent humor laced in at appropriate times. However, this film is carried almost entirely on the back of Michael Fassbender. That is not a knock on the film, but simply a compliment on how excellent of an actor that Fassbender has become over the years. Without spoiling his role here, he gives a fascinatingly layered and dynamic performance that requires him to give different personas and angles to different situations. He is funny, charming, frightening, and ultimately compelling beyond believe – when he is on screen, your eyes are glued right onto him. He has solidified his place among the greatest actors of all time.
What prevents Alien: Covenant from being great just so happens to be one of the things that I admire about it. I appreciate Scott’s ambition to incorporate philosophy and questions of humanity and the creation of life into large, tent-pole, Summer films; but it also makes the film feel a bit bloated in the middle section and prevents it from being a tightly woven, fully realized film. Some might find the way this turns into a slasher flick in the third act problematic, as it is following up an hour of scientific and philosophical discussions, but I found it to be entertaining and meaningful to the larger themes of creations meeting their creators. At the end of the day, I was satisfied with what I got with Covenant and found it to be a more organic blend of horror and science than its predecessor. Let’s just hope Ridley Scott can deliver with a fully well-rounded, great film in the sequel. I know he’s more than capable of doing so, and this is a huge step in the right direction to get there. 3.5/5.