Alien: Covenant attempts to revive the series following a few lackluster entries. However, it’s quickly apparent that fan service has done a disservice to the movie.
After the mixed response to Prometheus — unjustly, in my opinion — Ridley Scott looked to reboot his beloved Alien franchise with a back to basics horror movie that would give genre enthusiasts and Alien fans, like myself, a jolt to the system. What made Alien such a successful and groundbreaking movie is its simplicity, which is especially notable against the backdrop of larger films like Star Wars and 2001: A Space Oddessy. Scott didn’t push to make the next great sci-fi movie. He made an effective, suspenseful, and terrifying horror movie set against the backdrop of a great sci-fi movie.
With Alien: Covenant, he returns to the setting of a dark, claustrophobic spacecraft — for a time — and populates the world with a cast of “everyday” people. The colonization ship Covenant is on a years-long mission to Origae-6, which they intend to set up a colony with the more than 2,000 people in cryosleep on board and 1,000 embryos. The only conscious passenger is Walter (Michael Fassbender), an updated android model of David from Prometheus (the movie is set 10 years after the events of that film). When a neutrino burst damages the ship, including the cryosleep pods, and kills the ship’s captain (James Franco), the crew — now led by second-in-command Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup, who is following up his fantastic performance in Jackie) — decides to explore a closer planet from where they have received a mysterious transmission. They discover that the planet is an idyllic place with wheat fields, high mountains, and fresh water. It is a perfect place for a colony, as several characters note. However, it may be too perfect.
After exploring the surface, two crew members become infected after inhaling a microscopic pore that does the job of a face hugger a lot more slyly. From there on, chests and spines are burst, xenomorphs run amok, and people make stupid decisions. It’s what we love about the Alien franchise wrapped up into one movie. However, Scott has other plans for the movie. Halfway through, there is a considerable shift in mood and tone when the team discovers that David (also played by Michael Fassbender) has been stranded on the planet for some years. He takes them through a graveyard of engineers who have been preserved like the people of Pompeii. This is where the movie loses me. Instead of the straight, efficient narrative of the first three Alien movies, Covenant gets lost in a labyrinth of themes and storylines that it loses a lot of the momentum it builds during its first half. At one point, the entire audience laughed at the film. Not with it. At it.
The film is at war with itself by trying to be the best of all the films in the franchise at once. The movie opens with a flashback to Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) and his first interaction with the android David. At one point, David says, “You seek your creator. I am looking at mine. You will die. I will not.” It’s this heavy-handedness of its themes that make the film trying to get to, especially during its uneven second act. However, one facet almost saves it: Michael Fassbender. His dual performance as the androids Walter and David is one of the most compelling of his already impressive career. A scene later in the movie when David teaches Walter how to play the flute is gorgeous, beautifully performed, and made all the more impressive by the fact that it’s a single actor in the scene. Fassbender would be an early contender for Best Supporting Actor if the Oscar weren’t biased against genre films.
Alien: Covenant was disappointing to me as a fan of the franchise. It was a promising premise with a strong cast and a seemingly enlightened Ridley Scott. However, in the end, it is a middling entry in the series. Other than Fassbender’s two androids, there are no memorable characters and as for the mythology of the series, it simply muddies the waters further. Take the first act and last twenty minutes and you have a strong enough movie to warrant a sequel. However, at this point in the series, I think we need a hard reset. We deserve one.