Okay, let’s just come right out and say it. I’m not sold on Ridley Scott’s efforts to get us to bother about the Engineers – the alien “gods” that created humanity as seen in his 2012 opus Prometheus – and their legacy, an attempt to create a larger backstory to the original classic Alien.
The saga Scott began with underwhelming impact in Prometheus is now being stretched into a trilogy, of which Alien: Covenant is the middle part.
It now seems there is almost zero chance that District 9 auteur Neil Blomkamp’s vision of an “Alien 5” – which was to sidestep Alien3 and Alien Resurrection and reportedly continue Ripley, Hicks and Newt’s story – will get made.
Alas, all the spending money is going to Sir Ridley and his trilogy, so we can look forward to one more instalment where – I’ll be blunt – stupid characters bring catastrophe down upon their own stupid heads.
Small spoiler: Seriously, I’d imagine that in Alien’s grim and gritty universe, people landing on an exoplanet – even one with human-friendly atmospheric conditions – would at least wear freakin’ masks or filters or something to keep unknown toxins out. It’s not like flap caps are the greatest item of survival gear in the universe, duh?
Also, that such space crews would be sufficiently trained in common sense so they would. Never. Stoop. To sniff at sinister, mangosteen-like globes. Least of all when they’re on the soggy floor of a freakin’ alien vessel. Don’t even get me started on how the film’s first Facehugger victim becomes a Facehugger victim to start with. Did IQs drop sharply well before Ripley even went away?
Unlike in Prometheus, the story here could have actually progressed without such acts of colossal moronicity (yeah, I’m not sure that’s really a word either, but I beg your indulgence) on its characters’ part.
You see, there is some sort of intent and purpose to the harrowing times they get put through, as opposed to the dumbness-driven events of the previous film. And Covenant turns out to have a greater bearing on the original Alien, while it also sorts out some of the baffling moments in Prometheus.
Story-wise, it’s pretty basic – strictly paint-by-numbers for the franchise.
Some years after the Prometheus went missing, a colony ship called the Covenant is heading to a distant star when it intercepts a transmission. And so, here we go again.
In terms of its sub-themes and undertones, though, this one may have more in common with Blade Runner than Alien.
Creations meeting their creators, ruminations on the nature of existence, a creation’s purpose in life, a strongly symbolic opening sequence where Michael Fassbender’s David (from Prometheus) meets his creator, Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) and clearly has disdain for this “higher” power … we’re just missing Brion James asking Harrison Ford how long he has to live.
That’s all well and good, and indeed, if Alien: Covenant had gone a little more in-depth into all the symbolism and parallels it throws at us – to name a few, the ship’s scripturally-significant name, its captain being a man of faith, the iconoclastic impulses that partially drive the film’s villain – it might have been a more rewarding effort.
Because all the story subtext is just skimmed over in a rather shallow manner, it becomes a vehicle for irony instead of profundity.
Visually, it’s as gorgeous as you would expect of a Ridley Scott movie, and the creature scenes – there’s an even ghastly-looking thing dubbed a “Neomorph” here – are shocking and bloody in their savagery.
Character development, or even definition, has become a cursory exercise in the franchise by now, so expect to give zero hoots for all but a couple of the folks here, human or synthetic.
Instead, Scott spends too much time trying to shoehorn two different types of story in here: one a philosophical musing on creations aspiring to be worthier than their creators; and the other, a monster-in-the-crawlspace horror piece. They don’t fit nicely, and neither half is satisfyingly developed.
There is a riveting scene around the mid-way point when the android David and the Covenant’s synthetic person Walter (Fassbender again, as an “improved” model) meet, and a music lesson follows.
It’s a fascinating moment, not only for the way it highlights the subtle differences between David and Walter (kudos to Fassbender for that!), but because, for one rare instant, you hold your breath, unsure of what is going to happen next. By the arrival of the film’s telegraphed twist ending, though, that fleeting gem seems such a distant memory amid the betrayal, obligatory gore, cluelessness and tacked-on shipboard bug hunt. Lost in time, like … tears in rain?
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride, Billy Crudup, Demian Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, James Franco, Guy Pearce