After the somewhat divisive Prometheus, director Ridley Scott may have felt more pressure than normal to deliver another new installment to the franchise he fathered back in 1979. With the resulting Alien: Covenant, I can report it’s only been about half a success, at best. There are high points, but just as many low points.
The plot is fairly standard , Alien-esque stuff. A prequel-sequel-but still a prequel (keep up) the story picks up ten years after the events of Prometheus. Where we left Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw and Micheal Fassbender’s synthetic ‘David’ as that doomed missions only survivors, blasting off in search of answers. After a brief flashback showing Davids initial activation and subsequently meeting his ‘father’ a young Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) We’re brought to the year 2109 and the crew of the Covenant are on a mission to transport 2000 colonists to a new world – Origae 6 – to start a new life. Still seven years away from their destination, tragedy strikes. Fatalities occur and repairs are needed. It’s then that a seemingly random transmission is received, from what appears to be a human source. Who also just so happens to be on a planet a couple of weeks travel away, that’s even more suitable to sustain human life than the one they’re years away from. No one is quite sure how this was missed when the new planet research was being carried out. But after the toll of recent events and the crew on edge, they decide to go check it out, and the film is off and running.
As for the crew members themselves, they’re not a particularly memorable group it has to be said. Maybe half of them get any relevant screen time or the slightest hint of any character development. Katherine Waterston does a nice steely yet vulnerable turn as main protagonist Daniels, but she ain’t no Ellen Ripley. Michael Fassbender is still unnervingly excellent however, reprising his role of David, as well as a newer synthetic model, Walter. In fact the scenes he has between himself are some of the most interesting in the whole film. One scene in particular could be the start of an erotic fan fiction writers dream. As for the rest of the cast, Billy Crudup is a jittery, religious guy thrown into a leadership role. While Danny McBride’s character is called Tennessee and wears a cowboy hat. That’s honestly about it as far as any substantial characterisation goes. Everyone else is just under cooked Alien fodder. There’s just not enough personality on offer to make you care too much about the majority of the Covenant mob. It’s a far cry from the smaller and more personable crew from Alien. Or the cool and gruff Marines, full of amusing chatter, from Aliens.
Where the film really falls down though is in the script. While writers John Logan (no relation) and Dante Harper have made it a bit more accessible than the slightly dour dialogue from Prometheus. A few jokes and one liners to add a bit of levity are welcome additions. It still, overall, just feels like a lot of exposition and not a lot of heart. Basically it’s an awful lot of people explaining whats going on while it’s going on, or just stating the obvious. That won’t bother everyone of course but I found it to be quite grating.
As I stated earlier though it isn’t all doom and gloom. Ridley Scott films always look fantastic and this is no exception. Stunning vista shots of the planet surface and some nice visual elements involving the Covenant ship itself stand out. The CGI is for the most part is excellent. One scene involving a newly ‘hatched’ creature did look a tad ropey to my eyes, but it never veered off into awful quality. The classic and still fearsome 1979 edition of the Xenomorph and the terrifying Facehuggers make a welcome return to the franchise. There are also some well executed and suitably gory deaths, something that was really lacking from Prometheus. And there are some nice little nods and similarities to previous entries that fans should get some enjoyment out of. The ships on-board computer ‘MOTHER’ from Alien, and an Aliens like drop-ship landing for example.
All in all though, it’s a mixed bag. As a massive fan of the franchise, I was really hoping this could live up to my expectations. But, as with Prometheus, while it’s a watchable and intermittently enjoyable addition to the line up. It just doesn’t have the depth or amped up thrills of the best in the series ( That would be the first two, if you haven’t guessed already) and although Alien 3 was highly flawed and Alien: Resurrection was even more highly flawed. They still had enough weird, different elements to them that at least made them memorable, granted not for many positive reasons. Being remembered, fondly or otherwise, is something I can’t say I envision Alien: Covenant enjoying down the road. It’s the quintessential 3 star movie. Not terrible, but not particularly great either. Unfortunately, that often means a future in film purgatory awaits. The legacy Scott himself started all those years ago deserves better than that.