Review: Alien: Covenant
Set 10 years after the end of “Prometheus”, the title spaceship is on a colonisation mission headed for the planet Origae-6 to populate. Unfortunately, in the middle of a nasty space storm, the captain (hi and bye, James Franco) has died in hyper-sleep, leaving second-in-command and resident believer Oram (Billy Crudup) to awkwardly and abruptly take charge. The rest of the crew, including the dead man’s wife (Katherine Waterston) want time to grieve, but Oram feels it best to get on with ship repairs, which doesn’t make him terribly popular. After the repairs are done, a distress call is picked up from a planet relatively nearby. Although the plan is to head for Origae-6, Oram notices that the planet can support life and decides to abandon original plans and take this much shorter option instead. Big mistake, Oram. Big, bloody, chest-bursting alien mistake. Michael Fassbender plays resident ship android Walter, the next stage model of the character he played in “Prometheus”, David. Other crew members are played by Danny McBride, Demian Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, and Amy Seimetz. Guy Pearce once again plays Peter Weyland, android creator.
To be honest, I’m not sure what my word on this 2017 Ridley Scott (“Alien”, “Blade Runner”, “Someone to Watch Over Me”, “Black Rain”) film is going to be worth to you. I don’t much like “Alien”, love “Aliens”, think the other two sequels are better than “Alien”, and I thought “Prometheus” was better, too. So I come to this continuation of “Prometheus” from a completely different perspective than probably anyone else on the planet. For what it’s worth…I think this film’s better than “Alien”, too. It’s about as good as “Prometheus”, and would’ve been even better were there not a whole lot of cliché and predictability about the opening 30 minutes, not to mention an ending that can be seen from a mile away. Also not helping me embrace this fully is the perpetually weepy-looking Katherine Waterston who I swear doesn’t stop sobbing throughout the entire film and got on my nerves a bit.
Still, there’s actually a lot to like about this. Guy Pearce is immediately cold-blooded, albeit quite understatedly so. You won’t see much of him, but he’s impressive in short time. I also found the immediacy of it quite appealing, as the ship’s captain (James Franco, in a cameo so short I hope he was unpaid) is the first one bumped off before the film even really starts. Replacing him is Billy Crudup, with no preparation and no time to mourn the dead, which puts him at early odds with the rest of the grieving crew. An interesting wrinkle to his character is making him a man of faith among a crew who see more need for scientific thought, not religion. Unfortunately, we’re quickly thrust into a plot centring around a space crew abandoning plans of colonisation to chase a rogue transmission. FFS, have Ridley and screenwriters John Logan (“The Aviator”, “Sweeney Todd”, “Rango”, “Hugo”) and Dante Harper (a director of doco shorts in his first writing gig to date) not realised that we’re beyond sick of that premise by now? Talk about unoriginal and disappointingly safe territory, with “Life” (a better version of “Alien” too, if you ask me), “Passengers”, and even “Interstellar” springing to mind. I know Ridley wanted to make this one more of an “Alien” film than “Prometheus” was to please ‘fans’, but as a non-fan of “Alien”, it didn’t do all that much for me. Still, Crudup is good and the film is wonderfully shot by Dariusz Wolski (“The Crow”, “Sweeney Todd”) and wonderfully scored by Jed Kurzel (“Snowtown”, “The Babadook”, “Una”).
The really impressive thing in the film is the work by Michael Fassbender. Cold-blooded, deliberately flat in playing an android, Fassbender actually gets two show two different sides of essentially the same coin here. ***** SPOILER WARNING ***** He deserves credit for playing two different versions of essentially the same character without being so different that it doesn’t make sense. His David is truly genocidal evil in this. Man does he do some phenomenally wrong shit at times. ***** END SPOILER ***** Scott definitely gives us a few call-backs to the “Alien” series throughout the film, whether it’s the protagonists wearing spacesuits that look quite a lot like the forklift thing Ripley became adept at in “Aliens”, or a nifty inversion of the most infamous scene from “Alien”. Literally an inversion, and it’s wonderful. So if you’re looking for a film that plays more like the “Alien” series than “Prometheus” did, you may enjoy this more. As I said earlier, it didn’t appeal that much to me because I’m not a fan of “Alien”, but I did get a kick out of those two things at least. I enjoyed the terrain of the alien planet that looks a little like the jungle in “Predator”, so that was cool. There’s also a fascinating bit of FX work where some organic matter manages to be ingested by humans, very tiny and unseen by them. It looks cool on screen. The alien FX are terrific and it’s a lot gorier than any other film in the franchise by far. The aliens in this look like albino sphincters with teeth. Absolutely horrifying, Meanwhile, the film’s first chest-burster comes about from the absolutely most idiotic human behaviour I’ve ever seen in a film that didn’t involve Tom Green. Why would you look, you dumbfuck? Because you’re a dumbfuck and now you’re a dead dumbfuck.
Predictability and Katherine Waterston’s puddle-eyes are all that hold back this rock-solid entry into the franchise. It’s well-made, mostly well-acted, gory, and at times really fascinating stuff.