This may be more of a rant against what Hollywood seems to be becoming rather than a review, but I think it will still cover the important aspects of what I was expecting and what I wanted from “Alien: Covenant”. Basically, it was a letdown for me. I walked away from it telling myself, “No no, it was good…right? It had some cool parts…” but I just can’t seem to forgive a lot of the issues it was filled with. Seems to me that Ridley Scott is trying to remake the saga he created by making us forget how great the originals were. I don’t think he’s succeeding.
When “Prometheus” came out in 2012 a lot of audiences were pissed at the plot holes, scientist stupidity, and altogether “…what??” that it instilled in viewers. I’ve seen it enough times at this point to actually enjoy it as a film in the Alien franchise. Yes, it has plot holes. Yes, it has characters doing incredibly stupid things. But the whole idea of that movie was to watch a bunch of scientists investigate something they had no clue about and gradually get torn to pieces due to their lack of intelligence. If that’s how you go into the film, it’s actually a great piece of Alien lore that could’ve set up Ridley’s sequels leading up to “Alien”. Sadly, I think he missed the mark with “Covenant”.
Before getting into the actual plot of the film, I want to point out something that the film business has started doing lately that has upset me deeply. Months before “Covenant” came out, marketing materials were being released in the form of vignettes that were supposed to give us an early look into the film. For instance James Franco was cast in the film as the captain and has a very, VERY brief cameo in some of these “films”, so I was expecting to see more of him in the actual movie. NOPE. You can count the seconds he’s on camera. So imagine how upsetting it is for fans of the franchise to see these early release stories only to not include them in the film itself, making for a somewhat confusing storyline we’re forced to piece together. Sadly I see this as becoming a Hollywood trend now just to generate more dollars for studios, along with “trailer teases” which is just the stupidest thing I’ve seen. Let’s get you excited about getting excited about the movie! No.
Anywho, the film. “Covenant” takes place 10 years after the events in “Prometheus” with yet another ship of people headed somewhere to setup a colony. In typical “Alien” fashion they receive some sort of distress beacon, are woken up from cryosleep early, and go to checkout what ends up being a really bad idea. Now something that “Covenant” seemed to get right that “Prometheus” didn’t, is that this time around these are just colonists looking to start a new life on some planet. Therefore when danger starts creeping up on them they really don’t have a clue what to do. “Prometheus” kind of failed at this because the point of that film was to discover an alien race, so they planned accordingly by bringing weapons and military personnel, but everyone just ran around like chickens with their heads cut off once things took a downward turn. But I digress. In “Covenant” the action
In “Covenant” the action actually starts pretty quickly with some rather gruesome deaths. Normally the “Alien” franchise has hinted at gore here and there but the main focus was sheer terror. That is not the case here as anytime someone dies, it’s pretty brutal and sometimes over the top. But even that’s not the biggest issue. My problem with the whole film came into play once David (Michael Fassbender) was re-introduced. Seen as the sole-survivor from “Prometheus”, he shows up in a cloak as some ominous figure who’s been living alone for these past 10 years. The audience actually laughed when he appeared in the movie, which is never a good sign. From there it just gets really convoluted. Whereas in “Alien”, “Aliens”, and even “Alien 3” the story builds along with the fear, “Covenant” doesn’t really know what to do. None of the characters are super memorable besides Tennessee (Danny McBride). I think people were expecting him to be some sort of comic relief but besides a few comedic lines here and there, he was great and dramatic and definitely the best part of the film for me. Anyway, as people started to get offed I found myself trying to figure out where the film was going. The death scenes were just too…creative? Probably not the right word but I feel like the studio heads said something along the lines of, “Let’s kill everyone in a different, unique way and really focus on the gore rather than the creeping fear the other films have.” This sucks. What made “Alien” great back in 1979 was that you barely saw the creature. It was all noises and shadows that made you scared to walk down a dark hallway. “Covenant” has no problem showing you the creature from the get-go and letting you bask in the CGI for the whole film, which is another drawback for me since I appreciate practical effects and costumes more.
This was really just one long ad for grand pianos.
The film also didn’t have much suspense in the way of “I wonder what’s going to happen next” or “How in the hell are they going to survive this?” Almost everything was telegraphed and there were even moments where people laughed or sighed out loud once a scene unfolded. Overall it just felt like Ridley Scott was rushing a film to theaters just to get it out there. For the die-hard fans, Neill Blomkamp’s proposed “Alien 5” sounded so much cooler and it was going to bring back Ripley and Hicks, something longtime fans just couldn’t argue with. Personally I think that once his leaked concept art hit the web, Ridley rushed to get his vision made instead and therefore created a less-than-perfect follow up to “Prometheus”. Now I’ve read a lot of comments and reviews, some saying it answered “Prometheus’s” questions, others saying it made the prequel look like the greatest entry in the franchise, so it’s pretty clear there’s a divided audience. I mean even Rotten Tomatoes lists “Covenant” as Certified Fresh with a 73%. While not the upper echelon of reviews, that’s pretty good for RT standards. Sadly I have to disagree.
DIRECTOR’S CUT: If you’re a fan of the franchise then it’s definitely worth seeing. Go into it removing any ideas of a strong, coherent story and just view it as an entry into Alien canon knowing there are better entries out there. And hopefully you’ll love Danny McBride.
SCENE COLLECTED: Several people have brought this scene up on Reddit as being a favorite and I’d have to agree, mainly because I was somewhat disappointed with how the rest of it played out. But there’s a scene on the planet where Daniels (Katherine Waterston) is flipping through some drawings that are all H.R. Giger’s original concepts for the Xenomorph look. So that was a pretty cool nod to longtime fans of the series.
FLICKCHART RATING: 834/2409