The crew of the colony ship Covenant, bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, discovers what they think is an uncharted paradise, but is actually a dark, dangerous world. When they uncover a threat beyond their imagination, they must attempt a harrowing escape.
Alien: Covenant is a new sci-fi horror film directed by Ridley Scott. It is the follow-up to his 2012 film Prometheus, and is a part of the Alien franchise. Like many other fans of the franchise I was excited to see that this film would once again star the iconic creature we’ve come to fear and love. The alien was a little missed in Prometheus, but there was still a lingering concern for me that the xenomorph’s involvement would be largely superficial. It was looking like this film would explore the origin of the creature too, which had promise thanks to the groundwork laid in the previous film, but was also a risky prospect.
This movie was unfortunately a mixed bag. I did like a lot of the performances, with Michael Fassbender starring as Walter, an android posted on the Covenant, as well as reprising his role as David 8 from Prometheus. A particular sequence between the two, after the crew’s rendezvous with David, is an especially fascinating and tense scene, despite not being overtly threatening. It was the kind of scene I want to see in an Alien film helmed by Ridley Scott, reminding me of the methodical pace of the original classic.
The other characters, while not deeply developed, are fleshed out enough to understand their personal stakes in what unfolds. Most notably for me were Daniels (Katherine Waterston), who is functionally our protagonist and finds herself at a loss with space colonization after a personal tragedy, and Oram (Billy Crudup) who becomes the unconfident captain of the crew and feels his faith in God is not respected. The latter of the two was a little underused, but I felt a connection with these people and their unique perspectives. Neither is antagonistic, but offer conflicting views about what to do when confronted with a mysterious human signal and a habitable planet that seems “too good to be true.” I could get behind both sides, making the division understanding, and the consequences more sympathetic.
There are points in the crew’s exploration of this planet that get frustrating and nonsensical, mirroring an issue I also had with Prometheus. I understand that the core idea with these movies is that crew members become infected, but the way this happens flies in the face of any protocols, or even common sense, that one would expect. They land on a habitable world that they know is teeming with life, and nobody is wearing anything on their heads to protect them from the unknown. One character puts his face right up to some strange pods, which release microscopic motes, and nobody even chastises this foolishness. I just can’t buy that a massive colonization effort wouldn’t have vastly stricter guidelines about avoiding contamination.
The neomorphs, new creatures that incubate in bodies infected with the motes, do offer some good moments of body horror as they rabidly grow in their hosts. It could have been treated with a slower pace, which I would have appreciated more, but it was still a fairly nerve-wracking sequence. The xenomorph itself, unfortunately, felt more liked a tacked on addition to the movie to give the climax a more formidable monster. For all the marketing about the xenomorph’s appearance, this movie isn’t really about dealing with the creature that much.
The best thing in the film was David, who has become twisted in his long time alone on the planet. While we don’t get a full understanding of everything he got up to, he’s been up to Frankenstein-esque work of his own, toying with the life forms on the planet and the black goo first seen in Prometheus. David’s madness and the implications of what he got up to made for the better, disturbing parts of the picture. The explorations of artificial intelligence, creativity, and purpose in life are also decently done as well. His confliction with Walter, less free willed yet dutiful, is more compelling than any alien threat.
Alien: Covenant is not a bad film, but it suffers a lot from abandoning themes established in Prometheus, and having bad pacing when it comes to the actual monsters. Gone are tense, unpredictable gestation periods. Every creature emerges faster than ever, ready to give chase immediately. The xenomorph for me as an unfortunate, superficial addition, despite the gravity the film tries to give its emergence. It sounds cynical, but I’m pretty sure it was included to ensure more widespread interest in the movie — which admittedly worked on me. Flaws accounted for it was still a fun film to watch, it just lacks the substance that would allow it to join the pedigree of the franchise.