The story of Alien: Covenant is a paradoxical one. On one hand, the film doesn’t bring anything revolutionarily new to the franchise. On the other hand, everything new that it does try is too crazy for casual fans to appreciate. In short: It’s a lose/lose.
The Alien franchise has been around for a long time. In terms of science fiction series, it is second only to Star Wars for longevity, with the first film coming out all the way back in 1979. However, unlike Star Wars, there are only two installments in the series that are universally adored. Those, of course, being the subdued sci-fi horror phenomenon that was the original Alien and the wildly fun sci-fi action film that was its sequel, Aliens. Of course, you have your misses in the franchise and it stumbled around in the dark for many years without director Ridley Scott to guide them until he and the mythos returned in 2012 for Prometheus, one of the single-most divisive pieces of cinema ever. With such a varied history spanning many different genres and subject matters, many fans of the brand were curious as to exactly what this film would be. Scott assuaged their worries by promising to make a film that encompassed all of his previous efforts; Alien, Aliens, and Prometheus. It should be a dream come true, correct?
Covenant suffers from what I like to call Jurassic World syndrome. It was faced with resurrecting a franchise that hasn’t had a hit since its heyday, so rather than create an all new film with original ideas, it opted rather to just do the exact same thing again, only to a lesser extent. A similar effect can be seen in The Force Awakens, the difference being while Star Wars did borrow some ideas from A New Hope, it still strived to create a film that was to some degree original, forming new and engaging characters and scenarios mixed in with the familiar. Alien: Covenant is somewhere in between. It recycles elements from previous films in the franchise while trying just ever so slightly to be different. The film follows the story of a colonial expedition that wrecks on a planet only to discover, of course, there is a species of aliens on the surface that are going to kill them all. Sound roughly familiar? Where the film dares to be different is with Michael Fassbender’s role. Scott uses his character to tell a story that is really unique, and, for lack of a better word, absolutely bonkers. The only problem is it feels out of place with the story they’re telling here and ultimately just puts most of the audience off with how bizarre it is. But they still tried to be different right? Yes, but not in a way that it should have. It should have revolutionized the way in which the facehuggers were used. That was what we were expecting from Ridley Scott. It’s essentially like if Steven Spielberg came back for Jurassic World, only to tell the story of a Dinosaur escaping and murdering people again, but shoehorned in a plotline about a short story he once wrote in which a panda bear gets overcome with grief until he takes his own life. Would you enjoy that film, knowing that it’s the original director? I’m not sure that you would.
There are really good aspects of this film. The acting is pretty good. Michael Fassbender is, predictably, a powerhouse of the cast. The real standout is Danny McBride, who entertains the audience in a smaller role. The one person who I just can’t get behind is Katherine Waterson. I’ve seen her now in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and now this, and in both films, I’ve found her to be just dull. She doesn’t bring anything to this movie, which, in her defense, is not entirely her fault, as the screenwriter just shoehorned her in so we could have another Ellen Ripley. The music is pretty cool and the set design is awesome. The island itself has a very Paradise-Lost feel to it, and most of the action takes place in an abandoned Acropolis that looks really nifty. The aliens are where this movie loses me. Gone are the Lovecraftian horror days of 1979. I understand that the reason why the original film was so subdued in its scares was that it was limited by budgets and the practical limitations of the time. There are no limitations in this movie. It is absolutely brutal. It is not frightening, but rather just subjects the audience to multiple scenes of xenomorphs just mutilating humans in vile and horrendous manners. Scott really held nothing back, and for that, he deserves to be commended, but it’s far from the quieter horror of yesteryear. Plus, every single alien in this movie is entirely CGI. There is not a single practical effect in this film, causing me to immediately detach myself from the threat. The creature animators didn’t smoothen their work either; the monsters move very jerkily to a point where it ceases to be believable. The movie is not bad-at least not in the standard sense of the word-it is just far from what you would expect from a Ridley Scott Alien film. If you were to ask me? Honestly, I would suggest you skip it.
All images are from Alien: Covenant, a film by Twentieth Century Fox