2012’s “Prometheus” provoked an interesting range of responses. The “Alien” prequel riled up a segment of the franchise faithfuls who were anxious for Ridley Scott’s return to the terrifying acid-for-blood xenomorphs he created. Many lukewarm fans found themselves drawn to Scott’s slow-moving meditative philosophizing. Others were caught in the middle, unable to come down on either side.
For the sequel it’s clear the producers were hungry for the Ridley Scott from 1979 who gave us the smothering, frightening sci-fi/horror original. New writers Josh Logan and Dante Harper make sure we get that. But Scott doesn’t hand over the entire vision. He’s still interested in thematic exploration and mythologizing. “Alien: Covenant” ends up being a peculiar and semi-fascinating hybrid of both.
As mentioned “Covenant” is the second film in the prequel series. It begins with a short prologue featuring Guy Pearce’s business mogul with a god complex Peter Weyland and a newly activated android who takes the name David (Michael Fassbender reprising his role). It’s a gorgeous flashback sequence that introduces creation, an idea that plays prominently into the rest of the film.
Roughly ten years after the events of “Prometheus” we hop aboard the Covenant, a ship on a colonization mission to a distant earth-like planet on the far side of the galaxy. It’s precious cargo – 1,000 human embryos and 2,000 colonists all in stasis. The ship is hit by a (science junkies help me out here) neutrino burst which forces the the android Walter (Fassbender in a dual role) to wake the crew early. The vessel takes damage and there are several casualties including the ship’s captain.
While making repairs the crew picks up a mysteriously familiar radio signal tracked to a nearby uncharted but seemingly habitable planet. Captain Oram (Billy Crudup), the insecure acting leader, decides to investigate against the objections of Daniels (Katherine Waterston), the original captain’s widow and Oram’s second in command. To this point you could call “Covenant” a methodical slow-burn which I loved. After a beautifully shot dropship landing, the expedition team of scientists and military make their way to the planet’s surface. This sets up the film’s shift from patient and ponderous to an all-out “Alien” movie.
To no one’s surprise the team encounters the xenomorphs and even a new form of terror called neomorphs. They are a spore-born and more feral version of their counterparts. And of course that leads to a series of gory and obligatory facehugs, chest bursts, tail slashes – the usual alien carnage. I’ll happily admit I found parts of it intense and exciting. Problem is none of the victims are fleshed out enough for us to care. I think back to Scott’s original “Alien” and even James Cameron’s “Aliens”. I can tell you the names of most of those characters and even put a face to them. Aside from Walter, Daniels, Oram, and Danny McBride’s Tennessee (he’s the one with the cowboy hat) none of the crew offer anything other than potential alien fodder. Such a missed opportunity.
From there the movie doesn’t completely settle for a traditional final act. There is one story thread that runs throughout the crew culling that feeds Scott’s hunger for mythology and origin. It’s a great angle that introduces the story’s true antagonist. It also gives Fassbender the room to shrewdly expand his characters. Waterston is good but Fassbender steals the show. It’s a tricky duel performance that brings subtle, unique nuances to both David and the updated model Walter.
Other story angles offer promise but are completely dropped. Take the ship full of husbands and wives and the 1,000 human embryos in cold storage. A lot of fun ideas there begging to be explored. And then there are these out-of-the-blue mentions of Oram’s faith. Again they tease an interesting deeper story but there isn’t much to take away from what little we get. “I saw the devil once as a child.” – the most random of Oram’s quotes that we never get back to.
“Covenant” maneuvers through its ups and downs to land an ending that leaves me genuinely excited for the next chapter. And despite missing some opportunities there is still plenty that Scott and company get right. Perhaps “Prometheus” was too big of a departure for some die-hard fans. “Covenant” tries to lure them back with good action and effects while still giving time to Scott’s philosophical ruminations and mythology building. A lot of that works. It’s the in-between stuff that misses the mark.
VERDICT – 3.5 STARS
Nice review Keith. I too felt pretty conflicted about Covenant. I enjoyed Waterston and Danny McBride’s performances (the latter doing very well in a dramatic role), but even though it features a cleaner plot than Prometheus, it’s a very fan service-y picture so much so that it becomes clear Scott simply is simply repeating the same beats from the first two films. It was entertaining and sometimes thrilling but ultimately I found Covenant to be a bit underwhelming.
I liked it but saw so much potential to love it. I was a big fan of Prometheus and generally like the direction of these prequels. But you’re right. There is definitely some fan service in Covenant. I’m okay with that to a degree. But when you skimp on other important pieces of the story, it hurts your film.
Yes. That was the worst part. The film just felt like a copy-pasted Prometheus, even some scenes and designs were too similar.
It’s also a pity that instead of developing of how finished Prometheus the new film just copies the same scenario – a ship flies somewhere, lands somewhere, people start dying.
It would be interesting to see actually Shaw’s and David’s journey.
The Shaw/David journey did feel terribly undeserved. Not sure why they didn’t feel compelled to explore it a bit morez
Yes… I didn’t find any direct info about that nor any interviews why Noomi Rapace dropped out. She did a lot of movies though during the period when Covenant was shot. I’d only respect her if it was her decision. The ending of Prometheus was so promising. And now we have Prometheus-two, just with more aliens, because that’s what the public complained about.
Another thing about Prometheus is that with some drawbacks it had Noomi Rapace and Theron created very good and believable characters without any cliches. I can’t think of anyone closer in style to Weaver than Rapace.
Also, I didn’t really get how from being a perfect faithful android David suddenly went rogue.
This aligns very much with how I felt about it. I enjoyed the hybrid of elements while wishing for a stronger pull in both departments. The mythology and existential rumination is all good but it is still so broadly spoken about it basically comes across as poetry. And then you have the violence that the franchise has become famous for. I thought those first attack sequences were, e-hem, pretty killer, personally, and wished we saw more of it. I think I remember a gruesolme scene later on with a severed head but not much else. And no matter how intensely you try to shoot something, an attack in broad daylight has nothing on the claustrophobic quarters of a dark ship. 😉
Some of those kills were brutally delicious. I just wish I gave two hoots about the characters. I swear, in their death scene some of them looked completely new to me. Didn’t even remember seeing them before they were killed! Still, I find myself drawn to the prequels (I was one who really liked “Prometheus”). And I really like the ending of Covenant. But some of its other parts needed more attention.
I have to be honest: Alien Covenant is probably the biggest disappointment of the year for me. This thing was an absolute mess. As someone who really loved Prometheus, this movie pissed me off at the way they swept that story-line under the rug. As a fan of Alien, there wasn’t enough here to sink my teeth into, and the xenos were all CGI. It seemed like Ridley Scott caved in to the demands of a certain part of the fan base and left the others hanging. Honestly, the only thing remotely compelling about the film was Michael Fassbender’s characters. That’s it. If Scott is allowed to do another Alien movie at this point, which seems very unlikely considering the movie’s performance, he needs to finish off the story in Covenant and then step away from the franchise permanently.
Sounds like 20th Century Fox is taking a closer look at the franchise’s future after Covenant. I get why. It sounds like I had a better experience with it than you (and many others). I’d hate to see it die. I love the Fassbender dynamic and the ending sets the table for some (potentially great stuff). I guess we’ll see.
I don’t want to see it die, either. There’s a lot of potential for the franchise to continue, but not under Ridley Scott’s leadership. I didn’t hate Covenant entirely. There’s some really good stuff in there, but it tried too hard to be both a sequel to Prometheus and a prequel to Alien. It had to be one or the other. The ending does set up for a real Alien movie, and I want to see it, but I don’t know if Fox will go for it now.
I wonder how much of its problems were from Scott and how much was due to studio pressure. I honestly have nothing to base it on, but I can see where there may have been pressure to get away from the Prometheus model. Whether the writers caved, Scott caved, I don’t know. Hopefully we will get another film with a much stronger focus.
”Scott’s slow-moving meditative philosophizing” – well said. That’s a thing Scott just cannot do. Philosophizing scenes were ridiculous.
I kind of liked them. The only problem is they weren’t given enough attention so that they could actually make sense.
Nice review Keith. i agree with your star rating. The victims were not fleshed out enough. But apart from that issue, did you think that the violence was too gory? Am wondering if they had shown less carnage for example, and more chasing instead, the film might have been more effective. As for the Fassbender story, i agree that his story was a great angle. nice review.
They are pretty gruesome for sure. Honestly I thought it fit. But you bring up a great point that I haven’t thought of. The tension of the chase was all but missing, wasn’t it? I certainly think the film could have been better if that had been more of the focus.
I gave Covenant the same grade as well. Its was good, but its pacing was a bit off between its three acts and feels like a retread of the first Alien movie, especially the last 20 minutes. Also, the characters were too thin and act more like cannon fodder. Still, I enjoyed it.
Exactly. The faults are crystal clear and easy to define. Yet there is fun to be had with it. What did you think of the ending? Despite its issues that ending left me pretty intrigued.
I assuming you mean the last three minutes of the film. If so, yes, I am quite intrigued to see where the next Aliens film will go.
Yep. That’s what I mean. Some great potential there.
One thing that I don’t get at all now is this.
During other movies, I got used that aliens are born from the eggs or facehugger infection. Now with Covenant we discoved that an alien can actually develop from a tiny microscopic bacteria living in some small eggs/shells that can fly.
The question is – why all this mess with facehuggers, huge eggs and Queens, if just a tiny bacteria is from a small egg enough?
Those are different ‘types’ of aliens. As I mentioned they are called neomorphs, a much more feral version of the xenomorphs. Of course the movie only gives us tidbits of that information instead of touching on it then leaving it.
I didn’t think this was a bad film but I was pretty disappointed. I still don’t get what Scott was trying to do with that entire erotic flute playing bit.
I was a bit let down as well but can’t deny I had fun with it. The story is in a decent place. The next film just needs more focus.
I guess being 80 is a little bit too late to start philisophizing about those things. It’s something that Scott desperately tries but never succeeds.
Had a lot of fun with this somehow. Nice review Keith.
Thanks man. I enjoyed it too despite its flaws.
I actually hadn’t seen Prometheus before going to Covenant, so I was worried about being behind on the mythology explored before. I was surprised I liked Covenant as much as I did. I agree, it wasn’t one set category. It wanted to be a slow, world-building story and an intense horror like the first Alien. When it went one way, it was awesome. Some of the mystery of who would survive was sucked out through trailers and the like, which dampened my experience a little bit. I enjoyed your review of it!
Thanks for reading and for the comments. That’s really interesting to hear especially since a slice of Covenant is directly linked to Prometheus. I think it testifies to the studio’s intent on broadening the appeal of this film. I think that’s why it has received such a wide range of reactions.
I enjoyed this quite a bit, though there were issues. Definitely better than Prometheus, and manages to balance the themes far better between that and the traditional Alien films.
I’m a big fan of Prometheus but realize it is really divisive. I like this one too. I do wish it had given a little more attention to some areas.
I decided to pick up Alien Covenant on Blu-Ray and I have to say: It’s better the second time around. In fact, it gets a bit better with repeat viewings now that you know what’s happening. It doesn’t absolve the film from it’s problems, but I found myself enjoying it quite a bit more, the more I watch it. Doesn’t change my opinion that Ridley Scott needs to step away, though.
That’s good to hear. I may give it another look too. I think it does somethings really well. Good to hear it gets a bit better a second time through.
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Very fair review.
Personally I was enthralled by Alien Covenant. A great explanation of how the genocidal species could be brought to wreak havoc on an innocent planet. Michael Fassbender is perfectly cast as the android(s) and has all the best lines: “that’s the spirit” he utters when kicked while fighting one of the human cast. Plenty of suspense, dread and a superb finale. It’s the best Alien film since the original.
Thanks for reading. You have me really interested in watching it again. Fassbender was indeed perfectly cast.
The most disappointing thing about this movie now that I look back on it, is that we’ll never really see the end of David’s story. I was really curious about the way Ridley Scott was going to conclude this series of films, but Covenant bombed pretty hard with critics and fans, and with Disney buying Fox, the third movie will never happen. I’m curious as to what Fede Alverez will bring to the table with his Alien movie.
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