Prometheus caused a bit of a divide among fans of the Alien franchise back in 2012. It wasn’t an Alien film but neither was it really an origin story. The reception was mixed and now Ridley Scott is trying to bridge the gap with his latest effort Alien: Covenant.
So, Is It Any Good?This might be the first time I’ve ever wanted to put a “kind of” image above. But if I have to come down on one side, then I do think Alien: Covenant is worth checking out. It is certainly a step up from its predecessor and is a truly remarkable film in a lot of ways.
Ridley Scott is a very capable director and he is doing fine work here – for the most part. Everything looks great, the ship design is far better than the uninspired Prometheus, and the environments look alive and lush. Cinematography here is sound; all but a few shots look great, but I’ll talk about that later on.
The one great thing to come out of Prometheus was Michael Fassbender as the android David. Fassbender returns here as a newer model of android aboard the Covenant named Walter, sporting a southern accent…I think. Fassbender owns every single second of screen-time he is given and by far he is the best thing in the film.
Minor Spoilers for Alien: Covenant – skip the next paragraph if you don’t want to be spoiled.
Fassbender gets even more chance to shine when the planet the Covenant lands on turns out to be where David and Elizabeth Shaw ended up at the end of Prometheus. Playing two roles, Fassbender is a joy to watch as the android with a god complex David and the more naive, duty-bound Walter.
The biggest surprise of the cast turns out to be Danny McBride as the fiercely loyal pilot. He surprised me in his ability to be dramatically serious and never once delved into his usual brand of comedy for a cheap laugh – his performance is really quite great. Billy Crudup in my opinion isn’t being talked about enough either as the new captain Oram, a man of devout faith in a world blended with so many themes of science, creation and evolution. His character is one of the more interesting with his beliefs that I couldn’t help but want even more from him.
Katherine Waterston is where the film stumbles. Everyone will compare her to Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley but that really isn’t fair. Waterston’s Daniels is perhaps the only character in the movie to be given an IQ above 100. However she is also supposed to be our main character and the development given to her is shockingly thin. The Alien series has always had strong female leads but they need to be earned. Sure, Daniels is very no-nonsense, smart, capable and headstrong but those character traits don’t define her enough to be cared about almost as much as the movie intends. She isn’t a bad character, but just underwritten.
This brings me to the bulk of the problems with Alien: Covenant – the characters. I’m not even sure underdeveloped is the right word to use here as I don’t think development was ever in mind for the majority of the characters. Rather they are introduced through a few lines of dialogue here and there and are promptly served up as meat for the slaughter.
The horror movie cliche rears its ugly head several times throughout the movie. Whenever someone says “I’m going over here to do X” they may as well be saying “Hey, I’m next to die!”. It’s incredibly bad here and I honestly expected better from Scott.
Not to mention, the characters in this movie are among the dumbest people in the universe. With the exception of Daniels, nearly everyone in the movie makes a boneheaded decision at some point. Some of the decisions defied all logic and it was moments like these that took me out of the film.
Another huge issue is the marketing and trailers for the film. Having now seen the film, going back and looking at the trailers I realised that every single big moment is given away in the marketing. It’s a shame as these moments are pretty great when they happen. Sadly you’ve already seen them all in the trailers. Avoid them if you can.
However, to the movie’s credit, the pacing of the film is damn near perfect. The inciting incident, the introduction to characters, the exploration of the world and everything that follows is paced out brilliantly. Moments never go on too long to become boring and the action pieces throughout serve well to give us a break from the scenes when the film wants to get philosophical. The tension towards the first half of the movie is pretty great but as it progresses it eventually fizzles out.
The blood and gore, when it occurs, is perhaps the best and most terrifying I’ve seen in an Alien film. The very first “birthing” scene had me on the edge of my seat and a painstaking grimace on my face. The creature designs are the usual psycho-sexual abominations we are used to. There are a few variations here and there and while they may not inspire the terror they used to, the Xenomorphs and the variants seen in Alien: Covenant still rank as the best movie monsters to me.
Sadly some of the CGI on the aliens is so obviously CGI that it sort of looks kind of ugly. The practical aliens on Alien and Aliens look far better than the creatures on display here. I said earlier a few shots looked bad. There is a point where we get two or three POV shots from a xenomorph. These shots didn’t add anything and diffused any tension as we knew exactly where the creature was and what it was doing.
As a Prometheus sequel I think Alien: Covenant didn’t really keep the same tone consistently. As an Alien prequel I think it succeeds a bit more, but still falls just short of the mark. The clash of tones as Scott tries to cram two different movies into one shows in some sections. It’s an enjoyable movie, don’t get me wrong, but it is flawed, so very flawed. And without spoiling, I have never rolled my eyes so hard at the ending of a movie.
It may sound a bit harsh but I did like the film and will pick it up on Blu-Ray when it comes out. There are just a few things (and the ending) that keep this from being a great Alien movie. It’s far more enjoyable than Prometheus but it has a long way to go before it reaches the status attained by the original and its sequel.
Alien: Covenant is in Australian cinemas NOW!