Alien Covenant is Ridley Scott’s second film in his reboot of the Alien franchise. It is a sequel to 2012’s Alien prequel, Prometheus. Yeah, it does sound complicated when you put it that way (and I believe that it is going to get more complicated with the future films not progressing in a linear chronology).
The ship Covenant, crewed entirely by couples and carrying a cargo of 2000 humans and 1000 embryos in stasis, ready for deployment when they reach their destination, Origae-6, a planet much studied and carefully selected for this mission. A critical emergency caused by a neutrino flare from a nearby star causes Walter, the crew’s synthetic, to wake the crew from cryosleep to help deal with the situation. Upon fixing and dealing with the aftermath of the emergency, they happen across a rogue transmission, alerting them to a habitable planet previously unseen. With the prospect of many more years cryosleep or checking out the new planet (which is much nearer), the new captain chooses the latter. And that is where things really start to get interesting!
As far as Alien films go, this is a strange one to pin down. It is more aligned with Alien than Prometheus is, but this time it isn’t the humans that are central to the story. All the origins of man talk from Prometheus are cast aside, quite dramatically, and in its place is something far more sinister. This has some genuinely decent scary moments, and I was a big fan of the aesthetic that the new planet has. But that is where the positives end for me.
I found that there was no real definition of what the story was trying to do. It lacked direction (not artistic direction but the story’s direction). Having left Prometheus with a new challenge it gets entirely glossed over, for this new start, which I feel is a bit of a waste. It leaves Covenant a bit adrift in space in relation to the others, with only a passing relation to the mythology. The characters felt half hearted and shallow, even compared to Prometheus, they had no real depth to them hence they were all expendable, I’m pretty sure I didn’t even register that a couple of them even had names, needless to say in true Star Trek style they didn’t last long! The rest of the crew, all apart from Daniels and Tennessee, were a bit bland, a bit meh. In my eyes, even in Prometheus you had a core of people who were pivotal to the story (Janek, Shaw, Holloway, Vickers, David, Fifefield – OK so he wasn’t so pivotal but I liked this guy “Look, I’m just a geologist. I like rocks. I LOVE… rocks“). All decently fleshed out and with some reason for being there, or at least some depth to their acting. The Covenant crew were either not developed or dead too soon, without them doing anything; Katherine Waterston as Daniels was ok, she didn’t command respect even though she was a Ripley lookalike and eventually the captain of the ship, Danny McBride’s Tennessee was fine although I remain unconvinced of his ability to play it straight, David/Walter were given the most time and exposition and it was an interesting plot direction to take but, without knowing more about where we are going with this line of thinking it leaves this film feeling empty, something that could have been hashed out in some exposition scene in another film rather than spending this entire film on such a small point.
One of my first questions after coming out of the screening was “How many films is Ridley planning to do, before we join up with the original or get some context as to where he’s going with this?” because, unfortunately, if they are all films like this one then are they going to be worth watching when you can be caught up in a couple of minutes of explanation? I may yet be proved wrong, and I’m hoping that I will be as I think there is a great story to be told here and some great horror/sci-fi elements to be seen in this franchise, but unless the next couple of films start to tie things together we could end up with a string of visually impressive, isolated alien monster films and I don’t believe that is what people will want, however good they are individually.
On the plus side the monkey aliens (Neomorphs as I now know they have been called), from their conception to birth to their speed and agility they were pretty great, scary little fuckers. However I wasn’t as impressed by their fully grown version.
Alien Covenant is a decent Alien film, I’m not sure how it is going to fit into the whole canon yet and this is the reason that it doesn’t get a higher score than it does, at the moment it only bears a passing semblance to the franchise.
I watched all the primary Alien films before watching this in a bit of a movie marathon. But I always had in my mind that I’m not comparing it to the outright stars of the franchise, Alien and Aliens, or the much maligned but actually quite enjoyable to me Alien3, but placing it alongside Prometheus and utilising the universe as created in that film as the starting point, Covenant still comes up short. Prometheus I found to be enjoyable and had a well defined story arc, if not quite being as relevant to the Alien mythology as Covenant is, but it is that lack of a defined story direction is why this film suffers in my eyes.