Movie Review: ‘Alien: Covenant’
Plot: In late 2104 the crew of the colony ship Covenant carrying 2000 people in hypersleep and en route to Origae-6, is struck by a random neutrino storm. The sole awake passenger is android Walter (Michael Fassbender) who initiates an emergency wake-up protocol for the crew. While the crew restores the ship to full working order, several of the colonists in hypersleep are killed including the ship’s captain. When chief pilot Tennessee Faris (Danny McBride) picks up a radio transmission from a nearby planet during repairs, replacement captain Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup) decides to investigate, believing that the planet may be a more viable alternative than Origae-6. However, when an expedition crew descends to the planet they find it devoid of all life, with its sole inhabitant being the android David (also Michael Fassbender) the lone survivor of the lost ship Prometheus.
Review: When Ridley Scott’s prequel to Alien, Prometheus, hit theaters five years ago, it immediately became a polarizing film. Supporters loved the deeper questions it addressed along with the visuals and the performances. Detractors had issues with it not being a true Alien film and that many of the scientists made incredibly dumb decisions. I definitely fell into the former category. That’s not to say that Prometheus is a perfect film. It’s not. But despite its flaws, I still un-apologetically love it and have re-watched it several times. And so, going into Alien: Covenant my expectations were high.
Again I came out of Alien: Covenant extremely satisfied and with only a few gripes. In fact it is one of those films that, like Prometheus, I wanted to see again. I sensed some deeper meanings that I may not have fully grasped. However, I need to point out that Alien: Covenant is likely to be just as divisive as Prometheus. Indeed various positive and negative reviews have indicated such already. I think the most significant complaint has been that Covenant wasn’t what people were expecting. Yet I believe that was exactly the whole point of Covenant, to provide audiences with an experience that was unexpected.
If you are hoping for a straightforward horror film similar to the original Alien, this isn’t the movie for you. There’s deeper questions at play here, just as there was with Prometheus. Yet whereas Prometheus addresses where we come from, Alien: Covenant examines where we are going and if we even deserve to survive. That’s not to say Alien: Covenant isn’t scary, it’s terrifying in certain parts especially when aliens begin to burst out of backs and mouths. Yet rather than do so right out of the gate, Ridley Scott opts for a slow burn, much like he did with the first Alien. In fact one of my issues with the film is that Covenant begins a little too slowly. But as each progressive scene hits, the masterful Scott ups the tension. Jed Kerzel’s score (which incorporates elements of Jerry Goldsmith’s Alien score and Marc Streitenfeld’s Prometheus score) compliments Ridley Scott’s direction in a perfect way.
Even detractors of Prometheus praised its look and appearance. Alien: Covenant‘s visual style equals that of its predecessor. Its wide sweeping vistas, compliments of shooting in New Zealand, dovetails perfectly with Dariusz Wolski’s cinematography. I’d expect nothing less from the man who filmed Dark City, The Crow, and Pirates of the Caribbean. The palette and lighting leans towards the darker end but not to say BvS extremes. One of the significant accomplishments of the original Alien was its ability to create a claustrophobic atmosphere, despite the setting being primarily in a gigantic spaceship. Covenant re-creates this but this time the Engineer’s planet substitutes for the Nostromo. While the planet’s vast forests are majestic and open, it’s also quiet as the grave-no animals, birds, insects-nothing. It’s a dead planet despite the lush and verdant foliage. The necropolis that the crew of the Covenant eventually end up at thanks to David, also possesses a vast grandeur. However, what was once a thriving city has become nothing more than a silent tomb.
Acting wise there are a few standouts, with newcomer Katherine Waterson the de facto heroine Dany Branson. While her character is written a little thinly, she nevertheless delivers a powerful performance. A terraforming expert, her ultimate actions and decision making prove that whether you are a janitor or a general, you don’t know how you’ll react to dangerous situations until you’re put there. Branson in no way is a substitute for Ellen Ripley and I don’t think that was ever Ridley Scott’s intention. The best support I can give for that statement is that throughout the course of the film, I never once thought of Ripley when Waterson was on screen.
From a supporting standpoint, Danny McBride was the clear standout as ship’s pilot Tennessee. Unlike his normal over the top, bombastic comedy roles in Pineapple Express and Eastbound and Down, McBride plays it straight and it works surprisingly well. Of course it wouldn’t be Danny McBride if there wasn’t a modicum of comedy and to be sure, he provides the most comic relief. However, it’s important to note that McBride’s performance proves he can be a dramatic actor, especially in one heart wrenching scene. As for other supporting characters such as Demian Bichir’s Sergeant Lope and Crudup’s Christopher Oram they are a little one note. I’d argue that the original Alien didn’t possess much character development other than Ripley and Dallas though. It didn’t detract from the quality of that film and it doesn’t here.
Alien: Covenant is decidedly Michael Fassbender’s show though. Fassbender plays dual roles as both the android David from Prometheus and the newer model Walter, an android that’s more robotic and less human than his predecessor. He delivers in a way that impressed even more than I was expecting. The interactions between David and Walter are often both strange and deep. There’s one scene in particular where David tries to teach Walter how to play the flute that has much more going on beneath the surface. David and Walter’s scenes become a running discussion on what it means to be alive, to love, and to create life. Some may question David’s motivations for some of his actions in the film. However, if you have even a passing familiarity with the concept of “the singularity” in A.I. development or ever taken a look at the actions of the human race as whole, David’s reasoning becomes abundantly clear.
Alien: Covenant culminates in an impressive third act that will make your heart pound and your sphincter shrink. For those of you who wanted more xenomorphs after seeing Prometheus, you’re going to get effing xenomorphs. Also we finally get some answers as to the origin of the alien species. Suffice it to say it’s a shock and it makes you re-examine the first two films in the franchise in a whole new way. Yet as great as the action in the third act is, it pales in comparison to the film’s closing moments. While slightly predictable, it nevertheless proves chilling and left me wanting more. I can’t wait to see what direction Scott takes audiences in the next Alien film.
Let’s just hope it doesn’t take another five years to find out.
My rating System:
0-1 God Awful Blind Yourself With Acid Bad
2 Straight Garbage
4 Sub Par
8 Very Good
10 A Must See
Alien: Covenant rates: 9/10