SPOILER WARNING: PLOT AND ENDING DETAILS FOLLOW
So I’m that weird guy at the party who, when the topic of the Alien franchise comes up, will swear up and down that Prometheus is one of the best movies in it. Depending on how much alcohol I’ve had, I’ll say it’s the best one. I adore that movie and what it tried to do, and while it may have missed the mark here and there, it ultimately is a gorgeous flick with some really compelling questions at heart.
Alien: Covenant is the direct sequel and everything its predecessor is not, which includes being good.
I’m honestly not sure where to start. It’s hard to separate Alien: Covenant from Prometheus because both try to do the same things, just one fails while the other succeeds. Both look at the Alien mythos and aim to expand upon it and answer questions, and both try to tackle themes that the previous movies never considered.
Answering questions is a very bold—and honestly very stupid—goal when it comes to horror. Monsters are scary because we know so little about them. The Alien is terrifying because it is this brutal force of space outside our realm of thought and maybe time itself. It is the OTHER.
The Engineer, the Space Jockey, is scary because it has even less going for it. Here is this THING affixed to a chair with its belly blown open and calcified. It’s old, it’s dead, and the cargo that presumably killed it is not. Where was it going and why? Not knowing is better than knowing.
Or so I thought.
See, I believe Prometheus succeeds at answering questions first because its focus isn’t on the Alien but on the Engineers themselves. That dead transporter plays such a little role in the series that he’s fair game to work with. He’s a divergent path, and he’s why the film is called Prometheus and not Alien: Prometheus.
Second, every question Prometheus answers brings bigger and more terrifying questions to the forefront. The few hard answers we do get—and there are very few—only serve to enhance the Alien universe and make it bigger. There are devils as we have seen, but there are gods too. The problem is, they might also be devils. Kicking that question could doom more than just the bit characters stuck on LV223.
Alien: Covenant isn’t interested in asking more questions, only answering them. It doesn’t make the Alien universe bigger but smaller, and in doing so, it hurts the Alien and every question Prometheus asked in the process.
Perhaps this is why I’m so disappointed (and have hardly talked about Alien: Covenant so far in this review). I’m less upset that Alien: Covenant is a bad movie and more that it killed everything amazing about Prometheus.
We started an odyssey with Shaw and David off to figure out who created humans and why, and then we fast forward ten years and not only do those questions not matter, but Shaw has gone the way of Hicks and Newt and David has gone from morally grey to mad-scientist villain.
Alien: Covenant gives us a new cast of characters, a new cargo ship, and the mission of finding a habitable planet and planting new life. Their cargo is a thousand bodies and another thousand embryos.
That’s…fine, I guess. It’s a soft reboot away from Shaw and David, but I can work with it. However, I just need to stop again, because the goal here is just way less impactful and interesting than in Prometheus. The size of our character cast is pretty much the same, but finding God is so much bigger than just making more humans that I feel like we’ve taken a massive step backwards before we’ve even started. By scifi standards, our plot is pretty tired.
The first twenty or so minutes are also just straight boring. We get a parallel view of Walter (oi Ridley, why not name him Eric and continue the tradition?) walking through the ship and checking on his crew much like David did, only for Walter, something goes wrong long before they get to their destination. He has to wake everyone up, and wouldn’t you know it, they intercept a distress beacon.
I’m not sure if this is boring because we’ve seen it before in Alien or because the characters just don’t have anything gripping about them, but watching everyone debate what to do holds no real weight. We all know they’re going to the damned planet even if it’s literally the dumbest idea on the table.
You have a cargo of humans bound for a specific planet to kickstart a new colony of life. You’ve done scans and probably thousands of hours of research, but because this planet is closer, it’s cool to jet over and maybe live there instead?
At least the captain has faith!
The rest we’ve all seen before. We’re now six movies deep not counting the Alien vs Predator flicks, and that means that half of the Alien films have featured a different set of characters finding an Engineer ship, walking through it, and then something really bad happening.
Half of these films have had this exact same sequence. Let’s let that sink in.
The heart of Prometheus was creation, and that continues in Alien: Covenant, though in a very different way. The first had hope at its core, while this movie is just bitterly cynical and even misanthropic at times. Shaw wanted to better our understanding of the universe, and David is just a bored guy on an empty planet with nothing better to do.
His creating the Aliens through experimentation is also woefully bad for the Alien mythos as a whole. The mysterious OTHER outside of space and maybe time itself is the result of a bored dude with too much time on his hands! Real scary there.
There are, thankfully, some great moments to be found. Ridley Scott needed another few rounds of script editing sure, but man is he a master of visuals. Alien: Covenant is a gorgeous movie with some wicked-awesome monsters, and its only real flaw is that you can tell some of the stuff on screen is CGI. There’s a lot less practical work here, which feels odd, but none of it is by any means bad.
The Aliens look good, and the other creatures do too. They even bring a few nice scares to the table, though the movie is ultimately not scary or all that tense.
And despite my qualms with David, he really is the star of the show here. His interactions with Walter are especially great, shoving him somewhere into the uncanny valley with his AI-driven logic and human sociopathy. Fassbender really does phenomenal work. It is a shame that his motives don’t always work and the actual timeline of events falls apart when scrutinized for even a little bit. Or maybe he’s just not as smart as he thinks he is.
Speaking of which, if you were upset with stupid decisions made in Prometheus, you’ll have a right fit here. Yeah, Milburn and Fifield getting high and petting an alien snake ain’t smart, but they were fodder characters. We knew going in they’d die because horror movies need bodies. With Alien: Covenant, the smart people are just as stupid as the fodder.
Our ship’s captain gladly looks into a facehugger egg when David tells him to, even though David had just spent the last five minutes explaining why he was the bad guy.
“No, it’s totally safe. Please ignore my macabre museum of dissected and crucified monsters.”
“Well, I did just get done calling you the devil, but okay!”
The rest is, as I said, stuff we’ve seen before. The first act is boring scifi, and the third act is a blatant callback to Alien, though with way less finesse. At this point, I’d call it just lazy instead of homage. Act two is okay with some good scares and some fun moments with David, but ultimately it holds no weight, and the more questions answered, the smaller the Alien universe becomes.
The quest to find God died with Shaw.
I was nervous going into this movie because I knew we weren’t doing a straight sequel with Shaw and David finding the Engineer homeworld. Someone at Fox or in Ridley’s head said, “no this has to be Alien and not Paradise,” and we were bound to get something lesser in return. That David and Shaw might show up did keep my hopes up, though. I was excited.
Then this movie did literally everything I had hoped it wouldn’t. It then did a bunch of stuff I had never figured it would try because you shouldn’t have that many bad ideas in one script.