There seemed to be a decent amount of pressure for Alien: Covenant to succeed. It’s been 20 years since the last proper Alien movie, with 2012’s Prometheus being somewhat a shadow Alien film itself. Alien: Covenant tries to please both audiences; one side wanting a sequel to Prometheus, and the other expecting an official Alien prequel. Sadly, both camps can look to be mostly disappointed as Covenant floods the movie with horror trope after horror trope and a horrible payoff to the Elizabeth Shaw character from Prometheus, one that made me rolls my eyes with disgust. The film also digs into the origins of the Xenomorphs themselves and handles it in such a way where the iconic monsters are now a bit less cool, a feat I didn’t think possible.
The movie begins with an event that sees the Covenant, a colony ship transporting a few thousand people in cryostasis, damaged and its main crew woken out their slumber to attend to the damage. They are all under the care of Walter, a Weyland Industries android, who is more the focus of this movie than he should have been. While getting the ship ready to continue their journey to Origae-6, a planet deemed hospitable for humankind, they intercept a broadcast containing a song from Earth’s past. This leads the crew to investigate a planet that seemingly is a better fit for colonization and it is here where you-know-what hits the fan.
The crew of the ship is made up of couples, and you don’t learn this information until a few reveals into the film. You see the introduction to one couple and think nothing of it, but after a few more people start saying wife or husband, it’s after a major event has occurred and it’s also the reason for a lot of the stupid mistakes the characters make in the movie. While the scientists in Prometheus made some mistakes that would make people yell at their TV’s, they made them with almost no context at all, here, at least, the wanting to protect or desire to be with their spouse, can at least provide some narrative as to why these characters are making such bonehead mistakes. Be rest assured though, several of them make poor choices for no real reason at all.
The problem with horror movies that follow the same situations where the majority of the cast will be killed off one by one is that you never really get to know the characters well, and so many of the crew in this movie is never once explored or given anything to do other than get infected by some alien parasite or get killed by said infected being. Aside from Danny McBride’s character, I never cared once for any member of the crew, and even the ending as it is didn’t bother me for what would become of the survivors.
The main problem with the story and the characters is that there is nothing original here. The story is a rehash of several different movies, one of them even being Alien itself, and the events that occur in the movie are beyond predictable to the point where half way through the movie you know exactly how it will end. I would say that the characters themselves are copy and pasted from other films, but the movie tends to only follow a few of the crew and the rest become background characters that die off before you know their names, and even then, some of the deaths happen so fast and are so dark that you don’t even know who is dying until the cast reunites and you see who just isn’t there.
As I mentioned, I found that the movie centered on Michael Fassbender far too much and there is a scene where he is interacting with himself that borders on an awkwardness that’s made even more cringy due to a particular line of dialogue that had the theater react with an equally awkward laughter. While there are moments where Fassbender is amazing, as he usually is, it becomes a point where he is too much of this film. I also didn’t care for Katherine Waterston in her role as Daniels, as much like in Fantastic Beasts, she didn’t entertain me whatsoever and I feel the role would have been better cast with someone else, however; that is true with many of the characters in this film; no one is memorable.
Apart from those issues, the film is visually spectacular and well shot. The locations, both on the planet and the ship itself, are well realized and work well. The lighting on the ship is very reminiscent of the past Alien films, and the planet feels exactly what you’d expect from a sequel to Prometheus. The Xenomorphs look great, move great, and benefit from the use of CG. The face-huggers are easily the best they have ever been, and that is also a benefit from using computers to animate them than some plastic toy being chucked across the room. The action scenes, despite the poor choices that lead to them happening, are well handled and several of the deaths are fairly enjoyable.
The title sequence was also oddly paced as it cuts to a generic shot of space with a ship flying in the distance and then sparingly places some shapes around the screen with more and more being added to form the title of the movie, but this sequence goes on forever and causes the film to have a really sluggish start. I swear I heard some groans from people around me who were as equally impatient with this sequence as I was.
Overall, Alien: Covenant is an average sci-fi movie packed full of horror tropes and poorly written characters that just happens to be well shot and look great. There is also a wealth of footage used in the marketing and various elements on Youtube that better flesh out certain characters and feature lots of story elements that are not present in the film, making these companion pieces almost essential to getting the whole story. The movie just simply disappoints as a sequel and as a prequel to the vastly superior films that came before it.