Review — Alien: Covenant
In 2012, Ridley Scott sought to show us how his iconic xenomorph first originated before the events of 1979’s seminal sci-fi horror Alien. He gave us Prometheus, but his idea backfired as fans clamoured to see more blood-curdling space terror from the classic monster. So, this year, Scott hopes to tie both threads together with Covenant.
Colony ship Covenant is on a mission to terraform a new planet when a disaster strikes the vessel, waking the crew up seven years early from hyper sleep. While commencing repairs, they intercept a distress signal from an apparent paradise nearby and decide to investigate.
Covenant is better than Prometheus; learning from its predecessors sticking points while also successfully building on some of Prometheus’s interesting ideas. Scott successfully puts the scream back into space, and Covenant revels in the chest-bursting, gory horror that helped define the original Alien.
Clearly, Scott has lost none of his skill when it comes to creating on-screen environments, returning to the subtle details of his earlier works. Covenant’s cramped corridors emulate the grimy claustrophobia of the Nostromo, while the scenes on the planet are visually striking, beautiful sequences. The CGI components are top-notch and create the enigmatic visual presence that all of Scott’s films possess.
However, while Covenant does purge some of Prometheus’s problems, it also replicates some too. The pacing is strange. The middle act feels long and slow, while the first and final acts pass in a blood-soaked blur. This means that while Covenant succeeds in delivering horror, it fails to fuel that horror with the kind of true tension that made the original Alien so compelling. The story itself borrows heavily from both Prometheus and Alien. Most of Covenant’s key moments appear to be lifted straight from its predecessors, making Covenant feel more like a reboot than a sequel/prequel.
The crew are a selection of mostly paper thin characters. Covenant’s synopsis tells us that the crew is formed of couples, but this isn’t explored much in the film apart from some passing banter. When the inevitable slaughter starts, none of them seem to spare much emotion for their lost loved ones and comrades. The characters also seem numb to the finer points in the plot; barely questioning the sudden appearance of Michael Fassbender’s David, the android from Prometheus. Sadly, as expected, the crew are merely meat fed to drive Covenant’s gory sequences.
While the cast isn’t really given much to do, the actors do as much as they can. Billy Crudup’s Oram is suitably overwhelmed when suddenly thrust in command, although his background as a religious man is barely explored despite being alluded to multiple times, while Katherine Waterston’s Daniels plays the replica-Ripley role well.
The only actor with a sizeable part is Fassbender, who plays new android Walter, Covenant’s caretaker, as well as reprising his role of David. Their shared subplot seems to have been cannibalised from some aspects of Blade Runner, which demeans what is an interesting dichotomy on the surface. Covenant’s final twist is disappointingly predictable once the third act begins, but does still manage to instill some sense of horror once we see it play out.
The confusing part of Covenant comes when different breeds of the titular aliens are introduced. For most of the film, the pale neomorphs are the main threat. But in the third act, they are conveniently abandoned in favour of the classic H.R. Giger-inspired xenomorph, allow for some scenes that appear to be clones of Alien’s closing sequences. This brings us to the main issue with both Prometheus and Covenant; exploring the origins of the xenomorph.
Part of the terror associated with the monster in the original Alien is that we don’t know where it comes from. The horror hits us when we assume that the xenomorph is a product of evolution; a process that mankind is both dependent on and doomed by. The thought of our entire civilisation being unable to triumph over a creature as brutal and relentless as the xenomorph is what makes it so scary. Having its origins revealed diminishes that terror, taking away the core of the Alien franchise.
So although Covenant sets out to learn from the mistakes of Prometheus and return the series to its roots, it ultimately fails. Covenant’s issues mean that it doesn’t distance itself enough from its predecessor. So while Covenant looks like a return to form on the surface, it certainly doesn’t feel like one.