Alien: Covenant (2017)

2017 #69
Ridley Scott | 122 mins | cinema | 2.35:1 | USA, Australia, New Zealand & UK / English | 15 / R

Alien: Covenant

Following in the footsteps of half the other Alien movies (and “following in the footsteps” is definitely a theme when it comes to this movie), Alien: Covenant introduces us to a group of people who are the crew of a spaceship. This particular lot are on their way to establish a colony when a mid-flight disaster awakens them to deal with the damage. At the same time they detect a distress call from a nearby planet — a planet that looks even more suited to supporting human life than the one they were headed for. Changing course, they find suspiciously human vegetation growing on the planet, but are soon beset by terrible things. Well, it’s an Alien movie — I’m sure you can guess where most of this is going.

I say it’s an Alien movie, but really it’s a Prometheus movie. I don’t think that counts as a spoiler, does it? It’s no secret that Michael Fassbender is back. Sure, he starts the film playing a new robot, but did anyone really think that meant his old character wouldn’t be rocking up too? Sorry if I’ve spoiled it for anyone, but, c’mon. Besides, it’s clear that — despite the initial set dressing — Ridley Scott is far more interested in the concepts that launched Prometheus than he is in creating another Alien movie. The franchise-friendly stuff powers the slow-burn opening and the final act adrenaline rushes, but in between Scott reconnects to themes leftover from the apparently-aborted Prometheus trilogy.

Fit to burst

Now, I’ve already professed to be avoiding spoilers, but suffice to say that if you put Prometheus, Aliens (as opposed to Alien), Blade Runner (yep), and Frankenstein into a blender, then poured the resulting mixture into a novelty tie-in glass from the Star Wars prequels, you’d get Alien: Covenant. Weirdly, it’s the Prometheus stuff in that blend that tastes finer than the Aliens stuff. In fairness, that’s because it’s complemented by the notes of Blade Runner and Frankenstein.

Still, it’s a mixed bag. The scenes of characters chatting hold more interest than the action sequences, which feel a little perfunctory, remixing bits of previous movies with little impact, and are too dark to really appreciate (though I should withhold judgement on that last point, because they looked gloomier in the film than they did in the trailer, so perhaps it was just my cinema?) There’d be no shame in Covenant working as just an action and/or horror movie, if well made — that’s what the films that originated this franchise are, after all — but Scott is interested in exploring something more profound. The problem is that the attempted profundity comes from characters standing around and explaining the plot and/or themes to each other. It’s further undermined by slightly sloppy construction, one that places a key flashback at entirely the wrong moment (coming much earlier than it should, thereby spoiling a later reveal), and a last-minute twist that will be easily guessable to anyone who’s ever seen another movie.

In space, no one can see you look worried...

Worst of all, however, is that this film just didn’t need to be made. As with Prometheus before it, do we want to know where the eponymous beasties come from? It ruins some of their mystique, especially as the answers feel oddly mundane. This is not something further films are going to fix, either; though at this point they may as well keep going until things join up properly to the original Alien, because hey, why not?

Alien: Covenant is better than Prometheus because at least the character don’t act like total imbeciles who should know better. On the other hand, it’s worse than Prometheus because it scrubs out any ambiguity that film left about the Xenomorphs’ origins. Sometimes a mystery is better than an answer.

3 out of 5

Alien: Covenant is out in the half the world (including the UK) now, and is released in the other half (including the US) from tomorrow.

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4 thoughts on “Alien: Covenant (2017)

  1. Ruining the mystique point is a really good criticism and one I kind of take for granted at this point with prequels. Often not knowing the details is better but there’s so much less money in that for the studios! I have learned to live with it in exchange for getting to revisit some of my favourite worlds.

    I definitely did have a different take than you and I wonder how much of it was because I viewed the flashback and the ending as things that were not meant to be hidden from the audience, only the characters. The tension I felt as the end played out, for example, was not from wondering whether David was on the ship, but wondering whether the protagonist would realize it before it was too late.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good point about sharing information with us and not the characters, and I see how the flashback works like that. But I think my problem with viewing the ending that way is we can only guess it’s probably David, rather than being outright told it, which sets up his reveal to be a surprise. I like your reading of it, it certainly works better than how I experienced it (“please don’t let it be David, that’s such an obvious twist”!), but I didn’t feel that was what the film itself was aiming for.

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  2. Great review! 🙂 I agree with all you said. It’s ruining the mystery of the first films. The unknown is scary! And I like your “a last-minute twist that will be easily guessable to anyone who’s ever seen another movie.” Ha! I know!!! What the hell? So damn obvious it came across as cheesy. Not done well at all. I’ve decided now that this really is my least favorite in the series (not counting those Predator ones). And I certainly didn’t love Prometheus. Ugh. I dunno. Just pointless. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cheesy is the right word — as I was watching I was pleading with the film not to do it… and then it did.

      I think I’d probably still rank it above Prometheus, but it’s close. The less said about those Predator ones the better…

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