MOVIE REVIEW – Back in 1979 Ridley Scott’s classic Alien became the quintessence of sci-fi horror movies, thanks to a smart script, and unbelievable ambiance and truly scary horror moments. In fact, Alien is hands down one the best (or perhaps THE best) sci-fi horrors ever made. Several sequels and copycats tried to mimic its success, and Ridley Scott himself made a prequel, called Prometheus – an ambitious movie with unfortunately lot less flair and success. Now, Scott is back again with Alien: Covenant, which both tries to be a capable sequel to Prometheus, but also a bona fide Alien movie, with lots scares and gore everywhere. I already knew all this before the press screening; my only concern was whether such an ambitious project could succeed?
Alien and Blade Runner are among my top ten all-time favorites, and I also liked Prometheus – although to a lesser extent, than the two former classics. So one should think that the man, who directed those three movies is mixing the themes which were present in all those into one movie, it should be the apotheose of Scott’s work, right? Well, not quite…
The father and his creation
The movie starts with an extremely stylish, eerie and well-made scene, with the android David (Michael Fassbender) and his creator, Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce – who is younger here than he was in Prometheus) having a philosophical conversation (while David is making his first steps) about one’s lifespan, art, and creation. This scene has more in common with Blade Runner than any Alien flick, but the rest of the movie is more familiar…
Back in present time, we are a decade after the events of Prometheus. The Covenant vessel is carrying thousands of colonists on a seven-year journey to a distant planet, but an apparent electrical shortage forces the crew to wake up ahead of schedule. In the process, they’re left without a captain (James Franco, in an uncredited and hilariously fleeting cameo, almost drops out of the picture before he’s in it) and forced to take orders from a new commander, Oram (Billy Crudup).
Fassbender appears again as another robot, an affable, practically minded model named Walter who has more in common with “Star Trek” shipmate Data than his curious-minded manifestation as David. That disconnect will become more obvious once Walter actually encounters David, and Fassbender singlehandedly elevates the experience by playing two characters at once, but “Covenant” has a lot of exposition before that happens.
Slow start, true horror afterward
It’s in fact, this exposition taking too long, which is one of the major problems of this movie. The characters themselves are neither that interesting nor well developed like in either Alien (or the better Alien episodes) or even Prometheus so that we should truly care about them. Not that the rest of the movie tries to really elevate those “underdogs” (including Daniels, played by Katherine Waterson the Ripley of this modern Alien) but giving them such a long-winded exposition makes the first part of the movie a bit tedious.
However, regarding sheer, kidney-curdling, slice-your-guts-open horror, is Covenant the most electrifying installment since Scott’s game-changing 1979 party-starter? After this a long and tedious opening act on board the colony ship, the movie tumbles headlong into a blitzkrieg of slaughter pretty much as soon as the crew arrives on David the android’s horrible home planet.
In this regards, Alien: Covenant is a true return to the 80s sci-fi horror era, with a body count quickly rising, and gruesome deaths everywhere. Those deaths and mutilated corpses sometimes feel a bit gratuitous and overdone. There’s even a human head floating in water which is shown three times (!) in a row, which feels, in fact, a bit comical the third time around. I don’t know what was Scott’s real purpose with this, but I felt a bit of derision, and it was less scary or horrific. Horror and scares are a bit of a hit-and-miss in this movie, and the all-too-many familiar scenes (especially to fans) feels less like homage and more like recycling old ideas.
Fassbender strikes again
The true gem of the movie is Michael Fassbender who once again after Assassin’s Creed plays a double role again: David, the surviving android from Prometheus and Walter, a newer model, but with the same features, on the board of the Covenant. This time around there are even long scenes between the two androids with a much different personality.
In fact, Fassbender is so good and so central to the movie, that he overshadows everybody and everything in the movie – other main characters, plot devices and even the aliens themselves. Yes, there are big fights between humans and aliens, but the central conflict is between the two androids, with David pulling strings a bit.
Unfortunately, even two Fassbender can’t save the fact, which this rather generic sci-fi horror movie provides few surprises. While the long-winded first part of the movie is in fact, quite boring, the second part is mostly constituted of action-horror scenes mostly phoned-in from the former episodes of series.
The events and lore of Prometheus are vastly forgotten, there’s only a short, strange scene involving the Engineers and David, which doesn’t explain much (or of it’s a final explanation, it’s quite sad – creatively speaking).
Perhaps the main problem with Alien: Covenant is that’s predictable all the way – even, with its “twists”. While visually it’s extremely satisfying, with different kinds of Xenomorphs in action, it’s missing its own soul, which would make it apart from the other episodes of the series. It’s routine sci-fi horror from one of the most respected directors of the genre, which, in fact, could have been done by any decent director, no need for the creativity of Ridley Scott.