Before I start proper, I really should preface by saying I’m no purist when it comes to the Alien franchise. I’m the weirdo that likes all of them, with the exception of the two Alien vs Predator films, and even that is only because I don’t remember the first one after seeing it the one time at release, and I never got around to the second one. I just don’t have much investment in the franchise, and that’s not to take away the fact that the first two are absolute masterpieces, I just think there’s not much worth getting riled up over if one doesn’t deliver in the terms of “pushing the saga forward.” At the very least not to the same levels that people have gone against the Star Wars prequels just to compare. All I ever need from an Alien film is awesome designs, gnarly monsters, cosmic horror and some gory kills.
So, shocker – I really liked Alien: Covenant.
The film takes place decades after Prometheus, and this time, we follow a crew on a colony ship called the Covenant, who answer a distress call on their way to a new planet where they are meant to populate. Once they reach the source of the distress beacon, and…well…it all goes to shit, what did you think was gonna happen?
I’m firmly thumbs up regarding Prometheus, and what I immediately liked about Covenant was how it more smoothly ties together the various thematic elements of both Prometheus and the original Alien. It especially goes into more depth about the collective human search for meaning and significance in their creation. Prometheus brought these questions up, but didn’t do a lot to answer them. Though, I’d argue the sheer disappointment of the characters upon discovering the Engineers and their reactions, is a part of the point. Covenant goes into this more, not so much with the Engineers this time around, as Michael Fassbender’s David does most of the thematic heavy lifting this time around, and that’s a good thing to me. David is an incredibly interesting character, and one that brings some genuinely new ideas to the standard robot character, which has already been a staple in this series to begin with. His conflict with the concept of creation contrasted with what his own creators have been seeking is a deeply fascinating one, and the moments where that takes center stage (which is a decent amount) are often the best moments in the entire film. It builds on the questions that Prometheus posed, and thus complements the film well, as opposed to bettering it, which might be the general perception.
And there’s also a shit-ton of blood and guts. God bless Ridley Scott for not losing his edge. Despite directing at the age of 79, his skills as a technician and delivering genre thrills are damn near unmatched by anyone else, and it’s achieved with such attention to detail and precision while also seeming so effortless. The pacing is also relentless, more so than Prometheus, while it has it’s calmer moments, there’s always a consistent underlying dread that seeps into each and every frame. It’s undoubtedly spectacular work from a technical standpoint.
Now, if you are someone who can’t help but nitpick at some of the minute details in either character actions or plot logistics, you will find just as much to pick on here as you did in Prometheus. Yes, some of the characters behave in profoundly questionable ways, and sometimes odd story choices, and the things that they keep versus what they clearly cut out (lots of footage from trailers/marketing are not present in this film) do undercut some of the things that the film has done rather well otherwise. It is still a bit sloppy.
But like I said, it doesn’t really bother me here. Scott (and screenwriters, John Logan and Dante Harper) manages to make you invested moment by moment, so you don’t really end up thinking about the things that don’t add up until long after the film is over. At least, that’s how I experienced it, and to me, that’s the sign of a filmmaker who is totally on the ball. It also helps that he has a very solid cast like the returning Michael Fassbender (who by the way has the best moment in the film, it involves the line “You blow, I’ll do the fingering”), Katherine Waterston (who is so immediately likable and empathetic, I can’t wait to see her in more films), Danny McBride, Billy Crudup (who seriously pulls so much out of what was obviously a thin character on paper, it’s insane), Carmen Ejogo, Demián Bichir, Jussie Smollett, Callie Hernandez, and Amy Seimetz, among several others. Also, major props to Jed Kurzel for his score, which blends old and new in very creative and powerful way.
It won’t surprise me whatsoever when Alien: Covenant turns out to be a really divisive film over the next couple days and weeks, it’s certainly not flawless, and I won’t ever claim it will be. However, I will argue that the film – in spite of those elements that aren’t quite working at 100% – is incredibly effective at what it’s doing. It’s as extravagant and beautiful as it is grotesque and wrathful. It evokes imagery and mood and atmosphere that is simultaneously claustrophobic, yet biblical in scale and scope. It’s an expertly crafted, if often bombastic, cosmic nightmare with big and interesting ideas in its head, and for me, it is another winner in this bizarre franchise.