alien, alien: covenant, xenomorph, ridley scott

ALIEN: COVENANT (2017) – REVIEW

During the press rounds for Alien: Covenant, Ridley Scott basically admitted that the only reason he made the film was to right the wrongs of Prometheus – specifically, it’s lack of the Xenomorph. Now I don’t think too many people would argue there were problems with Prometheus, but despite the impression Scott seems to be under, I doubt this was everyone’s main issue. In fact, the very lack of the famous alien is probably what made it work better; for all of its faults, Prometheus was at least a film trying to be itself, and tell a new story in this universe with some clear direction and ambition. It knew the Xenomorph was cooked, at least for now, and it didn’t bother trying to play on nostalgia for ticket sales.

Covenant, on the other hand, does the polar opposite. It has no clear direction or any real idea of what it’s trying to do, and so scatters the aliens all over the place in the hopes of something sticking (also to give it the opportunity to call itself ‘Alien’ rather than ‘Prometheus 2’). Scott has a point that the Xenomorph hasn’t really been an effective monster since Aliens (which worked so well because it specifically bridged the gap between claustrophobic horror and intoxicating action – we can enjoy both immensely in different ways), and yet that knowledge has done nothing to make it work here. The Xenomorph is just another version of the CGI abominations we saw in Alien 3 & 4 – a monster without any presence – and is, ultimately, nothing more than a burden on the plot. This really does feel like a film whose main, eponymous villain has been thrown in at the last second; a film made to appease fans, rather than because it wanted or needed to be made.

It’s all rendered more disappointing by the fact that the opening 30 minutes are actually quite promising. We open on the Covenant, a colonizing spacecraft on a long voyage to a distant world, to find Michael Fassbender’s Walter (this time his android sports a dodgy American accent) pottering around its empty corridors in a way reminiscent of Prometheus’s opening. Of course, something malfunctions and the ship goes haywire, awakening several crew members early; a group who, at first glance, appear to have an interesting dynamic. When Billy Crudup’s captain decides to divert course to explore a promising world only weeks away (rather than 7 years), things, naturally, take an abrupt turn.

Up to this point, I was into it. I was invested and intrigued as to where it was going. Then somewhere around the end of the first act, the whole thing just unravels as the plot takes increasingly silly and/or uninteresting turns. While it’s a subjective criticism, I really didn’t enjoy the direction the story took. I’m no big fan of origin stories in general, but this one was particularly grating because it was both dull and rendered the original films insignificant. Why must we always have a backstory? Why must we always tie everything together? Explaining things to death (in this case, how the Xenomorphs came to be) simply diminishes their impact – and it’s a silly explanation at best. The mystery of the Xenomorphs and their lack of motive is what made them so terrifying to begin with. We never knew who it was going to attack or why.

Now we know they’re…well, I still won’t spoil it, but it’s a rubbish explanation (which also leads to proof that there’s such a thing as too much Michael Fassbender; I never would have thought it possible).

Admittedly, Covenant doesn’t have as many plain silly moments as Prometheus – that was the film’s real downfall – but conversely it’s completely lacking in thrills. And the problem isn’t the lack of stuff going on, it’s simply that none of it is exciting. Not what you’d expect from the guy who made something like The Martian as recently as two years ago (again tying into the idea that this isn’t a film he was passionate about making). While I think Neill Blomkamp is a tad overrated, it’s disappointing that he was kicked off his Alien 5 project to make way for this…whatever it is. Promethealien. I’m convinced his would have been a more exciting and solid film.


Verdict:

It’s a film made to appease supposedly unhappy fans rather than one that wanted or needed to be made. Covenant should have been more introspective at the script stage, where it could have highlighted exactly what it wanted to be and where to go, because this finished product is just a messy Prometheus 2 riddled with intrusive Xenomorphs and dull set-pieces.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆