“In space, no one can hear you care.”
Goodnight everybody! I’ll be here all week!
If you read my Top 5 Most Anticipated Summer Movies article, then you would know that I came into this film with a bit of hope because of the quick prologue chapters released ahead of Covenant’s release. These extracurricular materials reminded me of why I loved Alien and Aliens so much: the characters.
All the action in the world can’t make that interesting a movie to me unless there are characters with depth. Whether it be Dallas and Ripley and the crew of the Nostromo or the Colonial Marine squad of Sgt. Apone, Gorman, Hicks, Hudson, Vasquez, and so on, the first two chapters on the Alien saga were inundated with unique and memorable characters that gave weight to the action and horror.
The prologue chapters provided unique characters with a compelling power dynamic exemplified in Billy Crudup’s character’s desire to speak to the crew being subtly dashed by Katherine Waterston’s Daniels. You also get a great little back and forth between Oram (Crudup) and his wife Karine (Carmen Ejogo), as they gossip about their crew mates and neighbors-to-be. This would help to connect with a similar conversation later in the film when Karine reminds Oram to treat the crew right since they will be neighbors, rather than subordinates when they land.
Instead of the camaraderie of Ripley and Hicks, earned through the progressive interactions both in and out of combat, we get couples. The problem here is that cut materials like “The Last Supper” short provide depth and clarify which crew members are together, whereas in the actual theatrical cut the set up for the characters is simply: “They’re married.” That doesn’t exactly work as tension or motivation if the film fails to clarify who is married to whom. Daniels has some interesting back story and relationships with shipboard A.I. Walter (Fassbender), but most of the ensemble is left without clear character and motivation. Unfortunately, the supporting cast behind Waterston, Fassbender, and McBride fail to be anything more than generic horror movie cannon-fodder.
Covenant’s story suffers from over-retconning its predecessor, the divisive “Prometheus.” This muddles the genealogy of the classic xenomorph and creates several continuity issues with the existent Alien mythology. The life cycle of the “xeno” has been a staple of the franchise since it began in 1979. Uncomplicated, but terrifying, the face hugger to full xenomorph transformation has always played a huge role in the plots and horrific tones of the series. Here, we get several new iterations of the formula, which fit the tone, but create more questions about their origins than they answer.
Covenant’s plot can be quite predictable in some areas and shocking in others. There is a bold choice early in the film that I appreciated and respected for the way it affects the other characters and sets a subtle, but important precedent for the crew.
Michael Fassbender and Danny McBride provided fantastic performances. Fassbender takes on a dual role here and makes it feel as if the two characters are played by different actors. His attention to dialects and accents is integral in differentiating the two. Danny McBride is definitely the surprise of the cast, bringing a rugged, experienced pilot named Tennessee. The comedic-actor provides us with a fun-loving character, but solidifies himself as a devoted friend when it hits the fan. Katharine Waterston is serviceable as a proto-Ripley archetype and manages to sell some of her most emotional scenes, though the character fails to be as memorable as Ripley or even Prometheus’ Shaw.
Ridley Scott does not fail in the visual department, with some stunning vistas and grotesque new xenomorph and protomorph designs. The gore is cranked all the way up here and we have plenty of characters who meet stunningly grisly demises. The first contact scene with the aliens is probably most tense scene in the film, giving me flashbacks to the field scene in “The Lost World.”
All in all, my most anticipated film of the summer was a rather frustrating one. Ridley Scott provides us with beautiful visuals and some tense and grisly moments, but over-predictability and lack of character depth hindered my excitement. For me this was very similar to Prometheus, it had a lot of promise, but raised more questions than answers. The difference is that Covenant was supposed to provide clearer answers to the questions proposed in Prometheus, instead it muddled my understanding of the xenomorph even more this time.
Ridley Scott says he has a grand plan for the franchise, but I am still not seeing it coming together as a cohesive, definitive story. If you are a fan of the Alien franchise or the horror genre, go out and see it for yourself. This is a movie that I can see myself debating back and forth on for a long time. If you do not enjoy blood and gore…absolutely do not see this movie.
I give Alien: Covenant a B-.