To say 2012’s Prometheus divided fans would be an understatement. While visually stunning it was seen as a huge misstep in director Ridley Scott’s prequel resurgence and didn’t do much to give fans hope that the ship could be righted. Now here we are in 2017 and Scott has just released his next chapter in the prequels leading up to the events that took place in 1979’s classic sci-fi monster romp Alien.
Prometheus from a narrative standpoint had too may pitfalls with its “creation myth” and just induced too many head scratching character decisions rather than elicit fear or create tension. Worst of all, while it was clear it was supposed to be an origin story for the Xenomorphs, there weren’t any in it! An Alien entry without Xenomorphs would be like a Predator movie without a Predator, you just don’t do it.
In Alien: Covenant, Scott at least has learned that lesson but it appears he was also too pre-occupied with James Cameron’s quintessential 1986 Aliens and amps up the man vs alien motif. This movie takes the best parts of Alien, Aliens and Prometheus and mashes them together it what is ultimately a muddled piece of science fiction. Scratching that itch was and is a nice way to get fans approval but if by doing so you create a plot that is just to silly or unbelievable, especially with long-term ramifications, then what are you really hoping to accomplish?
Gone is the terror and mystery surrounding our favorite extra terrestrial bad guys as they choose this time to hang around in full view (and walking upright?) rather than lurk in the shadows or through a well placed ventilation shaft. And also gone is the character sympathy from previous Alien films. Say what you want, but short of Paul Reiser’s “Burke” from Aliens I’ve never rooted for character death like this one. Nope, Scott turned one of the most frightening movie experiences of my childhood into a pedantic numbathon.
Luckily for us Scott made the decision a few years back to cast Michael Fassbender as synthetic “David” in Prometheus and double luckily for us he returns this time as “Walter”, the new synthetic aboard the Covenant. Fassbender is the strongest part of both films and is pure pleasure to watch. It’s clear Scott focused a lot of time and effort on these characters and was able to flesh them out in a very significant way. The most striking dialogue and images are courtesy of these two synthetics, especially when we learn what the MacGuffin is of the story which I won’t ruin here.
As for the story itself, it’s fairly straightforward unimaginative stuff and Scott should get no points here for creating a familiar atmosphere and almost no tension as each decision the crew makes is predictably a bad one. As the Covenant, carrying 2000 colonists, is on route to establish a colony on Origae-6 they get struck by a neutrino burst which gets Walter (Fassbender) to wake up the rest of the crew from stasis. Once awake, they get a distress call from a nearby unknown planet and decide to check it out, but of course not all agree with this decision thus creating that foreboding feeling that predictably things on the planet are not as they seem.
Once there the action does pick up right away and it’s at this point when the story sort of turns on itself and Cameron’s version of Aliens starts to reveal itself. Not that it’s all bad as there are one or two gruesome scenes reminiscent of earlier releases and what we get to see of the mysterious planet looked good.
To go further would be to spoil the film so I’ll stop there but rest assured surprises await the patient minded. But unfortunately some things aren’t worth waiting for. Scott really has a different direction in mind for these prequels that clearly seem divergent to the originals and the hope is that we are all rewarded in the next two films. But there truly are sins committed here which can’t be forgiven. I won’t say what they are but trust me, they are cringe worthy so you’ll know.
As for the rest of the cast, the new group who echo the original non-military Nostromo crew, all have their little moments of either death or heroism with Katherine Waterston carrying the heavy load while doing her best Ripley impersonation. But she does a good job of moving the fractured story along even when she’s being asked to do things that are incredulous. The main problem with her character is that they establish her strengths and weaknesses too early in the story so there’s little room for her to grow. Danny McBride surprised me the most with his dramatic turn but still found a way to inject some of his sass that he’s famous for. Still, I think there’s room for him to grow as an actor after seeing this and it’ll be interesting to see what projects he chooses going forward. Although admittedly I would miss him returning to the role of Thadeous.
That’s about as spoiler free as I can get without talking about the third act so it’ll have to end there. In the end it’s probably best enjoyed as light sci-fi fare with loads of potential. I will struggle finding a place for this movie in the Alien universe but will have to reserve final judgment until all the prequels have been released. But first impressions are what they are and this one left a bit of bad taste in mouth. In fact there is one line in the movie that elicited laughter from the crowd and I would think Sir Ridley would be dismayed at such a reaction.
But there in lays the problem, this movie isn’t as sure of itself like previous incarnations were. For example, the simple act of putting “us” at the center of the derelicts creation, shrinks the universe entirely for the bad rather than leaving it vast and cold, two things which play very, very well in a sci-fi/horror genre. It also lacks finesse by hanging on tropes too much and reliving the familiar, two things I would not normally accuse Ridley Scott of. Did the poor reaction to Prometheus rattle him a little bit? It would appear so.
I think maybe the worst thing about this disclosure is that he almost seems intent on revealing all his cards rather than allow the audience the freedom to imagine, which in a way is incredibly highfalutin and dismissive. Maybe not so surprising from someone who’s been knighted…
Till next time…