Alien: Covenant doubles down and loses

Mishmash of Alien and Prometheus ends up a mutated mess

Justin Kim, Reporter

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Alien: Covenant, the sequel to the prequel to the original Alien (1979), as well as a potential sequel to another prequel that is a sequel of the original prequel to…have I lost you yet?

Alien: Covenant is the second installment in the Alien prequel series, where director Ridley Scott unveils the origins of the classic monster Xenomorph. His first prequel five years back, Prometheus, received quite a lot of flack from fans for introducing a bald albino instead of the answer to where the Alien came from, so he’s back on the helm to give us actual answers…or not, because he wants to make at least three more of these things.

Despite its reputation, I liked Prometheus. It definitely wasn’t an Alien prequel, but it was still the beginning of an intriguing sci-fi mythology Scott was writing, and I was on board with it. At the same time, I was also fine if Scott decided to go back to the horror routes of the franchise. So really, it shouldn’t have been that hard to impress me with this film.

…guess who wasn’t impressed after seeing this movie.

Unlike previous installments in the Alien franchise, this crew of disposable meatbags aren’t explorers; they’re colonists, heading for a place to start a new civilization. Yet they unexpectedly come across an uncharted paradise, seemingly even better than the planet they were going to. There’s also wheat, can’t forget that.

After that, any Alien fan should know this song and dance; they stick their faces in the wrong things, mutations burst out of their mouth/back/chest, blood and guts fly, and there is a robot. At the same time though, Covenant also tries to continue the ongoing story from Prometheus, asking more questions about the creator and the creation, delving into psychological conjectures of Michael Fassbender in a British accent.

To its credit, the film is actually fairly strong for the first act. Its visuals don’t disappoint, being a Ridley Scott film, and with it brings an underlying sense of dread at what this strange new world will unleash, and when the albinomorph (neomorph, whatever) finally comes out, it’s a pretty tense sequence. And if the film had kept like that, I would have liked it a lot more.

But that is when the biggest problem of this film shows itself; a split personality disorder in its story and tone. It is way too obvious Ridley Scott meant to continue his own sci-fi story, but because fans gave him so much s*** over Prometheus, he had to squeeze in a xenomorph somewhere in there. And an albino xenomorph for good measure. In fact, I don’t need to speculate; he openly admitted in an interview that it was fan backlash that caused him to integrate Aliens into the plot of Covenant.

Thing is, after the first act, the film juggles between Prometheus-esq conversations and Alien-esq horror, and the constant back-and-forth is incredibly jarring, not allowing you to focus on either aspect of the film. Because of it, neither the philosophical conjectures nor the bloody monster attacks have enough impact, and you’re left disappointed in both regards. Consistency is key to any movie, and Covenant utterly fails at it.

It doesn’t help that I can’t see the crew as anything other than pieces of meat. The actors bring their best, but their best is only enough to make them infinitesimally memorable. In the end, none of them really stand out; even Katherine Waterston’s character Daniels feels like a backdrop to the film’s actual star, Michael Fassbender’s David and Walter.

Again, to this film’s credit, Fassbender is the best thing about this film. He plays two androids, one with an overinflated ego and an obsession for creation, the other a loyal, more mechanical robot that you can still trust to have you back. The nuance he brings when these two androids interact is captivating, and I would have actually liked to see the film go in that direction. Unfortunately, like I said before, that double Fassbender sequence is punctured by the attack of the albinomorphs, and it ultimately ruins both scenes.

We eventually do get the iconic xenomorph in the third act, and…it’s still bad. This faceless tooth-tongued abomination still looks as creepy as ever, but it never manages to make the same impact it did in previous installments. There’s blood and guts and airlocks, but you know what isn’t there? Actual, well-built suspense.

Think of the original Alien. It slowly crafted an atmosphere of tension that seeped into your mind, making the eventual deaths of the crew all the more intense. But what Ridley Scott did to appease the fans was take Alien and squeeze its entirety into the third act, not even giving you time to be properly frightened by the xenomorph, and as a result, the climax feels more perfunctory than anything else.

It’s kind of sad really. The film brought in the alien as its trump card, but failed to properly utilize the horror; at the same time, its presence distracts the film from the intriguing mythology of Prometheus. It tried to be a jack of all trades, but ended up more as master of none. Hopefully Scott can pull it back together with the next sequel – but after this film, I’m not holding my breath.

Final Verdict: C

 

Alien: Covenant aims for two birds with one stone and grazes both; but perhaps actually striking one might have been better.

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