There’s a lot that can be said about 2017’s contribution to the Alien franchise. And I will preface this review with a minor spoiler warning – while I’ll do my best to avoid them, though to properly discuss what worked well and what didn’t there are some story elements and character decisions that need to be mentioned. If you haven’t seen the movie by now, read no further than this paragraph.
A direct sequel to 2012’s Prometheus, Alien: Covenant tells the story of a colony ship on an ill-fated mission to terraform and colonise an exoplanet in a distant solar system. We find our protagonist in Daniels “Dany” Branson, a terraforming expert played masterfully by Katherine Waterson. Soon the usual horror trope shenanigans ensue, and the crew finds themselves being picked off by an unknown alien species as they try to find a way to resume their mission.
The set pieces are gorgeous and the visuals are just stunning to look at. Director Ridley Scott has done a great job of making the expansive outdoor shots of New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park look like a lush, yet desolate, alien world. And while I’m the first to say that CGI has been criminally mishandled since making its rise to prominence in the movie industry, when it’s done right it can make a huge impact. Alien: Covenant does it right, by blending the use of CGI and animatronics to create a cohesive and believably threatening creature.
The writing though, lets Alien: Covenant down in a big way. This is where the spoilers get a little heavy, so this is your second warning. It’s not evident right out of the gate that this is a direct sequel to Prometheus. In fact, it’s at the beginning of the second act when a character from the latter movie shows up and unfortunately ruins the mystery for the rest of the run time, effectively spoiling any late reveals or twists for me. The character in question is David (Michael Fassbender), who was the antagonist in Prometheus. The issue here is that we know he’s the bad guy straight away, and now it becomes a frustrating wait until the rest of the characters find this out for themselves. It’s hard to relate to a character when they’re making decisions the audience members wouldn’t.
There is also the issue of ‘genre blindness’. For example, during what should have been a tense moment where an armed crew member finds out the machinations of the unarmed antagonist, all the audience can do is grit their teeth and roll their eyes as the crew member in question not only discovers the dark and fatal secret, but then proceeds to follow the antagonist into a dark basement while he explains his plans in greater detail. Knowing now that the antagonist can’t be trusted, the crew member still complies with the antagonist until he is ultimately killed without a fight. This is a smart, relatable, armed character that suddenly loses all self-preservation. Just. Shoot. The bad guy.
To summarise Alien: Covenant, it came frustratingly close to being a great movie. The first half of the movie is filled with amazing visuals, and some great performances by actors clearly committed to their roles. The alien feels threatening and isn’t over used, almost a call back to the original Alien movie that never truly featured a full shot of the Xenomorph. The issue is that the audience can’t get invested in characters that don’t seem to want to survive.