Alien: Convenant (2017) Review
THE PATH TO PARADISE BEGINS IN HELL
Back in 2012, director Ridley Scott returned to the Alien franchise with the film Prometheus. Set as a prequel installment to his 1979’s iconic Alien movie, Prometheus followed the story of the crew of the spaceship Prometheus and their expeditionary adventure to LV-223, a far-off distant moon that, through a shared connection in various ancient civilizations on Earth, are believed to be the home of humanity’s creators (or Engineers). Unfortunately, horrific dangers and hidden agendas waiting them on LV-223, with the movie’s final shot showing a very primitive-looking Xenomorph alien (the iconic alien from the Alien franchise). While Prometheus did make its money back at the box office, gaining $405 million against its $130 production budget, the movie was faced with heavy scrutiny and criticism from critics, fans, and moviegoers, finding this prequel chapter to be riddled with problems. Now, after five years since Prometheus’s release, 20th Century Fox and director Ridley Scott return back to Alien franchise with the film titled Alien: Covenant. Is this newest prequel stronger than Prometheus or does it fall into the same problematic chasm of its predecessor?
A decade after Prometheus survivors Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and synthetic robot David (Michael Fassbender) sailed away in an alien spaceship to journey the Engineers home world, the crew of the spaceship Covenant journey through space to find a new planet in an attempt to help preserve the future humanity in the universe. After an unexpected solar flare disaster, Walter (Michael Fassbender), the newly synthetic robot model, wakes the rest of the Covenant crew to avoid certain doom, only to watch love ones, including Branson (James Franco) the Covenant’s captain, perish in the chaotic frenzy. For crew members, Daniels (Katherine Waterston), Tennessee (Danny McBride), and Oram (Billy Crudup), a new chance for colonization is found on a nearby planet that’s highly probable to support human life, pursuing a strange and enigmatic signal sent from an unknown origin on the planet’s surface. Arriving on the planet, the crew ventures forth, ready to explore this new world and its viability as well as discovering the mysterious signal. However, their exploration is soon met with dangers and horrors, learning that their path to paradise has lead them to the bellows of a hellish nightmare.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
I’ll admit to you guys (and this is the truth), despite its heavy criticism, I did like Prometheus. I guess, all the haters are going to ask me why I like the movie. Well, to be honest, Prometheus was actually my first entry in watching the Alien franchise. Yes, I did know of the other movies and how iconic they were, especially the first two features, but I never watched them. To be truthfully, I saw a small snippet of 1986’s Aliens when I was like 9 or 10 (the first scene with the Alien Queen) and was total freaked out by it and had nightmares about it for years. Thus, I had no interest in seeing the rest of the franchise, until I saw Prometheus, which (at the time of its release) I was very much older and was somewhat curious to see this movie. So, with very little pre-knowledge of the Alien franchise, I went into Prometheus with a fresh mind and I actually enjoyed it. Perhaps my interest was in the concept of Engineers as well as the recognizable cast. Of course, after seeing Prometheus, I saw the rest of the Alien movies (except the Alien vs. Predator films), finding the franchise’s two features (Alien and Aliens) to be my favorite.
This, of course, brings me to my review of Alien: Covenant. Since I did like Prometheus, I was really curious to see where this new prequel installment would take the franchise, especially since Prometheus left a lot of question open unanswered by its ending. Naturally, as the cast was announced and the film’s trailers were rolling out, I was getting pretty excited to see Covenant. The movie’s marketing campaign even did a few cool short videos (dubbed the “Alien: Covenant – Prologue”) that featured some interesting sequences, including our first glimpse of the Covenant crew (The Last Supper) and a clue into what happened to Dr. Shaw and David between Prometheus and Covenant (The Crossing). So, what did I think of Covenant? Well, it’s pretty much both good and bad, finding Alien: Covenant to be a mesh of the best elements of the franchise, but it all feels like Alien redux. There’s still plenty of sci-fi horror and some interesting elements to be entertained by, but it just feels like its “been there, done that”.
Returning to the director’s chair is Ridley Scott, known for directing the first Alien film and Prometheus as well as Gladiator, Blade Runner, and The Martian. Being the director of the very first movie (as well as Prometheus), Scott knows and understands this cinematic sci-fi world of Facehuggers, Xenomorphs, and the carnage horror that awaits an unexpected crew, which is like in almost every Alien movie. Given all the criticism and backlash from Prometheus, Scott seems to go “back to basics” with Covenant, returning to what fans and viewers want to see in an Alien feature: sci-fi horror violence. To his credit, Scott does reach that caliber, filling Covenant with plenty of violence, gore, and brutal deaths to please longtime fans of the film series or those who crave cinematic horrors. Suffice to say, viewers, who hated Prometheus, will be mostly pleased with how Covenant plays out.
In addition, the film’s script, which is credited to four individuals (John Logan and Dante Harper for the screenplay and Jake Paglen and Michael Green for the story), has three very distinct acts that play out, with a classic sci-fi flick that turns into a horror / thriller during its first act, moving to a more philosophical / Prometheus sequel endeavor in the second act (more on that below), and before returning back to the sci-fi horror mood for the third act; something more akin or resemblance to the Alien franchise. Collectively, these three acts prove that Covenant is neither convoluted and ostentatious (as many stated that Prometheus was) nor just as a mindless “hack and slash” sci-fi horror picture.
The film also represents as a connection bridge of sorts in both Prometheus and to the rest of the Alien franchise. From the stand point of Prometheus, Covenant does continue the themes of creator / creation as well as the idea of Engineers and exploring more biblical / philosophical subject materials that help build upon that ideal (the film referencing John Milton’s Paradise Lost and dancing around the subject of Eugenics and evolution). For most part, the movie also answers more questions that Prometheus did, addressing the fate of Dr. Shaw and David and their journey to the Engineer’s homeworld. Although, I wish they did more with this. From its other standpoint, Covenant does moves much closer towards Scott’s 1979’s Alien movie (as well as the rest of the franchise) than Prometheus did. We see Facehuggers, chest-bursting (and even back-bursting), a Xenomorph, and even a new type of Xenomorph called a “Neomorphs”. With the film taking back place ten years after Prometheus (20 years before the events Alien), there’s still plenty of room for the franchise and to fully “bridge the gap” between this prequel saga to the rest of the Alien franchise. It will be interesting to where the next installment will go.
In terms of filmmaking production, Covenant is well-made and great to look, even threw all its blood and gore. Cinematographer Darius Wolski, who has previous collaborated with Scott and several other film projects including Prometheus, Exodus: Gods and Kings, and The Martian, interlaces the movie with the gorgeous and stunning visual style that were found in Prometheus (long tracking shots of various landscapes and other nuances) as well as the grittier textures that were found in the original Alien film. These two aesthetic (as well as the usage of CGI elements, detailed set layouts, and practical effects) help contribute the film’s sci-fi believability or rather a film set within the Alien universe. Also, as stated above, we do get a more developed (evolution-wise) of a Xenomorph, which was kind of cool to see and a true highlight of the film. As many know, H.R Giger’s Alien design are among the most iconic in all of sci-fi creature moviemaking history, so it’s cool to see his design of the classic Xenomorph return for Covenant, despite it being a more CGI iteration of the creature. Some might say that the CGI was pretty “meh” in the movie, but I liked it. Of course, nothing can compare to the original Xenomorph rendition in the first Alien movie, which did feature a human actor inside. Lastly, the music for the film, which was composed by Jed Kurzel, was good, aiding to the film’s build-up of tension and dramatic moments. What I found to be the most interesting (and appealing) about the film’s score was hearing a sort of reprisal theme from Prometheus in Covenant (one time being played original context and another time being played in a flute melody).
Unfortunately, problems do arise within Covenant, which might damper some viewer’s experience of watching this film. For me, these were mine. For the most part, even though he’s playing to the franchise’s strengths, Scott ultimately direction of Covenant sort of feels like a retread to the original Alien film. Yes, there are a couple of new elements and some Prometheus references, but, as a whole, Covenant just feels like a lot that has come before in both from the first Alien movie as well as the rest of the franchise (i.e. a crew goes exploring a new alien planet, discovers something “horrific” there, and attempt to survive as many get slaughtered, etc.). It all just feels a bit redundant (a sort of Alien redux, if you will). Maybe because of all the criticism from Prometheus that Scott sort of “played it safe” when trying to direct Covenant’s narrative and execution. Speaking of Prometheus (boy, I do say “Prometheus” a lot in this review), there are couple of elements that are brought over into Covenant’s main story, but there are several ideas I wished that Scott (and his writers) would’ve elaborated more in in this, with a prime example is with the Engineers (or Space Jockeys from the first Alien film). In Prometheus, Scott rolled the curtain back the curtain of these ancient humanoid alien being, who were the ones who created humanity. Being a main component of that movie, one would except that Scott would elaborate more behind these Engineers. Unfortunately, Covenant briefly mentions them and dismisses them altogether as well as leaving the fundamental questions that prompts Dr. Elizabeth Shaw asks at the end of Prometheus (i.e. Why did they create us and why did they wanted to destroy humanity?) unanswered.
As stated above, the film has three very distinct acts and, while the second act is packed full of Prometheus refences and nuances (which I liked), it sort of slows down the movie’s pacing, especially after the first act’s ending piece of Alien style violence. Things to pick up during its third act, but even the third act as a few pacing problems as well. In addition, there are some very illogical (and stupid) decisions that the Covenant crew make, most notably the decision to abandon their journey to the planet Origae-6 (their original destination) and instead journey to this new planet of which they know little about. With roughly two thousand colonists and a thousand embryos onboard, one would think that the crew would play it safe and just journey to Origae-6, especially with so many lives hanging in the balance. Also, just like the Prometheus crew, the crew of the Covenant makes plenty of stupid and reckless mistakes to point that it becomes so stupid on why they did make those decisions in the first place, especially when exploring a new alien planet.
The cast in Covenant has a selection of some recognizable actors and actresses that make up the crew of the Covenant spaceship. However, despite that fact, these cast of characters (roughly a size group) fails to make a lasting impression. Indeed, most of the human characters in any one of the Alien movies are, for the most part, cannon fodder to be slaughtered by any one of the various sci-fi creatures. That being said, despite some being familiar to me in other film projects, I really didn’t care for much of the Covenant crew. Perhaps that’s why the studio released the prologue short “The Last Supper” (which did ten times better at presenting the Covenant crew members than the movie did) as the movie sort of glosses over their character development, giving only the bare minimum of the character insight to only a few. The only one true actor who really shines in the movie was Michael Fassbender, who plays the Covenant’s robotic android Walter and David, the early model robotic android from Prometheus. Fassbender, known for his roles in Steve Jobs, Macbeth, and several of the X-Men movies, does a great job at playing these two robotic sentient beings; each one giving a different persona from Fassbender’s performance and managing to be the driving force behind Covenant’s main story progression.
Beyond Fassbender, the movie tries to make several key characters of the Covenant crew to standout, but, like I said above, fails to impress beyond their recognizable faces from their previous works. Actress Katherine Waterson, known for her roles in Steve Jobs and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a prime example of this as her character of Daniels is trying to be a variation Sigourney Weaver’s character Ellen Ripley. While Waterson’s performance is fine (nothing wrong with it), the character of Daniels is pretty much bland for the film’s first two acts and doesn’t come “alive” until the third act, which is a little bit “too little, too late” type of feeling to genuinely care about this particular character. Others include actor Billy Crudup (Watchmen, Spotlight, and Jackie) as the newly minted captain and morally religious man Oram, comedian actor Danny McBride (Pineapple Express, Tropic Thunder, and This is the End) plays the Covenant’s chief plot Tennessee (who is trying to be like Idris Elba’s Janek from Prometheus), actor Demian Bichir (The Heat, Lowriders, and The Hateful Eight) as the Covenant’s head of security Sergeant Lope, and actress Carmen Ejogo (Selma, Born to be Blue, and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) as Oram’s biologist wife Karine. The rest of the Covenant crew don’t get much screen-time (unless they’re being killed off) to make a memorable impression. This includes a very, very extreme brief appearance of actor James Franco as the Covenant’s captain (and Daniel’s husband) Jacob. Lastly, before I forget, while I did mention that Fassbender reprises his Prometheus character David, so too does Prometheus cast alums Noomi Rapace and Guy Pearce in their brief appearances of Dr. Elizabeth Shaw and Peter Waylan.
The path to paradise begins in hell as the crew of the Covenant explore a new planet and experience the horrors that awaited them in the film Alien: Covenant. Director Ridley Scott newest movie is a set-up in the right direction, bringing the classic sci-fi horror touch from his 1979 as well as continuing the thematic thread of creation and evolution that began in Prometheus and presenting it all in a stunning cinematography. Unfortunately, Covenant does feel like a retread of the franchise (with some uneven pacing issues) and does fail to flesh out its multitude of characters as well as discarding some concepts that Prometheus’s left unanswered. To be honest, I’m a bit conflicted about this movie. I liked it and enjoyed it, but felt a bit letdown and its hard ignore some of its problems that I had with it. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is “Iffy-choice” as some will probably like it while others might hate it. It’s really a tossup. Much like what Prometheus did, Alien: Covenant does leave room for another installment in the franchise, but (and this is just me) that the next chapter of these prequel Alien movies should be the last one, bridging the gap between these films to the original Alien picture.
3.4 Out of 5 (Iffy-Choice)
Released On: May 19th, 2017
Reviewed On: May 25th, 2017
Alien: Covenant is 123 minutes and is rated R for sci-fi violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality/nudity