Alien: Covenant

Okay Alien: Covenant is a sequel to Prometheus which was a prequel to the Alien films.  Except at the time they denied that it was a direct prequel.  Or something.  If their intention was to create confusion: mission accomplished.  The thing is that Prometheus really stunk.  So much so that they waited five years to give us another entry into that universe.  If you read my review of it, you’ll see I declared the Alien universe dead. At least creatively.

Well the misses in the franchise are certainly piling up.  Ridley Scott is a great filmmaker but he can’t make a good movie out of a bad script.  Is he given better material to work with this time?  This script is written by first time screenwriter Dante Harper and John Logan who is the creator and chief writer for one of my current obsessions, the series Penny Dreadful.  So I went in hopeful.

People are pushing out into the universe, looking to colonize new worlds.  The Covenant is a colony ship manned with a crew of fifteen people, many of them couples who are heading to a known habitable world.  They are in hibernation for most of the trip but can be awoken in emergencies.  Two thousand colonists are in suspended animation for the entire trip and there are 1600 frozen embryos.  An android, Walter, played by Michael Fassbender, remains active for the entire multi-year journey just to make sure everything runs smoothly.

After the ship is damaged in a freak solar storm, Walter takes the crew out of hibernation to make repairs.  Unfortunately, their captain, played (briefly) by James Franco in an uncredited role, is killed when his hibernation unit malfunctions.  This leaves his wife, Daniels, played by Katherine Waterston, bereft and Oram, played by Billy Crudup, in command.

While repairing the ship they get a transmission from a nearby world that upon investigation looks even more promising than the one they are headed toward.  Oram decides to go for the two birds in the bush and they divert course.

I don’t think it’s spoiling anything to say this turns out to be a bad choice.

The planet turns out to be the destination of the Prometheus.  That ship’s android, David, also played by Michael Fassbender is still around, although Elizabeth Shaw, played in Prometheus by Noomi Rapace (You only get to see still pictures of her here) is long dead.  David saves the Covenant’s survey team from the initial attack of the Aliens.  But it turns out that he may not be entirely trustworthy.

Well this film is better than Prometheus but that’s hardly surprising.  It doesn’t depend on people making stupid choices to advance the plot.  Unless you count diverting the mission in the first place and they explain why that mistake was made pretty well.

Michael Fassbender gives excellent performances as the two androids, portraying the subtle differences between them expertly.  Katherine Waterston has a way of doing all these heroic things while looking like she’s on the verge of panic.  She has the talent to portray strength and vulnerability in the same action.

It is a visually stunning film which is what you would expect from Ridley Scott.  The dark claustrophobic interiors and the overcast exteriors give the film an exotic and menacing air.  It is a technically accomplished movie.

There are a few things that bother me, however.  For one thing, the first film and its direct sequels made the company the almost omnipotent villain.  Their greed in wanting to get an Alien to Earth in order to weaponize it is what motivates them.  Here the filmmakers have changed that.  I won’t detail how because that would spoil the ending but it’s an attempt to lay some pretentious philosophy on a plot that can’t sustain it.

Another problem is Scott’s approach to the franchise.  Alien is a great horror film and Scott seeks to repeat that accomplishment.  But when James Cameron made Aliens, he sought to turn it into an action franchise.  Cameron knew that as a horror vehicle Alien is something of a one trick pony.  Once you see those pods, you know what’s going to happen.  And the sight of Aliens bursting out of bodies loses its impact over time.

When I reviewed Prometheus, I said that any further films in the Alien franchise would be pointless.  I’m going to have to stand by that assessment.  This does nothing to advance the mythology of series and as a prequel it doesn’t convincingly fill in any gaps either.

That doesn’t mean Alien: Covenant is bad.  It’s just that I can’t see any reason for it to have been made.

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