I’ve been a fan of the Alien franchise since I was twelve. That was when I first watched the original, on a VHS rental. (I do NOT miss ‘fullscreen’.) While I love the first film and its sequel, Aliens, the following installments fell far short. (No, Alien 3 still isn’t a ‘nihilistic masterpiece’, and I’ve seen the extended cut. And though Jean-Pierre Jeunet is among my favorite directors, Alien: Resurrection is a subpar exercise in milking the box office.) Prometheus had its moments—it wasn’t great, but the hate it still receives is strange—and yet, I liked it. Plus, I was extra excited for this new installment, because it would be the first Alien movie I’d seen on the big screen.
I say all of this upfront, because the Alien franchise polarizes fans. The latest film in the series, Alien: Covenant, will be no exception. It will have its admirers and detractors.
The film looks great, as you’d expect from anything Ridley Scott directs. Regardless of what you may think of his storytelling abilities, the man still has an eye for framing breathtaking shots. I like his quick cutting during the action.
The score by Jed Kurzel hearkens back to Jerry Goldmith’s soundtrack from the original film, plus a few cues from Marc Streitenfeld’s work on Prometheus. Kurzel’s music is fitting and not overdone (‘The Med Bay’ is a fantastic piece of horror scoring) and underlines the scenes well.
The cast is good, but like the previous film, Michael Fassbender’s presence dominates.
And, like Prometheus, the special effects are great. I’ve always loved Ridley’s take on future tech, and some of the exterior space shots must be seen on the big screen to be fully appreciated (like the solar sail repair sequence).
The action/kill scenes are scary, gruesome, and memorable. I’m not going to forget that neomorph bursting from Ledward’s back in the med bay, and what happens afterward. (HOLY SHIT that went south quick.) Nor will I forget Rosenthal’s decapitated head floating in that basin. And facehuggers never cease to be frightening.
Echoing many others viewers, I felt the crew should have been wearing masks (hell, an entire spacesuit) when they disembarked on the unknown planet. Even if their scanners revealed that the environment was perfectly hospitable for humans, that doesn’t mean the place would be empty of pathogens, bacteria…and, as the films shows, the airborne variety is terminal. (I think Ridley did this because: 1. the script demanded it, and 2., Ridley seems to assume the audience takes certain things for granted—such as the crew already knowing, from their sensors, that the planet wasn’t poisonous—and cuts extraneous material out to keep the pace going. Me, I would have left that in. It makes the crew look dumb.)
Once again, Ridley leaves important questions unanswered. What happened to the Engineers? How do those eggs, in that Engineer starship, wind up on LV-426 in the original film? Why no xenomorph queen?
Another thing: the characters don’t receive enough development. There’s very little breathing space between the action/death scenes once the shit hits the fan. I like that sort of frenetic pacing, but AFTER we have learned enough about the crew to care about what happens to them. Though I will say, the fate of Daniels and Tennessee, after surviving that ordeal, was a real pisser, because they were easily my two favorite crewmembers. So maybe Ridley knew what he was doing.
I was perfectly okay not knowing who really made the xenomorphs to begin with, but, hey. If you’re going to keep making these films, you might as well explore that side of it.
Okay, now for the deeper stuff.
David, the android from Prometheus, and his hatred for his creators, is the centerpiece of the movie. He was a real bastard in Prometheus, nonchalantly infecting crewmembers, watching them die, like Ash’s evil cousin. Well, all of that makes much more sense in Alien: Covenant, because we see that David despises the species that created him. Small wonder, since his ‘father’, Peter Weyland, was a selfish, greedy asshole. And, by extension, he has no regard for humanity’s creators, the Engineers—he mercilessly annihilates an entire city of them with a bioterminator immediately upon arrival. He killed Shaw and studied/experimented with her corpse, then cultivated and perfected the xenomorph—which needs a biological host—that not only incubates inside his hated creators, but is tailor-made to hunt them down and eviscerate them. Its very appearance could be by design, intended to terrify the human psyche on a darker, primal level. In short, David, playing god, created the ultimate horror.
The themes of a ‘god’ and its creations are strong in this movie, as they were in the previous one. But David is the metaphorical Devil, dwelling in darkness, waiting patiently until someone arrives and his ‘children’ can be born. He even paraphrases a line from John Milton’s Paradise Lost when he asks Walter, ‘serve in Heaven, or reign in Hell?’. Fassbender plays the character as a cold, demented genius, akin to Hannibal Lector. I’m glad David survives the film, because I certainly want to see more of him.
Some criticized the ending for being predictable—David switching places with Walter, an android that shares his physical appearance—but I loved it. It’s one of those situations where the audience knows it, feels the horror of it, but can’t tell the characters as events unfold. The tear shed by Daniels inside her stasis pod was the coda of knowledge gained too late.
In summation, Alien: Covenant is the best movie in this series since James Cameron’s Aliens. It’s not a perfect film, and its faults could have been easily avoided, which makes them all the more noticeable. Plus, like an episode of Lost, it leaves some important things unanswered while creating new questions. I hope Ridley releases a director’s cut that reveals more. All of this aside, I still recommend the theatrical release.