There are some who would speculate that the Alien franchise lost its mojo when they started mixing it up with the Predators, a concept that I feel worked much better in comic book form. Then there are those that are certain the turning point was when Ripley did her Christ-like swan dive into molten lava in “Alien 3”. Sorry, spoilers for the 25 year-old movie, but seriously, don’t watch that one, not even an early Fincher could save that one.
Then five years ago, (man, its really been five years?) the man himself, who kicked off the dwindling franchise Ridley Scott returned with “Prometheus”. At the time both critics and fans were equally perplexed by the new direction Scott decided to go with the series, focusing on the origin of the alien species as well as the origin of man. I remember as both a fan and a critic, I enjoyed aspects of “Prometheus” but considered it too flawed both in its editing and final execution.
Now with putting the word ‘Alien’ back in the title for “Alien: Covenant” Scott and twice as many writers this time out attempt to blend those original ideas with some solid xenophobe action. The crew of the Covenant are transporting over 2,000 colonists to a planet that has been deemed habitable. With their on-board synthetic Walter (Michael Fassbender) a upgraded version of David (also Fassbender) from the previous film, to watch over their hyper-sleep. When the crew is awakened by a space accident they change their course to a closer planet where a distress signal is being sent from.
Shortly after their arrival things go the route of the typical sci-fi action thriller. Someone is infected, the rest of the team encounters a older more contemplative David (Fassbender) who supplies the required exposition, and then there are Aliens, well, a similar version of the ones we know and love at least. Then there comes the typical ending stand-off as the last of the crew tries to survive till the end credits.
I will say this a better attempt at an ‘Alien’ sequel/prequel than “Prometheus” was, even though it’s plagued with some of the same flaws in both the writing and again the execution. I admire Ridley Scott’s desire to try to carve a new path in the universe he helped create. There are new concepts and ideas that when explored make for interesting cinema when shown in this Alien-verse. But they never dwell on them long enough and trying to balance it with aliens/action/gore throughout “Covenant” it just feels rushed and not very original.
What saves it from the same fate as “Prometheus” is most of the cast led by Katherine Waterston, who for some reason turns into an action hero of John McClane proportions by the end, but we get a really solid Danny McBride performance. Even better this time out we get double the Fassbender, and every scene with either David or Walter, or both together is especially brilliant. Plus Scott still knows how to shoot the hell out of a movie, there are shots and sequences that look amazing, unfortunately it all builds up to very little. Also not to be mean, but as the film was winding down I felt like Jeff Goldblum in that scene in “Jurassic Park” where he says “Now eventually you plan to have dinosaurs on your dinosaur tour right?” That’s how I felt about the aliens screen time, I mean it’s in the title this time, yet they feel like an afterthought as they are poorly rendered in CGI. Again something else to separate it further from the original classic “Alien” and “Aliens” films, a dude in a suit and animatronics may have been the only way back then, but there is something that gave it a weight and realism to the creatures. Here they feel pulled from the video game from Dave & Busters.
I get that Scott wanted to explore different elements of this series, and more over I am all for it. Calling the first film “Prometheus” and having these new films be an origin of the species is a great idea. But he is struggling to serve two masters here, the updated heady concepts vs. the fans that loved the first two films where there was an alien, then dozens of aliens, lest we forget the queen with her ginormous bug-head. If Scott does decide to make a third film to finish off this new vision I hope he picks one path and goes for it, these films deserve a proper send off into that space where no one can hear you scream.