*This review contains minor spoilers for Alien: Covenant.*
Alien: Covenant, directed by Ridley Scott, suffers from quite a few of the same issues that plagued its predecessor, Prometheus. But, it also overcomes some of the failings, and to an extent, offers a little of what some were probably hoping for from Prometheus. However, I don’t think it is enough – or maybe it is, I don’t know yet. The best way to figure it out is to write all my thoughts out in this review; almost like a therapy session. So let’s move on from the intro and get on with the main review.
The crew of the colony ship, Covenant, are in-route to fulfil their mission, when they encounter a strange signal that sees them diverting to a planet that is seemingly paradise in the making. It is of course not, and now the crew has to deal with the xenomorph threat.
Oh where to start, where to start. Sigh…
The characters, yeah that seems like a good starting point. So the element that stood out to me the more the film went on was its complete failing to establish and then develop any of its cast of characters. Something, Prometheus did pretty well, was setting out its varied selection of characters and then playing with them in ways that I found to be interesting. Covenant does not do that. No one stands out; no one has a clear goal in the film; everyone blends together into a mass of people lacking individuality or interesting purpose. They are simply lambs to the slaughter – and you don’t even care when they do die, because you’ve been given no reason to care about them. I couldn’t even tell you the names of the people who died in the film, and when you’re struggling to remember who someone is, as an alien is ripping them apart, you know something has gone wrong.
Perhaps the most heinous failing of the film – especially when you consider what the Alien franchise has been so great at achieving – is that the supposed primary female lead is as non-existent as the rest of the characters. Even Prometheus, with all its problems, offered a compelling lead in, Elizabeth Shaw – played by Noomi Rapace. And I of course don’t need to tell you about the legacy that is Ellen Ripley – played by Sigourney Weaver.
This time around it is Daniels – played by Katherine Waterston – who takes on the mantle of leading the film. Unfortunately, she does not deliver. While her performance is fine, she is let down by a script that ignores her. There are large portions of the film where she is overlooked and ignored, and then when she is in a scene, she is so removed from any sort of meaningful impact, that she fades into the background, while other characters (David) take centre stage. There were moments I forgot she was supposed to be a main part of the film. It was only when she appeared again on-screen attempting to do something, that I remembered she existed.
Taking all of the attention in the film is David – played by Michael Fassbender. The new direction with the Alien franchise sees him being the primary focus, to an almost obsessive degree. David was an interesting character in Prometheus and Fassbender delivered an unsettling, compelling performance. And the same can be said in terms of his performance in Covenant – as both David and the other android, Walter. But the problem is – and it is a big, over-bearing problem – is that with the character of David having such a large part to play in all of what the Alien franchise was and now is, is a direction that is slowly stripping away what made Alien the scare filled ride that you couldn’t shake from your mind.
Now we have all this philosophical God complex ramblings; spearheaded by a psychotic android. It’s almost as if, Ridley Scott has lost interest in the entire concept and make-up of Alien, and is instead more interested in the concepts he explored in Blade Runner. The two didn’t need to mix but now they are, and it is Alien that is losing out – massively!
From the very first scene of the film and then throughout, the aspect that is the most under-developed is the horror and the fear-filled rush that Alien once offered. Philosophical ramblings about creation and poetry and what it is to be an individual are what dominate the film. The idea of an interesting group of people having to survive the threat of a xenomorph (or xenomorphs) is secondary – hell, it’s not even secondary focus. It instead is random people sitting around while an android plots the extinction of the human race.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a heady, conceptual film that explore the meaning of life and religion etc. Blade Runner does that perfectly – many other films have also done that. I just don’t understand why Alien is now the franchise that is tackling these ideas. Everything that Alien was, has taken a back seat, and not even the seats behind the driver, the other ones at the very back of the mini-van, where the air-conditioning doesn’t work properly and the speakers are so crappy, you can’t even hear the radio properly. Prometheus had the right idea of taking ‘Alien’ out of the title, because that’s not what these films are about anymore (not really).
The film even teased me with what I thought might be a return to form, for what was once, and perhaps still is, the gold standard for sci-fi horror; with an exhilarating scene near the end of the first act. It’s when the first person begins to show signs of an infection, which of course turns out to be an alien (what is referred to as a protomorph, not a xenomorph) growing and subsequently exiting his body. It was here that the film ramped up; it got exciting and tense, and we got our first glimpse at the levels of gore and horror that would be on show throughout.
This moment in the film felt the closest to what I want from a modern-day Alien film. So much of it was executed in a way that was exhilarating, tense, disturbing and fully attention holding. Ridley Scott even changed up the style in which the whole scene was shot; going from static shots with the camera locked down in place – side-bar: which created some truly stunning shots, but I’ll touch upon that more in a little bit – and instead went hand-held with the camera, which only intensified the scene. Much like the characters in the moment, things were hectic, they were unpredictable in their movement; everything felt so alive and so harsh and so aggressive. Violence that was disturbing, but also really well done, actions that were unexpected and exciting to see play-out, and just an overall feeling of satisfaction and masochistic gleefulness. It was everything I wanted from the film, and it was so well done.
But sadly it was the only instance of intense horror in the whole film. After the moment has played out, the film shifts, and at that point all the focus goes towards, David and his metaphysical musings.
Here the film really slows down; entering a pace that it (more or less) see through to the end. Now, I’m not going to deny that the character of, David and his motivations aren’t interesting, because they are. And certainly one of the most interesting scenes (from a thinking perspective) is when, Walter and David sit down for the first time and talk. Not only is the scene impressively shot, but it raises some interesting questions. But the problem is: it’s at this point, no longer an Alien film, it is a David film. There are some more moments of protomorphs attacking, but due to having no connection to any of the characters – not even being able to recall their name or their role on the mission – made my ability to care about their impeding death impossible.
What I think needs to happen, is a split. David is an interesting character and Fassbender’s performance is chilling. I would happily explore more of his story, but just not in the confines of an Alien film. They simply do not mix. One inevitably overtakes the other, pushing the other one down, where it is then difficult to see them. And in the case of Alien: Covenant, it is David who is doing the pushing.
But the aspect of both Prometheus and Alien: Covenant I’ll happily keep is the visual voice that Ridley Scott continues to put out (minus one element). This is undeniably a beautifully made film. Ridley Scott has never been one to deliver lacklustre visuals – simply look at his body of work and you’ll see a director with a keen eye, and some incredible individuals supporting his vision; from cinematographers to set designers, to anyone else involved in fulfilling what he thinks works best on-screen – and Alien: Covenant is no different.
Sweeping beautiful vistas; sets that are enriching in their detail, and an overall visual tone that is intoxicating to look at. Alien: Covenant is an undeniably gorgeous film. Scott blends incredible visual effects with excellently crafted practical sets and props, all making for a film that will surely stand the test of time.
Well actually not all of it will stand the test of time; the CG aliens barely hold up in the film now, so I dread to think what they’ll look like in a few years from now, when people are looking back on it. To have CG xenomorphs is a filmmaking sin in my opinion. While it did make it so the xenomorphs movements were more rapid and unpredictable, it also meant that it looked more cartoonish, which meant I was never afraid of it – I couldn’t be, it looked so unnatural next to all the other visual elements that were seamlessly blended with one another.
And there lies the main issue with the alien side of things. I was never scared while watching this film. Never did I feel the urge to grip my seat, or wish that I could hide behind my hands, because I wasn’t prepared to witness the horror that was about to befall a character I had grown to like over the course of the film. There was none of that. Even the final conflict with the alien is lacking in… anything. Other than a gnarly, gory set of deaths, the final conflict falls flat; spluttering to an unsatisfying conclusion, before it ever even gets exciting.
Alien: Covenant’s focus means that in the end, the film lacks… heart. It is a very hollowing feeling experience; one that never had me engaged; never had me caring for the people in peril. As a massive Alien fan, the film wasn’t one that angered me (because of its failings) it just disappointed me.
And so now I come to my wrap-up, and the question that plagues me: Can I recommend this film?
Here’s how I’m going to approach this one. If you are looking for an Alien film that will continue the excellence of ‘Alien’ and ‘Aliens’, then this is not the film that is going to give you what you want. Thus it will be a film that more than likely will not satisfy you.
But if you liked what Prometheus did, and you liked what it had to say and what it explored, then I think you’ll like this film even more. It has more of what Prometheus did, but with a hint of what Alien once was.
Overall though, from a general point of view, I cannot recommend this film. It just doesn’t offer enough of anything to stimulate or engage a general consumer. Which is a damn shame!
I am very eager to hear what you thought of both the film and my review. So please, please leave any and all feedback, criticism, thoughts etc. in the comments down below. Also feel free to give my blog a follow and also my Twitter a follow – @GavinsRamblings. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my review, and I hope you return for more!