April 21, 2024

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Geek Review: Alien: Covenant

Ridley Scott's follow-up to Prometheus has a title that promises more xenomorphs. Does he deliver the goods?

Director Ridley Scott returned to the universe of Alien with Prometheus, a movie that is, at best, controversial.  A number of people didn’t care for it (like Tom), though a number of others did (like Jimmy).  After all, for a movie ostensibly set in the same universe where xenomorphs are a real problem, there didn’t seem to be too many of those nasty buggers.

The title of Scott’s follow-up to PrometheusAlien: Covenant, at least promises more of those things.  So, how was it?

Well, I liked it quite a bit this time around.  I’m a bit jumpy for horror movies, preferring atmosphere to gore and jump scares, and while there is a bit of the latter in this movie, it also has a good deal of the former, which helps out quite a bit.

Of course, part of the problem with Prometheus was that many of the characters seemed to make continuously stupid decisions, and not just when it came to which direction to run when a spaceship is coming down on someone’s head.  Let Honest Trailers demonstrate:

Meanwhile, Scott’s Alien may feature some of the most intelligent characters in a horror movie.  They consistently make the smartest decisions at all times, only to be continually undermined by the treacherous secret robot (SPOILERS for a very old movie there).  So, where does Alien: Covenant fall in the grand scheme of things?

About halfway in-between, but somewhat on purpose.

After a brief prologue flashback to the “birth” of the David character from Prometheus, we jump ahead to the Covenant, a colonizing ship headed off to settle a new planet.  After a random accident results in the death of the ship’s captain (played, surprisingly, by a recognizable actor in one of the various unbilled cameos considering he’s barely in the movie), the ship’s second-in-command, Oram (Billy Crudup), takes control and it becomes clear almost immediately that he is not cut out for this, and even he knows it.  That doesn’t stop him from making some bad decisions, but on the other end of things is Daniels (Katerine Waterson), the first captain’s widow, a tough voice of reason who probably shouldn’t be compared to Ellen Ripley but will be anyway.

Yes, while the colonists sleep, the crew wakes up following the accident and many of them are married couples.  If you missed it, don’t worry.  Multiple male characters make direct references to various female characters being their wives, though one of the couples is a same sex one.  But a problem comes when the ship picks up a strange signal from a planet they didn’t know about, one that looks more human-friendly than the one they’re going to, and they decide to go check it out.

That was a really bad decision.  Obviously, there are xenomorphs down there, but there are also other dangers they won’t know about until it is too late.

I really dug this one.  Michael Fassbender does great in duel roles as David and newer model Walter.  Waterson is competent and tough, and Crudup makes his screw-up captain something of a sympathetic man.  Sure, there are some things that aren’t addressed as well as they could be, like how Oram is a man of faith but that doesn’t really play into things aside from a pair of brief conversations, and while some knowledge of how Prometheus turned out would be helpful, I’m not sure it’s really necessary.  The movie does end in such a way to suggest there will be another one, but for now, Scott got his xenomorph groove back with a tight, suspenseful, effective space-based horror film.  Nine out of ten inconvenient ion storms.

Jimmy here.  I saw Alien: Covenant this weekend as well.  Here are my thoughts.  Minor spoilers throughout.

I think there are three ways you can think about this movie.

Forget history and the franchise and look at it as just as a straight up sci-fi/horror film.

I think in this regard it mostly works, albeit in a “paint by numbers” fashion.  It follows the very typical pattern of group gets stranded; most of the group killed by hostile aliens; last (wo)man standing defeats aliens; the end.

Ridley Scott knows how to direct a movie and it looks great.  The effects are awesome as is the action, even if it is surprisingly, a little underwhelming.  There are no really memorable set pieces.

Yes.  I know this is from the not Scott directed Aliens, but this is Madame Xanadu icon level for Ripley.

The acting is solid, particularly from Michael Fassbender, who gets to play two sides of the same coin.

As a sequel to Prometheus.

I would think the number of people that have seen Prometheus and none of the other Alien films is probably a small sample.  But if you are in this group, I think Alien: Covenant will disappoint you somewhat.

Prometheus is not ignored and the narrative does build upon that film.  There is a ten year gap between the events in Prometheus and Covenant, but for all intents and purposes, Covenant puts to rest any thoughts of a true Prometheus sequel.

Some of the lingering questions from the ending of Prometheus about what happens to Shaw and David are answered here, but not in a way that a fan of that movie will be happy about.  It’s not as insulting as Newt, Hicks and Bishop getting killed approximately three seconds into Alien 3, but leaves a similar impression.

This short video released as an Alien: Covenant prologue features some footage reused in the film, but does more to bridge the gap between Prometheus and Covenant than Covenant itself.

As a prequel to Alien.

In this regard it works fine, but I have to wonder who is asking for this origin of the Xenomorphs?  Do we really need any background on these things?  They are evil, nigh-unstoppable and they want to kill us.  For the purposes of the franchise, that’s all we need.

Covenant does its best though to set up the Alien universe if we really need such as thing.  But besides a few bits of dialogue here and there, there is really nothing that would keep this from simply being another Alien sequel.  Not a reboot, but could easily follow a post-Ripley timeline.  The film is already in a weird space being a sequel and a prequel, but we’ve seen that before in space films in a galaxy far, far away that Ryan refuses to acknowledge the existence of.

If you like the better films in the franchise (Alien, Aliens), this will likely appeal to you.  As I mentioned above, it is very similar in structure to those films.  But like most sequels/prequels, lacks their originality and heart.
I liked Alien: Covenant.  I went in with low expectations.  Hoping for the best, but prepared to be disappointed.  It is nowhere near the gold standards of Alien and Aliens.  I don’t remember Alien 3 or Alien: Resurrection well enough to rank it in comparison to them, but my instinct is that it is better than either.  I would say it is on par with Prometheus, but I would give Prometheus the slight edge for at least trying something new and having something interesting to say whereas the “plot” of Covenant is simply filler for “how fast can we get to the face hugging and chest bursting?”

I’ll give Alien: Covenant 7 out of 10 surprise cameos.