(Photo via 20th Century Fox)
As a longtime fan of Ridley Scott, I continue to be incredibly let down every time I see a film of his that underwhelmed me or makes me hate it. I did the same with The Counselor a few years back, and I’m doing a similar thing with Alien: Covenant. Scott’s follow-up to 2012’s Prometheus (a film I didn’t love but admired what it tried to accomplish) lacks the atmosphere and tension of his 1979 film Alien, and the heart and soul that made that film such a classic. It’s difficult and damn near impossible to replicate something as ingenious as that film, but what Scott tries to do with this film feels big, as does its ideas, but the screenplay isn’t smart enough to back up those big ideas.
Covenant follows the crew of the titular space exploration program that’s looking for a planet to colonize with thousands of humans in cryosleep on the ship. After a freak accident kills their captain (James Franco), Billy Crudup‘s character takes the reins of the ship, which includes Franco’s widow Daniels (Katherine Waterston), Walter the android (Michael Fassbender) a pilot named Tennessee (Danny McBride), and so on. After getting a signal from a nearby planet, the ship touches down to see if it’s a possible planet to colonize. As you can guess by seeing the marketing of the film and familiar with the franchise, this is far from the case for this crew.
Damon Lindelof has been replaced by John Logan and Dante Harper for the screenwriting duties. Logan has collaborated several times in the past with Scott, so I was hoping his screenplay would add a little bit of life to the film and its characters for this new Alien film. It doesn’t. All these actors are great actors (Fassbender steals the show as he did in Prometheus) and give it their all in this film, but I just didn’t care about any single one of them. I think a problem with this is that none of the characters are really all that developed. I don’t really know anything about them except for small-talk between them that I assume is supposed to be character development, but it’s handled very poorly. I expect more from a director like Ridley Scott when it comes to the characters (especially after his last film, The Martian, which was terrific) in his films.
While the story and characters are lacking, the film isn’t all bad. In fact, there’s some stuff that I really enjoyed about the film. It’s a gorgeous movie to watch on the big screen, in terms of its visual quality. The visual effects are top-notch, as is the art direction and production design of the whole film. H.R. Geiger‘s spirit and ideas can still be seen here and there with this film, even if it can’t completely save it. And there are a few scares in the film that are genuinely frightening. The first introduction to this “new” (new for these characters) species is when an alien pops out of a crew members back and goes along with killing and terrorizing some of the crew. It’s a violent, claustrophobic and genuinely scary sequence, and I wish there was so much more of that in this film. There’s obviously sequences with the aliens killing off people, but it’s never scary or tense.
Without getting into spoilers, the film spends a majority of its second half focusing on the events of Prometheus, and how the events of that film led to this one, and how what happened there helped create the xenomorph species. For some, it might be cool to find out where the aliens came from and how they came to be, but for me it doesn’t help the film one bit. What made that first Alien so scary and brilliant was the basic nature of it all. The film is essentially a haunted house movie in space, where a terrified space crew is having to fight off a creature that they don’t know what it is or what it’s capable of. The fear, claustrophobia, and tension of that film still holds up nearly 40 years later. I appreciate that Scott and co. are trying to give us a backstory to all of this, but frankly I don’t care. It was one of my least favorite parts, and how this ends up being the center of the film’s plot makes me dislike this film even more. But I did think the final scene of the movie was really, really good.
As a fan of this franchise and of Ridley Scott, Alien: Covenant disappointed me. It’s not a bad movie, but it’s a terribly underwhelming one. And what makes matters worse is that Scott on many occasions has expressed his desire to continuing making more Alien films. I’m fine with more Alien films, but as long as they’re inventive, scary, and unique, and not having Scott behind the camera. A great example of this is the upcoming Blade Runner sequel coming out this fall. Scott is serving as a producer while Denis Villeneuve is behind the camera for that film. He’s a brilliant director who could make a really brilliant Blade Runner movie (we’ll find out this fall). There’s a lot of great filmmakers who could make a great Alien movie (Scott recently booted Neil Blomkamp from his own Alien film, which would’ve been a really cool film) and Scott is better suited focusing on other projects.