Alien Covenant: A Step Forward After Three Steps Back

Warning: Plot Spoilers Below

Alien: Covenant. As a prequel to Alien, it’s more of what Prometheus should have been, but it hoists that film’s astounding lack of subtlety and thought with much the same vigor whenever it thinks you aren’t paying attention.

And spoiler alert: I was.

Prometheus had head-scratching, downright insulting simplicity while trying to appear scientific and weighty. Alien: Covenant leaves the poor, abused subject mostly alone, in favor of the tried and true Alien formula: a bunch of bozos in space receive a distress signal, go to investigate it, touch something dangerous and/or infectious, and then horror ensues, as the crew gets whittled down by a rapidly-growing Xenomorph or equivalent. Prometheus changed a few small elements of the formula (where the crew is headed, no distress call, they touch something different for a different reason, etc.), but the stupid writing and poorly-cast, poorly-acted characters relegates those alterations to the background.

 

Thus, Covenant is instantly a way better movie; the acting and casting both fit, and I’m not left wondering what real “scientist” readily, repeatedly disregards basic, commonplace safety and testing precautions just “because.”

The ending of this second sequel is also chilling because it ties into Aliens masterfully, using an established and foreshadowed character that they expanded upon in the movie’s opening sequence. Sure, a few plotholes are carried over, and I’m annoyed that Prometheus was so bad yet can’t really be skipped over if you want to fully understand what happens in Covenant, but it gives me some hope that Ridley Scott is actually learning from some past mistakes, and that he’s learned that there can be more to suspense and horror than quick cuts, darkness, and tight quarters.

Note: those elements are still better than almost everything you see in most modern horror movies.

That said…

It’s the same old Aliens plot, which was starting to stink by Alien 3. And that foreshadowed character I mentioned? The handling is about as subtle as being struck by a wrecking ball, complete with a naked, gyrating Miley Cyrus clinging to the chain.

When will horror writers learn that making a character obviously evil and suspicious just makes the other characters look exceedingly stupid for trusting them? I know that in this case, the crew members don’t have much choice if they want to survive, but they trust everything he says and spread out across his “secured” area like they’re waiting to get picked off.

 

Prometheus actually makes this a bit of a plothole, as the character is a robot (Michael Fassbender’s “David” character) and the events of the movie he originally appeared in happened about 10 years prior to this one. It’s heavily implied by the crew of the Prometheus that synthetic beings are generally distrusted, and this particular model is so lifelike that they find him to be disturbing and uncanny. Even if things have changed during the passage of time, the Covenant crew should be way more wary of David initially than they actually are, especially given their emotional distress at just having been attacked with no warning and having lost several close friends.

 

As with the previous prequel, the dialogue can feel a bit too “exposition-y” at times, but at worst, it just makes you roll your eyes. I wish Daniels had more to do, because I think that as a strong, active female character, she was closer to Ripley than Elizabeth Shaw, both physically and mentally. The scenes where she mourns her husband are touching, even though they happen at the beginning when we don’t really know her yet. And they distinguish her as being more emotionally open than Ripley, but still able to woman up and take charge when the situation requires it of her. There is complexity and balance there, which is at least as admirable, if not more so, than Ripley’s stone-cold bad-assery.

I also like that there’s pretty much no random, out-of-place fanservice moment of Daniels in her underwear. At least not that I can remember.

 

I mostly went to see this film because the effects would allow the Xenomorph to have more fluid motion and scare potential, and I was favorably pleased with what I got. I saw plenty of reveals coming, but the execution was still pretty decent, and as I said before, downright chilling. I don’t get the point Scott seems to be trying to make about peoples’ faith or lack thereof, but it’s extremely clunky and ham-fisted and detracts from an otherwise interesting antagonist. The finger-wagging is not as idiotic and nonsensical as it was in Prometheus, but it’s still pretty obnoxious.

I can’t quite explain how it should have been phrased or emphasized different; all I can say is it broaches Captain Planet levels of condescension and simplicity, and in a film for adults, you’ve got to do better than that.

 

*6.5/10

None of the images used in this post belong to me.

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