There are effectively three films inside of Alien: Covenant, and each appeal to someone in it’s audience: A spiritual successor to Alien, a sequel to Prometheus, and a basic contemporary sci-fi horror movie. Each piece is successful on it’s own, but never feels cohesive in tone or structure for the betterment of the whole movie.
There’s an urge to give Fox and Ridley Scott credit for what they did here with Alien: Covenant as a standalone movie in the franchise, even if it is anything but. While overall the film impresses, it’s hard not to compare it to something like Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones for the very nature of it being the middle act of a prequel series to a massively successful piece of science fiction cinema. It’s trying to take something unrecognizable (that fans really disliked) and tease how it’s changing into the original thing that was so beloved. Instead of being like George Lucas and just assuring people that we’ll get to Darth Vader once you’d slogged through the bad sub plots, Ridley Scott accepts the feedback of the previous film, Prometheus, after which fans of the series vocally disliked. It shows in Alien: Covenant that, in continuing the story he set up there, that he did listen to the fans of the series, and somehow, while bridging the tones of that film with the original Alien from 1979, it feels like a quality, contained story within the universe.
That being said, there are those who’ll clearly see how much of a blockbuster product this is, and it could come across too far on the other side of the fence and be labeled as “pandering.”
When you sit down to view Alien: Covenant, it’s attempt to please fans looking for the tone of the original film is apparent within the first few minutes, and in the entirety of the first act in which the primary crew of the colony ship is introduced alongside Michael Fassbender as a new model of a Weyland Android, Walter, audiences feel a human connection to them and their responsibility to the colony in a way that only the best in the horror genre can knowing they’re mostly expendable. Not only that but the inclusion of MUTHER, the set design aboard the Covenant ship, and of the uncharted planet the team sets foot on accentuate a look and feel that will certainly itch the right spot for fans interested in the series’ aesthetics. This is all accompanied by a score by Jed Kurtzel in the spirit of the original music by Jerry Goldsmith.
It’s not until the third act that the visual and narrative allusions as too overbearing, and it mostly boils down to a climax that forces the narrative of the movie to pack its bags before it’s ready to get a traditional Xenomorph into the picture, and the rest of the movie until the final scene feels like a well made fan film inserted into the rest of this movie, and therefore comes across like an Alien themed music video. Designs and the utilization of CGI may ring false for the die hard fans.This movie introduces new versions of Xenomorphs that have a different movement and physicality that feel like a lot of untapped potential, but still don’t provide the same creepy aura that you did with a man in a suit, but this is an opinion coming from a fan of a lot of old creature features.
In regards to that aforementioned Prometheus sequel in the movie, it takes place mostly in the middle act, and retroactively makes the viewers appreciate the previous film a bit more because it brings a sense of finality to what was happening throughout it, even though there was a lot of exposition to get there.
This is mostly elevated by Fassbender’s performance throughout, as he plays a new version of the Weyland corporation’s android machine’s. He feels like next of kin to David, but is much more stoic and dutiful than the original model, and his ability to perform this difference is incredibly nuanced, able to convey with the most minute of movements and facial expressions that he is in fact a machine. As someone who found the narrative of the Weyland brand androids one of the most understated and overlooked aspects of these films, I’m happy to see such an Asimovian approach to the character in the script, and I think people will be able to see just how much talent Fassbender really has for the first time since his role in Steve Jobs.
The most surprising performances in this film most certainly came from Danny McBride as the Covenant’s pilot Tennessee, Billy Cruddup as Oram, the acting captain, and Katherine Waterston as Daniels, the film’s substitute Ripley, all of whom are able to play their parts with heart and terror.
This is one of the few instances where a director of a massive franchise adjusts his vision for an overarching story to pay attention to feedback from fans. Here, Scott tries to have his cake and also have a surprise chestburster inside. By continuing the narrative he’d established in Prometheus, creating a mostly standalone story experience out of the crew of the Covenant, and also providing a lot of fan service, the tone gets jumbled. All these things are independently good as isolated scenes, and the pacing between them is deliberate and careful, but all together as a whole 2 hour film they just don’t mesh in a way that’s 100% perfect.
The film releases wide in the United States on May 19th