It’s been several days since I’ve seen Alien: Covenant, and I can’t wait to see it again. Not quite knowing how to begin my review, I let my mind stew on it for a bit. As a beloved cinematic journey that spans decades, the Alien saga deserves some deep contemplation. In 1979, Sir Ridley Scott kicked it off with Alien, a ground-breaking film that scared the tar out of audiences. It introduced us to the gut-busting xenomorph alien and to the iconic Ellen Ripley. Ripley, whose constant voice of reason was quashed by men in the first film, transforms into a flame-throwing, ass-kicking heroine in James Cameron’s Aliens. She fearlessly goes toe-to-toe with the xenomorph queen to protect Newt, thrilling us with that epic, “Get away from her you bitch!” moment. Then her saga takes a sad turn, in the polarizing Aliens 3, by David Fincher. While many disliked this film, I found it to be interesting and surprisingly emotional. Now, having seen Alien: Covenant, Alien 3 is more fitting to the story in ways I can’t explain without spoilers. For many, the Alien saga ended there, as Alien: Resurrection was even more polarizing that the third installment, and admittedly not a strong film. Don’t even get me started on the AVP dren, it doesn’t count. Unforgivable, really. Then came Prometheus, and the Alien saga was handed back to its creator. Upon my first viewing, I didn’t appreciate it at all. It asked too many questions while offering few answers, if any. I recognized that I was watching something tremendous, but it only scratched the surface and I wanted more revealed.
Now, this is a review of Alien: Covenant directed by Sir Ridley Scott, and not of the entire series. However, bringing up these films is important, because this movie makes every one of them better. Covenant ties in beautifully to all its predecessors in the Alien universe. It anchors Prometheus’ storyline by stabilizing the narrative, while never once disrespecting any of the other four films. Even if you hate one or more of the other movies, Covenant will make them more tolerable, at least in your memory. Alien: Covenant legitimizes the grandeur of Prometheus and brings back the elements that we loved from the original films. It’s extraordinary with just a few flaws that prevent it from being perfect.
Oh, and on that note, there are two YouTube prologue videos, The Last Supper and The Crossing that tie into the film. Skip The Crossing for now, but The Last Supper short is a must-see. It’s not a spoiler, instead, it frontloads character development quite effectively. I hesitated to watch it too, but you have my promise that it will improve Covenant. While this is great marketing to tease Alien fans, this footage belongs in the body of the film. It deserves screen time so the audience can better connect with the crew of the Covenant. In this vein, I found the film lacking and was surprised that none of this valuable character development was included in the actual film.
Instead the movie saves most of its character development for David and Walter. It opens with the android, David, played by Michael Fassbender, in the first few minutes of his activation. It’s an instant tie-in to Prometheus and the scene rekindles the philosophical undercurrent the previous film. It also gives us the starting point of the David character arc. The movie then transitions to another time and place, the space vessel, Covenant, years later. We meet Walter, a “synthetic” who shares David’s external design (Fassbender) as he performs daily routines on the vessel. Diligently, Walter checks in on the sleeping crew in their pods and goes about a day in his lonely android life. Fassbender is an incredible actor. Although, we see him play two identical androids with similar personality programming, he emotes a subtle but tangible difference in each manifestation. Walter is gentle and dutifully protective, much like Bishop in Aliens, while David is…more evolved. The synthetics in this film play a pivotal role and I’m glad the Scott continues using them as power players in the story arc.
Apart from Walter and David, Scott continues to favor strong female leads and we are introduced to Daniels. She’s played by Katherine Waterston, whose knock out performance in Inherent Vice allows us to forgive the mediocrity of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. She finds her gravitas once again in Covenant. Despite experiencing a devastating loss, Daniels fiercely rises to the challenge of survival in the face of a terror that surpasses the original Alien. The set of circumstances that Daniels faces are infinitely more challenging than being trapped on a ship with a xenomorph. To date, Daniels is the most bad-ass of Scott’s leading ladies. Some of you might cry that Ripley was just as tough, but Ripley comes into full bad-assery in Aliens. And to be fair, Ridley Scott shares that he was picking up his thread from the original Alien concept in his interview for The Wrap in December 2015. So, in Scott’s Alien universe, Daniels runs circles around Ripley. She’s a woman of action, quick, clever, and brave.
And Daniels is not alone, at her side is Tennessee, played by the snarky Danny McBride. Now I sometimes think I’m biased when it comes to his comic genius. I’ve been known to stalk him at SXSW with my festival bestie, Annette Kellerman. He’s a personal crush of mine. But I stand firm in that he has never done bad work. Not all his films are great, but his roles are always effective and dripping with charisma. His signature style works in Covenant as natural comic relief that doesn’t feel forced. McBride is perfectly believable as Tennessee, a wise-cracking, but very capable pilot and third-in-command to Covenant. When the shit hits the fan, Tennessee becomes Daniel’s reliable sidekick and lifeline. They form a bond through their ordeal, and it is rewarding for the audience.
The movie offers us an explanation of the origin of the xenomorph creatures, and to do so, our crew makes an unscheduled stop on a new planet. Here is where the movie almost derails. As we learn more about David and the evolution of the terrifying species, the film gets off track on pacing and story. Frankly, I got a little bored, even though I wanted to know all the reveals in these scenes. It’s the biggest hiccup in the film and I can imagine that for some, it might ruin the experience. Thankfully, Scott snaps out of this indulgent narrative and lets loose on some amazing action for the remaining cinematic journey. Yay!
Visually, this film is gorgeous! You are in for a treat and I highly recommend seeing in it in the best theater available in your area. Regardless of how you feel about the story, it’s damned pretty. The artwork is just perfect, honoring the original design as well as the new esthetic introduced in Prometheus. I was super impressed how the Covenant’s interior sets featured visual throwbacks to the original space craft of Alien, without looking dated. The composition, editing, and camera work allow for fantastic movement and terror sequences. Let’s face it, we all want the scares of the original, so Scott hands it to us with relish. Be prepared for a thrill ride, you won’t be disappointed.
While I loved this film to bits, it features a plot device that is annoyingly predictable and overused in cinema. I won’t reveal anything more about it, because upon viewing, you will pick up on it instantly. And that’s my biggest problem with this choice. Ridley Scott has expanded his unique Alien storyline beautifully. He even creates a new terrifying villain, but he uses a tired old trick to set up the sequel. I like where the plot is heading and am titillated to see what happens next, so in the end, I am happy with the ending. I just wish he had been more creative on that final turn of events.
The score shares many musical phrases from the original Alien soundtrack. It’s lovely and familiar, a fitting revival of a great score. The sound design is flawless as are all the technical aspects of the film.
Exciting and imaginative, Alien: Covenant is my favorite new sci-fi horror movie. Despite the sluggish parts and the predictable “twist” it’s an enormous accomplishment. I am truly excited about the franchise again and curious to see what Scott pulls out of his sleeve for the next one.
Thanks for reading,
The Diva Del Mar