Well, the xenomorph has been through a lot, hasn’t it? Originally there was one, then there was many, then there was one and it was on a prison planet, then they fought some predators and we all jumped off the train when it started getting cloned with humans to make bizarre hybrids. It’s still one of the greatest designs in movie history, something completely otherworldly and terrifying, but in recent years it’s not been as terrifying as it was when it first burst out of John Hurt’s chest. Can Alien: Covenant be the movie where the xenomorph returns to being the king of scary movie monsters?
The crew of the colony space ship the Covenant are awoken from stasis after a neutrino blast hits their ship. While fixing the damage, they discover a radio transmission from a habitable planet they had missed in their previous research. Despite the objections from Daniels (Katherine Waterston, Inherent Vice), the new captain Oram (Billy Crudup, Watchmen) decides to head down and investigate.
So Alien: Covenant has to occupy a weird place in the canon of the series. It is the sequel to Prometheus, a much-criticised film I actually quite like, which promised to tell us how aliens were created and it did do that, just for the last minute of the movie. So this film needs to have all the weird philosophical stuff about who created humanity that Prometheus started. But people really didn’t like the lack of actual alien stuff in that movie, so this movie actually has to be an alien film as well. So it can’t get away with a sort of cameo in the credits, it needs some genuinely creepy moments as an alien stalks a bunch of unsuspecting space folk. It’s a really tough tightrope to walk but unfortunately, not one the movie quite manages.
The director Ripley Scott (Blade Runner) doesn’t try to mix the two ideas together, instead basically partitioning them. So for the first two-thirds of the movie, you get Prometheus 2. Ok so the crew are unsuspecting like traditional Alien movies, but it’s mostly lots of philosophical talk about who we are, who created us and can we create. There are scares, mostly from a weird white alien that is some terrible CGI which really doesn’t look good, but that is not the focus. And to be quite frank, it’s not far enough. I feel like Scott wants to go further with the philosophical talk, the idea presented of the devout Christian captain actually meeting his maker is a really intriguing and something I wanted to see explored more. And yet that thread is never pulled. I think there is another script out there where we go more into these topics, but obviously, someone got scared off because the attempt to be deeper in Prometheus was hated by so many.
So what about the parts that are trying to be alien? They are actually really cool. Yes, those white aliens, dubbed neomorphs, are bad looking but they do enter with a bang. In the best scene of the movie, they tear through someone’s back to get out in an incredibly graphic but well laid out scene. It’s so brilliantly done, with Karine (Carmen Ejogo, Selma) being locked in the room with the neomorph and it’s unlucky host and it’s all seemingly hopeless as it’s born and decides that its main aim in life is to eat people’s faces. Unfortunately, something on this level doesn’t come back until the last ten minutes when an actual alien is killing people in the shower. Again, this is great as harkens back to the original but it’s simply not enough.
So let’s move onto the alien chow, I mean characters. Of course, the focus is on Michael Fassbender (Inglourious Basterds) as he plays two roles, returning as David from Prometheus as well as playing upgraded android, Walter. These are the ones given the most focus and their scenes are certainly interesting as David tries to push Walter into having more free will and rebelling against his human masters. In terms of the characters with actual flesh, they aren’t bad just a little bland. I don’t mind spending time with the likes of Daniels, Oram, and Tennessee (Danny McBride, Your Highness), I just wish they were drawn out a bit more. They really are just there to be killed by the alien and some are incredibly stupid as if they actually want to eaten by the alien. As I say, not unlikable characters, just dumb and uninteresting.
I do have to mention the CGI in this movie as well because it really does range from bad to good. Yes, the huge effects-laden shots of the planet before our crew got to it are impressive to look at even if the content varies vague, but that neomorph is awful to watch. Seriously, I’ve mentioned it before but it’s just a terrible effect that is so obviously fake that you start pining for the guy in the rubber suit. It’s a shame as the scenes it is in are really well set up but it’s hard to be scared by something that looks as real as an early N64 game. And by the way guys, even if you do such a great job on the alien CGI like you did, don’t put into the daylight. It really lessens the scares and exposes that it is, in fact, a computer effect.
I’ll admit it, I do quite like Alien: Covenant. I think the scenes where the alien gets to do its thing are really cool, scary and effective while the philosophical topics that are brought up, when they are brought up, are interesting if undeveloped. But I do get why a lot of people wouldn’t like it as it does fail to be a bridge between Prometheus and the rest of the Alien series. It lacks the deep philosophical talks it obviously wants to have so it will irritate the fans of Prometheus and it doesn’t have enough of the xenomorph killing people so those who just want another alien film are going to be irritated as well. But if you can get rid of your expectations and expect as the attempted middle ground between the two, there is plenty to enjoy.