Review: Alien: Covenant

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In the first moments of Alien: Covenant, I had a sinking feeling. I saw Prometheus, as I’ve seen all of the Alien films, but I couldn’t remember anything about it except that the fuel was plotted by scientists acting stupidly. But then the characters of Covenant started filling me in. Fear not if you haven’t seen Prometheus, they will explain it all to you.

Once I got that out of the way, I hunkered down for a very scary thrill ride, even if it requires the use of the “idiot plot” and very old and moldy horror-film cliches (any character than has to go off on their own but “will be right back” is goner). Again, we have trained people, on an uncharted planet, seeing something they don’t recognize, and tapping it just to see what happens. We also have characters trusting androids who are acting suspiciously like Bond villains.

But aside from all that, Alien: Covenant is gruesome fun. Ridley Scott is the director (as we was for the original Alien, now 38 years old, and Prometheus) and it forms a bridge between those two films (although if the box office is good enough, maybe they can wedge another film in there). A crew of fifteen is on a colonization mission, carrying 2,000 people to an Earth-like planet. They are in suspended animation (we see a lot of films like this, including the recent Passengers, and I have to wonder, why doesn’t their hair grow while they are asleep?) but are awoken early due to a stellar flare. The captain, James Franco, is incinerated in his pod, so Billy Crudup takes command.

On a spacewalk, another crew member (Danny McBride) gets a rogue signal of someone singing a John Denver song. They track the origin to another planet that meets qualification for habitation. Crudup decides that instead of traveling another seven years to their original destination, they will go there and check it out. Katherine Waterston, second in command, thinks is a bad idea. Lesson: listen to Katherine Waterston.

This planet turns out to be the Prometheus planet. If you remember that film, only the android David (Michael Fassbender) “survived.” He’s still there, having reattached his head. I’ll leave what he’s up to for your surprise. The Covenant crew also has an android who is also played by Michael Fassbender, Walter (apparently Wayland Industries, the corporation behind all of this, liked Fassbender’s face so much they made many more). This involves neat scenes where Fassbender acts with himself.

Anyhoo, suffice it to say that the planet is thick with the H. R. Giger-created aliens, which I see are referred to as xenomorphs, and they wreak havoc, as one by one the crew are killed off in horrible ways. These films have become a kind of And Then There Were None game, guessing who will live and who will die, That’s fun, in a dumb kind of way. In addition to the idiot plot, there is a twist at the end that I saw way ahead of time, and I’m sure anyone who has ever seen a movie can figure out (but of course, the crew can’t). It helps if you know your romantic poets.

So there is some eye-rolling involved with Alien: Covenant but also some really good scares and a nice sense of dread that permeates the film. A smarter script would have made this one of the best of the series.

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About Jackrabbit Slim

Location: Vegas, Baby! I’m much older than the other whippersnappers here, a baby boomer. I tend to be more snobbish about film, disdaining a lot of the multiplex fare for “cinema.” My favorite films: Woody Allen’s oeuvre (up until about 1990), The Godfather, The Graduate, A Hard Day’s Night, Pulp Fiction. Politics: Well, George McGovern was my political hero. I’m also a prickly atheist. Occupation: Poised to be an English teacher in Las Vegas. For many years I was an editor at Penthouse Magazine. My role on this blog seems to be writing lots of reviews and being the resident Oscar maven.

12 responses »

  1. Saw this tonight (SPOILERS ALERT). At a basic level I had a decent time with it; thanks to Scott’s visual skills it’s lovely to look at; especially early on with a stylish credits sequence and when they’re walking about the planet in the daylight. And in terms of providing action and thrills it’s OK if predictable.

    But it’s a total throwaway overall. I didn’t care about any of the characters, in part because there are too many of them so when they are killed off it has no impact whatsoever. And the main characters are fairly uninteresting; Crudup tries hard but is defeated by his thinly written character, Waterston is dull (a million miles less interesting than Ripley ever was) and McBride is OK although saddled with another generic character.

    As for Fassbinder, he does well in part because he has the scope of playing two different ‘characters’ although I found the battle between the two far less interesting than the film obviously did; the scene where the older version is teaching the other how to play a recorder-type instrument (and obviously trying to win him over to his side) was pretty well done and directed.

    For a team of presumably seasoned professionals, they were pretty idiotic and hysterical, especially the Maggie Faris character in that scene where the turns into a hysterical twit, doing so many inept things that it almost belonged in a ‘Naked Gun’ movie.

    I think the biggest problem with this film is that all feels like a rehash of better, earlier films in the series. The finale felt like a half-hearted retread of the action finale in Aliens for example. And all the ‘jump scares’ (although some are well done) are diluted because we’ve seen them endlessly in the series previously.

    As for the ‘twist’ ending, it was the most telegraphed one I’ve seen since Inception.

    I know it sounds like I hated the film with all the criticisms but overall it was an OK timewaster and I enjoyed it’s visual style on the big screen. But it goes without saying it’s not the same universe as the first two films in this series.

  2. It’s a giant bore. We’ve seen it all before and this is a pale imitation of earlier, superior efforts.

    While it’s well made…I might actually rank it the lowest of the six films. At least Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection had some ambition and were interesting failures.

  3. Oh, I can do a full review, JS.

    Alien: Covenant – what a fucking waste of everything.

    Let’s start with the good, as it’s a short list. First – Fassbender is great. As David he’s an extremely commanding screen presence. The film also looks pretty good, though not as good as Prometheus. And some of the CG is well-utilized to expand what the xenomorphs can do beyond what Scott was capable of portraying before. I say some, as he goes over the top at other times.

    Beyond that – the movie kinda sucks. This is not a story anyone would have arrived at organically. Scott and FOX wanted to continue David’s story from Pometheus while bringing back some xenomorph action and this was the compromise they came up with. It achieves those goals, but unfortunately, it’s not satisfying on either front. David’s motivations still don’t really make sense to me, and there’s just not enough cool xenomorph action to justify the film’s existence within the Alien franchise. We’ve seen all this shit before. The xenomorph was scarier in Alien and Aliens, the action was more spectacular in Aliens – what good is this fucking movie?

    Also – fuck these characters. Katherine Waterston’s comes off as a cunt early on and never recovers. There’s also nothing to her aside from losing her husband in an accident. The movie tells us to root for her, but gives us no reason to. Danny McBride’s Tennessee is really the only likable character, but although McBride is actually pretty good playing it straight, he doesn’t get enough to do.

    C

  4. Notwithstanding I liked it a bit more than Juan, I pretty much agree with all his criticisms of the film. Actually the film would’ve benefitted from McBride being the central character as he’s surprisingly believable which is more than can be said of Waterston’s whiny bore of a performance.

    Also, it’s the year 2104 and based on some scratchy audio a crewmember works out and can recite verbatim John Denver’s ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’. Really?

  5. McBride’s character is the only one with a pulse and the film would have been considerably more interesting with him as the lead, but apparently they think Alien films can only work with females as the lead. That’s not a bad thing within the scope of the industry itself, but I feel it’s limited the Alien franchise.

  6. I didn’t mind Waterston at all, but I agree that McBride would have made a far more interesting lead. Maybe pull a reverse of what they did in Alien by killing Waterston at the half-way mark (ala Tom Skerritt in the original) and having McBride step up as the hero.

    I agree with every other point of Juan’s review, though. It’s a complete waste of two hours.

  7. I guess Weaver made the series her own so well it would seem wrong not to have a female lead even after she left the series. But instead of being in the realm of Weaver, Waterston reminded me of Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s bland performance in that that pointless ‘The Thing’ prequel. They both highlight how great Weaver was in something like Aliens (and how well Cameron utilised her character).

    Also, there’s a great post at the top of the film’s IMDB user comments section listing 36 illogical events in the film. My favourite is the final one listed; if you have identical twin robots with one good and one bad, wouldn’t you do some basic security to know you have the good one before letting them be in charge of the ship?

  8. I’m a big fan of Winstead, but she seems to live or die based on the strength of the director.

    I’ll have to look at that list because I probably came up a half dozen in the last 30 minutes alone. One major gripe: why was the planet of a super advanced race of beings capable of jumpstarting evolution throughout the galaxy so primitive? And the entire species converged on a single spot at the same time? Isn’t it a pretty big planet?

    This planet turns out to be the Prometheus planet.

    BTW, I meant to mention this earlier – but it’s actually a different planet. At the end of Prometheus, Shaw and David departed for the homeworld of the “engineers” that created humanity.

  9. And the story no longer sets up the original correctly. There would have to either be more Engineers on ANOTHER ship that David infects and lands on the original planet, or the Xenomorphs are an inevitability and happened another time before David.

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