Review - 'Alien: Covenant'
I never thought that David Espinosa's Life would end up being the better Alien film this year, but here we are. While I don't think Alien: Covenant is a bad film at all, in fact it's actually competently made and still reasonably enjoyable, it is still a bit of a disappointment, especially when you consider that this movie was supposed to fix everything that was wrong with the previous film.
Alien: Covenant picks up about ten years after the events of Prometheus. Covenant, a ship carrying a small crew and over 2000 colonists is on a course to settle on a new planet when a distress call is picked up from a seemingly habitable planet that they hadn't discovered. Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup), the new captain of the Covenant vessel, decides that they should investigate in hopes that they might shave off the next seven years of hyper-sleep and settle in mere weeks. Upon arrival, they quickly discover why they never should have heeded the distress call.
Working in Alien: Covenant's favor is the fact that it is an actual sequel to Prometheus and not a soft-reboot like many thought it was going to be. If you were a fan of Prometheus and wanted to see more of what that film had to offer, Covenant definitely continues to carry that torch. This film expands upon the Alien world in a fascinating way and proves that there still is a lot more to say within the universe. However, I was still left with plenty of questions, which I'm sure was Scott's intention, but is still frustrating all the same.
Another quality working in Covenant's favor is its atmosphere. The world established here is sinister, yet seductive. I loved the lingering sense of dread that loomed behind every scene. There are more threats than just hostile alien life forms this time around, and because of that, I never felt like I could rest comfortably in my seat.
Unfortunately, the flaws in Covenant are the same that plagued Prometheus. There are so many "smart" characters here that make really dumb judgement calls that ultimately result in their deaths. If you were scoffing at some of the inane decisions made in the previous film, you'll be scoffing just as audibly during this film. There are a handful of instances where characters could have survived if they only used the common sense any normal human is born with.
Another thing that rubbed me the wrong way in Alien: Covenant was the introduction of a new type of alien. The alien is introduced towards the beginning and it never quite looks believable throughout the entire film; this could be due to its uninspired design or some poor CG rendering where I just didn't believe that it was actually there. When effects in horror-themed films aren't believable, the moments that are supposed to be scary don't hit the intended mark. I don't understand why we can't just have some more practical effects these days, I get that it's easier to construct a sequence with the use of CG, but because of that, we will never be able to reach the same level of tension that was present in the first couple of Alien films. There is nothing tangible or realistic about this new design.
On the plus side, a rendition of the Xenomorph makes its return in this film, and while the classic alien design is also brought to life with CG, it looks a lot better than everything else in the film, even if it's still not quite scary as it once was. There's a sequence towards the end of the film that is a straight-up throwback to the original alien and while it clashes a bit with the tone of the rest of the film, it was still a welcome sight to see the Xenomorph wreaking havoc in a darkly-lit spaceship again.
The cast here is a bit of a mixed bag. Katherine Waterston is supposed to be a Ripley-esque character, and while she does a decent job, I never really rooted for her like I did for Sigourney Weaver and she never gets a stand-out, cheer-worthy moment that sets her apart from the rest of the crew. The big winner here is Michael Fassbender in a dual role playing both the old synthetic from the Prometheus voyage and the new-and-improved synthetic Walter. Fassbender is giving it his all here and plays the two most compelling characters in the film. Billy Crudup also does an excellent job here, now his character does make some of the dumbest decisions in the film, but the range of emotions Crudup displays are impressive and believable. Danny McBride is also in this movie and he gets a pass for just being himself, though I was hoping for more from him.
From a technical standpoint, Alien: Covenant is borderline flawless. When it comes to cinematography, Ridley Scott can rarely be faulted. This man knows what he wants his films to look like, and Covenant is definitely no slouch. I had my beefs with some of the CGI, but those elements don't take the film down much at all. The score by Jed Kurzel is definitely a throwback to the original Alien film and has many of the musical cues that populated that film, maybe too many. Overall, the production values are high and I have very minimal complaints about how the film looks and feels.
I have many issues with Alien: Covenant; from the loose ends that continue to dangle from Prometheus, the dumb-as-hell characters and the unnatural tonal shifts, still, this is a decent dip back into the Alien well and there are thrills to be had.