Alien: Covenant – Movie Review

movie reviewRidley Scott is one of the best filmmakers of our time. He has some modern classics under his belt and rightfully so. Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator or Kingdom Of Heaven (Yes, a completely underrated gem of a movie!). All these films deal with either historical aspects or try to explore the human condition. Always trying to find visual answers certain questions. In Alien it’s the fear of the unknown. In Blade Runner about humanity. In Gladiator it’s about corruption and how to overcome it. In Kingdom Of Heaven it’s about Religion, Faith and how to deal with it. That’s at least how I read these films. Even Prometheus, despite all its flaws, at least tries to ask interesting questions. Now we got Alien: Covenant from Ridley Scott and expect him to continue on his path of asking questions and maybe even deliver some answers. With this film being a direct sequel to Prometheus (which is a giant question without any answers) it’s the least to expect, right? This will be a long review.

We ‘board’ the Covenant. A colony ship with a little more than 2000 people on board and about 15 crewmembers. The movie throws us right into it. The crew drops out of hypersleep due to a random shockwave that hits the ship and damages it. So we’re there with these people and know nothing about them. At least if you haven’t seen any of the promo videos on Youtube. While the crew is trying to wake up and understand the situation, we see a hypersleep pod that is damaged. The Captain is in there and because the pod decides that there is no way of survival for him… it automatically cremates his body. And there goes James Franco. Not even a minute of screen time. You can see more of him in the promo video on Youtube. It’s a useless marketing stunt. There is no reason to have him in there. While you could argue that the reaction of the pod is stupid, I think it’s well thought out and a plausible mechanism to implement into these things. The next one in the chain of command is Oram (Billy Crudup). We get told (multiple times in this film) that he’s a religious guy, a man of faith. We never get to see him act out his beliefs though. The movie doesn’t even care to explore that ‘faith’ angle. And the movie starts to categorize or put its characters into boxes because it doesn’t even care about laying out a foundation for these people. Everyone is a cardboard cutout of some cliche of a character we have seen in so many other films. Especially in the horror genre. Our main woman (because it’s the vital ingredient of any Alien movie) is Daniels (Katherine Waterston). And she falls flat too. Because there is no foundation for her as well. No time to bond with her character. Although she seems to be one of the only people with something like a brain in her head. Then there is the android Walter (Michael Fassbender). Last but not least the only other character worth to mention is a pilot named Tennessee (Danny McBride). The rest of these characters is cannon fodder. Did I mention that all these crew people are either married or couples? Is that fact supposed to build some emotional connection to these cardboard characters? If so… it doesn work at all and makes the whole situation, they eventually stumble into, just even more stupid. So much for the introduction of the characters.

They suddenly pick up a message while repairing the Covenant. They find out where it comes from and that it’s not too far away. Plus the planet it comes from seems to be habitable and safe for humans. So they decide to cancel their original mission. A mission to colonize a certain planet it took them decades to investigate, prepare and map out. And their main argument is that they don’t want to go back into hypersleep. Their second argument is that it takes only a couple of weeks to get there instead of the 7-8 years to get to their original destination. We get a somewhat nice scene between Daniels and Oram. They discuss how useful it would be to cancel their original mission to investigate that signal. Daniels is against it. Rightfully so. Oram, who doesn’t have the best standing with the crew at this point, decides to go with most of the crew instead. Because… you know… hypersleep sucks. And so the Covenant changes course to that mysterious planet.

The reaction of the crew regarding this signal is weird. The movie doesn’t establish for how long mankind is doing this colony space stuff and how regularly they catch up signals sent out by ‘what could be’ an alien species. Not one of them is reacting really surprised and amazed. How can it be? How is this possible? Aliens, wtf? Are we making first contact? It becomes even weirder when they find out that it’s a signal sent out by a human! Which is even stranger than having a signal by aliens at this point. No one recognizes this as overly weird and asks how this is even possible. And, except for that short discussion between Daniels and Oram, they immediately set course to investigate. Wouldn’t it be more natural to wait 2 or 3 days to think about it first? These people act so irrational. Maybe the hypersleep did something to their brains. Maybe that technology isn’t developed enough and leaves people dumb. Maybe the technology needs a little more work until we’re in the Alien (1979) timeline (20 years after the happenings in Covenant) and they figured out how to avoid brain damage from traveling with hypersleep pods. Because in the 1979 movie everyone of these characters acts rational!

The Covenant arrives at the planet that is the source of that strange signal they catched up and except for three crewmembers all of them decide to land on the planet. While a giant storm is going on. Please don’t wait for the storm to be over. Please make this endeavour as risky as possible! They manage to pass through the storm and find a spot to land. The fact that the air is breathable on this planet is enough for them to go out (into a completely unknown ecosystem) and start their investigation. They don’t even have breathing masks on. And again they don’t care about landing on an alien planet. They walk out of their landed ship onto the planet surface as if they walk out of a subway train. The most common thing ever. No one even states how crazy weird and amazing it is to (what seems to) be the first group of humans who set foot onto that planet. Again very irrational behaviour of our characters. Yes, you could argue that, with the signal seemingly originating from a human, they are not the first to set foot onto that planet. And yes, you could argue that, if that human being in the signal can survive on this planet, we don’t need precaution when it comes to breathing masks an all that. Still, it’s uncharted territory. An ecosystem they don’t know. There have to be precautions other than “let’s take some guns with us”.

With the crew setting foot onto the planet, we leave the first act of the movie. And the part I enjoyed most. From here it’s almost constantly down hill. Characters that can barely be described as 2 dimensional are constantly doing stupid things just to move the plot forward. We discover what happened to Dr. Elizabeth Shaw and David after Prometheus. We see how the original Alien came to be. Get very unsatisfying answers to formerly interesting questions. See an ending that completely disappoints but still made (at least) me want to know where it goes from there.

Now you ask, are there at least some parts of the film that were good? Yes. The design and VFX work is outstanding and pretty much seamless. Except for a couple of times that made me raise my eye brows… silently asking “wtf was that?”. There is enough stuff in this movie that would have made a far better film than what we ultimately got. We get some interesting scenes when Walter is confronted with David and his ideas. A lot of people complained about the casting of Danny Mcbride and I wasn’t one of them. I think he did the best job of all the characters in the film. Usually you cast him as a dirty comic relief but not in this film. He’s ‘space trucker’ deluxe in this film and probably the most believable character of the whole crew. Almost to a point where he doesn’t fit in anymore. Even though we don’t get the grand imagery we know from Prometheus, I would say the photography is mostly well done. When it comes to the music I have to say that the parts where they re-used the score from Prometheus and the original Alien film work really well. It was pretty neat to hear stuff from the original Alien re-used here and there. All the musical pieces that were new… I cannot even remember.

The problem of the Alien franchise is its diversity. Diversity is a cool thing. It allows to explore a topic with a different point of view. The original Alien (1979) is a straight horror film. Aliens (1986) is a straight action film. Alien 3 (1993) goes back to horror but changes the setting. Alien 4 (1997) is action again but also just for fun ridiculous. Prometheus (2012 – Not really an Alien movie but part of the franchise) tries to be a little more heady and asks interesting questions with its more philosophical approach. So we have quite a variety here, tackling the subject from different angles. But this also splits up the fans. Some like the slow burn original Alien because of its mystery and horror elements. Others tend to enjoy the second film more because of the action. Then you have a third group of fans that really liked what Prometheus tried to do, which is almost completely going its own, more philosophical route. So you end up with three groups of fans who all want their share. Mystery, action, horror and ‘what if’ philosophical stuff. You cannot put all these things into one film. It would be a mess. And that (unfortunately) is what we got with Covenant. A try in resetting the course Prometheus did set up and going back to the stuff we already know and (seemingly?) what people want.

For me this film was a disappointment. What I hated (yes, hate is a strong word but in this case it’s the only one I can use) most in this film is what they did with the character of Elizabeth Shaw. From my understanding she and David, at the end of Prometheus, had some sort of mutual respect going on. She repaired him. Which is a sign of compassion and (again) respect. After finding out what happened to her I felt betrayed. I haven’t felt this angry since Star Trek: Into Darkness. Or maybe Interstellar? Well, with Interstellar I was more confused than angry. However, I didn’t have too high expectations going into this film. Even though you can rightfully have higher expectations. It’s the Alien franchise and Ridley Scott. There will always be certain expectations. Scott started the whole thing! Under that presumption you could say that it’s his good right to run it into the ground as well.

If you read everything up to this point… hats off to you sir or madame. =) My rating for this film is a 6.2/10

Alien: Covenant on IMDb

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