Fittingly for a sci-fi tale, the Alien franchise has now painted itself into a paradoxical corner. The latest entry in the series plays like a refresher for dedicated fans who have somehow never seen the pre-Prometheus Alien movies. If such a fan can’t exist, well, that’s a fact that somehow evaded Ridley Scott during the entire production and assembly of his flagrantly foolish follow-up to the 2012 Alien prequel.
Perhaps somewhere out in the vastness of space there resides some movie-watcher who recognizes the iconography of the franchise, knows intimately the imagery, and yet has never actually bothered to watch the 1979 fright flick that introduced us to H.R. Giger’s infamous and inspiring xenomorph design. So yeah, let’s make a movie for that person.
Alien: Covenant, the sixth movie in the franchise and Scott’s third as director, is as lame as its title. Lamer, really. It’s also as much a carbon copy of its progenitor pic as any reboot or sequel or prequel has ever honestly attempted to be, except Scott is no longer the orchestrator of taut suspense he once was, but rather a mere plot mechanic tinkering pointlessly into the abyss.
The first act of the movie is a drawn-out mess of scientific gobbledygook intended only to move a handful of crew members aboard a spaceship full of sleeping colonists from their temporary home to a mysterious oxygen-filled planet where some monster action can occur. The impetus for the move ends up being the exact same situation as the one posed in the first movie, involving the crew picking up a strange signal from the planet and feeling obligated to investigate.
But while the plan is ultimately to just repeat what was already done nearly 40 years prior, the movie has to jump through several moronic worm holes of logic to apparently convince us this makes any sense. Long story short: it’s not very convincing. A laundry list of nearly meaningless events must occur before the crew even picks up the signal, which then leads the confidence-lacking captain (Billy Crudup) to decide that a risky trip to a planet no one knows anything about is better than continuing their long-planned journey to a planet they’ve apparently researched extensively.
Sure, nothing can go wrong with a decision like that. To make matters stupider, second-in-command and general Ripley stand-in Daniels (Katherine Waterston) temporarily becomes the voice of the audience and explains to the captain how dumb his decision his, a suggestion which he (and Scott, clearly) then dumbly ignores.
It’s the first in a long line of bad decisions that drive the plot into every dead-end nook and cranny this franchise has already shone a light on countless times before. The characters shed whatever shreds of intelligence they once had with each step forward, constantly putting themselves and others in extreme danger because apparently the only way to birth an alien from your chest cavity now is to be a complete moron.
The movie briefly entertains some semblance of the creation/evolution angle Prometheus clumsily bandied about, so a generous reviewer could possibly suggest that this is Scott’s tale of humans devolving in the face of a supposed perfect organism. There’s certainly more talk about the perfection of the xenomorph creatures and from a sinister android, no less. Gee, where have I seen and heard that before?
Scott can’t even gain any traction in the tension department once the crew members find themselves getting munched by monsters on the planet. Scenes involving supposed thrills and chills are so rudimentarily recycled and dully executed that it feels like Scott is subliminally suggesting that the series he started has become an exercise in worthless repetition. Give me the digital cheese of that swimming alien in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s rightly reviled Alien: Resurrection before any of the vanilla visuals found here.
Even the dramatic stakes set for the characters are the work of lazy shortcutting. The script that somehow boasts four names (John Logan and Dante Harper with a “story” by Jack Paglen and Michael Green, whose shared credit basically suggests they all watched Alien separately and took notes) simply makes clear that the crew members are all couples, so their reason to fight and survive is linked to another.
Mainly, this is merely used to excuse idiotic decision-making, such as when one character decides to put the entire operation in jeopardy by flying the ship too close to the storm-covered planet because his wife is down there, making her own epically bad decisions. The plan to pair each character with a significant other could work well if the characters were at all interesting or engaging, but they’re only ever dull personalities loosely scanned onto a cannon fodder frame.
Michael Fassbender reprises his robot role from Prometheus and gets paired up with himself, but beyond a rather random liplock moment, the two Fassbenders have little more to work with than any of the other cast members tasked with playing just one bland character. Fassbender’s dual presence even results in a clunky flashback meant to bridge the gap between Prometheus and Covenant, a gap that ranks among the least interesting narrative spaces to ever exist between sequels.
Fassbender's characters are used in a half-assed attempt to carry over Prometheus’ meandering search for God, but with the inclusion of Crudup’s character’s Christian faith that is referenced early only to go nowhere, it’s hard not to ponder whether plans for something bigger were left on the cutting room floor. Alien: Covenant never quite knows what it wants to say or even be about, other than to act as a reminder that Scott’s first Alien movie was pretty cool four decades ago.
That movie’s theme of sexualized terror was cleverly mutated into a meditation on motherhood by James Cameron for his 1986 sequel, but thematic meat has been increasingly stripped from the bones of this franchise ever since. If Prometheus was a skeleton of past entries, then Covenant is probably what it looks like when that skeleton is ground to dust.
Jettison this one into space, please. Let it be found by that one fan who doesn’t even know what they’re a fan of yet. There are five Alien movies better than this one and three of them aren’t very good to begin with. Scott hasn’t been a particularly bold or exciting director for a while now, but surely this is one of the lowest lows of a filmography that includes dreck like White Squall and A Good Year. It would seem that in the context of this franchise, the extra-terrestrial villains have finally won. Considering their human opponents, it’s not hard to see why.