Watch Steve's supplemental video review at the bottom of the article
I halfway assumed what I deemed as inadequate or relatively muted buzz for Alien: Covenant's North American release wasn't so much attributable to quality - what so many people immediately jump to as a warning sign - but as mixed or contentious feelings regarding Prometheus. The summer of 2012, as seen from film circles, mostly revolved around the pervasive arguments and decisions people had with themselves and one another regarding how to label or respond to the long-awaited Alien prequel.
My feelings are largely defined by what I remember of the film, and that's not much. It was a film of solid performances by actors playing lame characters against a lot of pretty backdrops with little substantial value. It was debatably worse than a bad blockbuster; it was forgettable.
Nowadays, Alien fans are quick to flood the "user reviews" sections of IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes with verbose, impulsively written critiques blasting Scott's prequel or his new followup, Alien: Covenant, for each meticulous detail it overlooks, mutes, or "gets wrong." When did the Alien franchise become overrun by unsatisfied, screaming web-tyrants throwing tantrums in comment sections acting as if the franchise was based on a true story and they were the real-life victims?
Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup
19 May 2017
Steve's Grade: B+
Alien: Covenant has Ridley Scott essentially scrubbing his hands clean of Prometheus, in addition to taking articulate fans' advice into consideration and building this new series off of more intrigue and development than what was initially presented. Scott wraps up Prometheus elegantly enough and begins feeding real elements of horror, dread, and sadness into the premise of this new film. He also finally decides to give the ordinarily great Michael Fassbender some supporting players that can work effectively around him rather than off of him.
Set in the year 2104, we climb aboard a colony ship known as "Covenant," which is headed to a planet known as Origae-6 with 2,000 colonists and 1,000 embryos on-board. The embryos are monitored by Walter (Michael Fassbender), an android resembling the younger David (also played by Fassbender), whom we saw in Prometheus. While repairing a broken part of the ship, the pilot, Tennessee (Danny McBride), intercepts a rogue transmission from an unknown planet nearby. Ignoring the urgent warning from Daniels (Katherine Waterston), the ship's expert on terraforming, Captain Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup) makes the decision to deviate course to investigate the source of the transmissions.
Upon landing on the planet, two of the ship's crewmembers are infected and subsequently killed by a violent alien that makes its way into their ear and nasal canals to metastasize. A Neomorph then invades into the ship, which results in its destruction, leaving the crew stranded in an indeterminate location at the mercy of a couple of violent aliens. This is where David comes in to try and subdue the unfolding chaos by directing the surviving members of the group to an allegedly safer region near a garden of corpses.
One of Prometheus' shortcomings was the way in which it so heavily relied on the wonders and the limitless questions of science-fiction as an excuse to leave many things unanswered. As a result, it left out a lot of the horror elements for which the Alien films are known. Scott's move to instill the ominous and helpless qualities of a stranded screw are apparent within the opening minutes of Alien: Covenant. As it progresses forward, he reveals the impending terror and suspense as ingrained qualities in the narrative that will not go away.
Scott and screenwriters John Logan (Hugo) and Dante Harper also structure Alien: Covenant a lot better so you don't feel like you need to return to the bowels of the same user-generate squawk boxes I just mentioned in order to make sense of the picture. The fundamental problem with the Alien franchise, in my mind, was that it became a franchise - one built largely upon the same formula of the original 1979 classic and spawned a legion of imitators (we just got one this year in the form of Life). With a cinematic universe of sorts constructed, Scott resorted to making each film visually sleek and up on new or fairly recent technology in some ways to disguise the sameness in each film's premise. This is what has always led me to my major point of critique with Scott films - he's a visionary that spends a lot of time of on the look but little time on the specifics of character and narrative.
The fact that the 79 year old director can still helm a project this grandiose, however, is a feat in itself, and Scott shows he's up to the task with every sweeping camera-pan or intergalactic glimpse into the surroundings of the Covenant. The Covenant itself is filled with a crew of familiar faces in the form of Crudup, who I'd argue is just as interesting as the dueling Fassbenders here, a thankfully muted McBride, who gives further belief that he could be great in the forthcoming Halloween remake, Demián Bichir (A Better Life, The Hateful Eight), and Carmen Ejogo (Selma). The only trouble with such a solid cast is that you wish Logan and Harper made them more transcendent rather than just units to amass a sizable body-count.
I've never been much invested in the Alien franchise outside of the almost indisputably great original because, as stated, I feel that it was the perfect film to tag the bases of the unknown world of space while assembling a great cast of characters. It never needed a legion of sequels or the courtly brand of a franchise as much as it needed to inspire other filmmakers to cross storytelling capabilities with emerging technology. Alien: Covenant, however, satisfies in a way that proves gas is still present in the tank. Its return to embracing the horror genre rather than sidelining it in addition to its meditations on creation at the expense of communal safety elevate the quality standard to at least signify to fans that there is still a reason to show up to a screening of a film with Alien in the title 38 years later.