“Alien: Covenant” is the sequel to “Prometheus” and both films are part of a planned trilogy of prequels to the “Alien” quadrilogy. (Got that? I barely did, and I wrote that sentence.) The reactions to “Prometheus” were muted at best- rightfully so. But is “Covenant” any better? While it’s an improvement, it’s not better in any impactful way.
10 years after the events of “Prometheus,” a new crew and ship, the Covenant, are on a 7-year voyage into deep space to colonize a new planet. On the way, they run into trouble and divert to a nearby, habitable planet that somehow never showed up on their scans…hmmmm, not suspicious at all. The way that the script makes their decision seem sound and logical, though, is a credit to the writers, John Logan and Dante Harper. They arrive at a seeming utopia, but things quickly go awry quickly, leaving the crew to fight a nasty threat for survival.
Returning director, Ridley Scott (who also helmed the original “Alien”), recently mea culpa-ed that he got things wrong with “Prometheus” and suggested that this film would be a course correction. Scott, though, seems to think that the improvement needed was a more overt tie to the original “Alien” films, hence why that word now appears in the title and why the xenomorphs actually appear on screen.
The problems of “Prometheus” were myriad, but was the lack of the titular creatures really one of them? I’m leaning toward no. First of all, that film was taxed by a uniformly unlikable supporting cast (I dubbed them “Space Douches.” Yes, that is as far as my wit extends) that behaved in an almost pathologically idiotic manner. “Covenant’s” characters aren’t that stupid and they’re not supremely annoying. For the first half, at least, the stupidities they perpetrate are understandable. Usually, they just endanger themselves because a loved one is in trouble (this begs question, though, why send a crew of married couples on an important and dangerous mission?)
No, they’re not stupid. They’re just bland. In a nice nod to its predecessors, at least, we have a strong female lead (Katherine Waterston) again, and she’s even made to look like Ripley, Sigourney Weaver’s original, now iconic, heroine. But she doesn’t register. She doesn’t have that much to do until it’s hero time at the end, and Waterston doesn’t have a strong enough personality to stand out when her character isn’t doing anything important.
And in the end, the characters still do some pretty stupid things. For fear of spoilers, vagueness ensues: At one point, a character is taken by another into a room full of the sinister eggs that fans of the series will be familiar with. The leading dude is obviously untrustworthy and the other character is clearly wary of him. Yet, when untrustworthy dude tells suspicious guy to look into the egg -which has opened up to reveal wriggling grossness inside- the idiot, unbelievably, actually looks in and, of course, is attacked by a face hugger (an icky crab like thingee). “Covenant” may not be as stupid as its predecessor, but it’s dumb enough when it wants to be.
Some of the set pieces are effective. A fight in a wheat field is exciting and intense, and a different type of setting for a fight with one of the monsters. A shower attack is also nicely done, replete with satisfying gore that I’m sure fans will be looking for (in that aspect, “Covenant” does not disappoint). There’s also a fight on top of a spaceship that’s rather nifty.
“Covenant” is also a little more straightforward, story-wise. “Prometheus” strived for an enigmatic tone and reached inexplicability instead. Still, lingering questions remain (we still have no idea who the Engineers were and what they were doing with their goo… that doesn’t sound right) and the answers it does give us (how the xenomorphs came to be) are underwhelming and make clear what never needed to be
Watching “Covenant,” I was reminded of the expanded “Star Wars” films. The originals worked partly because of their simplicity: good guys vs. bad guys. But the more the new films expanded on that universe, the more muddled that core concept became, and the less enjoyable the films became. The same has happened with these new “Alien” films. The originals were straightforward human vs. monster thrill rides. These new movies go for something more philosophical that also expands the universe of the original films. I applaud the ambition, but in doing so, they lose the very thing that made the originals so much fun in the first place.
And when “Covenant” ends, you’re left with nothing. As the final, miserable, shot passed into the credits, I just sat there, drained and with a sour feeling in the pit of my stomach. I was reminded of Roger Ebert’s review of “Aliens” (if you’re going to read my writing, you’ll have to get used to these facts: I will inevitably mention Roger Ebert or “The Simpsons”). In it, he declares it to be an effective film that left him depressed. While I never felt that way about “Aliens,” ironically, 30 years later, that’s exactly how the newest “Alien” film made me feel.