It was a long wait between the '97 Alien: Resurrection and '12's Prometheus. There was a huge amount of excitement and anticipation first saw the trailers for that film it was all the polish and elegance that we'd typically come to expect from Director/Producer Ridley Scott. What we didn't find, was a return to the level of the first two films. In fact Prometheus wound up leaving many members of the audience frustrated and disappointed. Scott spoke at length around the lessons learned from the audience's reaction to Prometheus. When we heard that another sequel was in the works, this time going back to the franchise's horror roots, and closing in on the time of the events from the '79 original, it was excitement once again.
Alien: Covenant is finally here and, well, let's go over just some of the main plot beats (stop me if you've heard any of this before):
A small crew is awoken early after an incident on their cargo ship, and then a mysterious message is received and only partly understood, but it points them towards a previously unknown world. After arguing over the merits of investigating, they finally make the decision to alter course. They have a beautifully rendered small craft descent through the atmosphere. After landing things go south quickly, and along the way they discover a derelict alien spacecraft. I could go on, but there'd be ever increasing spoilers. The gist is that these are all the same beats as the classic original '79 Alien. Sure, this time rather than hauling an ore refinery, the Covenant is a colony ship with 2,000 colonists and another 1,000 embryos. Rather than the hazardous world of LV-426, this time it's a rather lush world with forests and water. Rather than one creepy android, this time there's another creepy android. It's probably more close to the original storyline than The Force Awakens was to the storyline of A New Hope.
Once again, as with Prometheus, there's the disappointment of having a script that depends on characters doing things that are dumb or against their training protocol for the story to proceed. Where Prometheus was done with a production quality nearly second to none, this time the CGI falls down in several occasions, especially when the various forms of full-sized Xenomorphs appear on screen. It begs the question that perhaps it's time to revisit practical effects in the creature department.
Katherine Waterston plays the female lead, Daniels, and while she's a solid actress, here she never really connects. Audiences cheered on Sigourney Weaver's Ripley over the first few films, especially in Aliens when she has the "get away from her, you bitch!" line in the power-loader. Here Daniels is capable enough, but for whatever reason, the audience doesn't get behind her in the same way. Danny McBride plays Tennessee, the lead pilot of the Covenant, and he has some memorable moments to carry back out of the theater. The main star of the film is once again Michael Fassbender; this time he's playing two versions of his android self. One being David, the character he played in Prometheus. And also as Walter, the synthetic person assigned to the Covenant's crew. Beyond those three, the rest of the cast you remember nearly nothing about them other than what eventually happens to most of them. A back-buster alien here, a face-hugger there. Sure Prometheus had characters that did more dumb things, but is saying that you have a film where your characters are less dumb than the last time really an improvement?
The challenge with the film is that taken by itself – it's fine, if unremarkable. As future films in the franchise are made, this one will blur into the background in the same way that 3 and Resurrection blur together. When any film is led by an auteur like Scott, it should be a film destined for a spot on the list of classics. Well we know already that production on the next film is slated to break ground in just over a year's time, so perhaps that will be the one to finally bring it all back together.
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demian Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Jussie Smollett, Callie Hernandez, Amy Seimetz, Benjamin Rigby, James Franco
Screenwriters: John Logan, Dante Harper, story by Jack Paglen, Michael Green
Producers: David Gerber, Walter Hill, Ridley Scott, Mark Huffam, Michael Schaefer
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