ALIEN: COVENANT

Alien is one of the greatest horror films of all time. Aliens is one of the greatest action films of all time. Decades ago, Ridley Scott and James Cameron both struck gold with their respective creepy alien features. Gold that 20th Century Fox has been trying to find more of ever since. Lackluster sequels, spin-offs, crossovers, and more, the Alien name and franchise has been diluted and lost its luster. Fox tried to inject some goodwill with the fans, bringing back original helmer Ridley Scott to give us Prometheus, the prequel that hardly explained anything. The reaction was tepid, at best, and now Fox and Scott are back again to try and rectify this new situation!

Alien: Covenant takes place in 2104, as the colony spaceship Covenant is on course to a distant planet. When the crew receive a transmission from a nearby planet that may be just as habitable, they decide to land and check it out. As they arrive, they’re greeted by the planet’s horrible environment, as people are infected and give birth to alien life forms. As chaos reigns, they run into the android David (Michael Fassbender), who has crash landed and taken refuge in the hostile environment. With his help, they may be able to escape this awful place alive.

The biggest reason the Alien franchise lost its way is mostly because you can’t really do much with the concept. The films are always about people being trapped in a space station as they try to avoid becoming alien chow. Aliens was a natural extension of the concept, with introducing more aliens and more characters, but since then, it’s all been the same. Alien: Covenant rides that line of being creative and interesting, but still shackled to the same tired conventions. It definitely feels more like a sequel to Prometheus, featuring more of the characters exploring a new environment, instead of just trapped in a space station. It carries the same sense of wonder and grandeur as the previous film, to when you’re not being horrified, you’re taking in the amazing locales along with the characters.

When tensions and blood levels do rise, Scott shows us all here that he’s still one of the masters at building up suspense and dread. Once the blood starts flowing, you never feel like you’re safe. An alien can run out and puncture your chest cavity at any moment. There are some wonderful scenes of body horror, featuring people being infected and mutilated in awful ways. Just like the wonder you feel with the characters, you also feel the horror along with them. Unfortunately, a lot of them do fall prey to horror cliches, a majority of the them reciting hokey dialogue and making stupid decisions, only really existing to be alien fodder. However, the slow unraveling of the events and the extensive world building really elevated it. The film feels so alive, with immaculate cinematography, production design, costuming, and effects. Scott may not always be the finest storyteller, but he’s among the best artists.

Ironically, it’s when the film indulged in its most primal instincts are when it never worked for me. Xenomorphs are awesome and one of the coolest film monsters ever. There’s no doubt about that. The thing is, for the broader type of science fiction Scott is trying to capture with these new Alien films, the actual alien parts feel like they don’t really belong. Yeah, they work for the original films, but those are mainly horror/action films with science fiction elements. Prometheus and the main story of Alien: Covenant feel like they’re trying to be broader science fiction stories, but Fox wants the Alien brand attached to it. It can never really embrace its new identity when it’s stuck just going through the motions.

The thing is, I like the fact that Scott and crew are actually attempting to do something different. I didn’t hate Prometheus like a lot of people did. It was a gorgeous film with a lot of interesting ideas, but production and screenwriting issues really bogged it down. At least it’s not just people stuck in a ship with an alien. When this film isn’t your typical Alien fare, it’s fascinating. Michael Fassbender is absolutely the star of the show, playing a dual role as Covenant android Walter, and former Prometheus android David. It’s a definite showcase of Fassbender’s talent, as he gives both androids a distinct personality, all the way down to how they walk and talk. It’s mesmerizing watching him act with himself, the visual effects to achieve it seamlessly done. When the film broke away from blood and guts and delved into the ideas of genetic engineering, biological warfare, humanity’s hubris and quest for immortality, among many other ideas, it had a vice grip on my attention and investment. It’s too bad that it can’t just be all that at this point.

Alien: Covenant almost feels like an apology for Prometheus, while fully embracing the best aspects of it. It answers all of the questions, logically incorporates everything it introduced into the world, and continues the more heady, self-reflective type of science fiction in an interesting way. It’s just unfortunate Fox (and some of the fans) have a Xenomorph quota that needs to be met now, and Scott sometimes can’t help himself from relaxing back into old habits. It’s a classic example of a film trying to have its cake and eat it, too, but at least the cake tastes good.

7/10

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