We all saw it coming, and you could argue that it was the slightly predictable editing and the semi-regurgitated plot that gave it away, but regardless, it was a helluva sweet payoff.
Alien Covenant was released to great fanfare and rejoicing. Although, since then, there has been some mixed critic and fan reviews. Let me just start this off by making myself perfectly clear: I thought this film was fucking great. There was enough blood; there was chest, back and throat bursting that made my toes curl in just the right way; there was excellent fighting, great teamwork, genuine fear and some creepy-ass bro-on-bro synthetic sexual tension. Honestly, now. What more could I have asked for?
…What? Did you want a perfect prequel? Did you want to stride out of the theater across the plush multicolored carpet exclaiming, “Our Lord and savior Ridley Scott has done it again! Has he bestowed upon us a pitch-perfect Jaws-in-space classic!” Well, newsflash, everyone! That was never going to happen. Of course, this film has its faults; it has pointless characters and dialogue; it has slow bits; it has plot holes; and it has weird kinda “what the fuck?” moments. But I’ll be damned if this isn’t a solid seven out of ten.
The plot… mate. Here’s what you need to know: The crew of the Covenant are a bunch of idiots. Ten years after the exploration vessel Prometheus was lost with all hands (as far as anyone knows), the crew of the colony ship Covenant happens upon a mysterious signal in deep space, where no one should be. A signal that seems to show a human and originates from what appears to be a golden world, ripe for colonization. As the crew investigates the planet to determine its suitability for their cargo of colonists in deep sleep, they find far more questions than answers as well as a very familiar-looking alien life-form. *wink-wink*
A little bit of over self-confident scientific curiosity is a staple of movies like this, as is some misguided military bravado. But boy oh boy, do the idiots in Covenant quickly and consistently shit the bed. There isn’t enough time to shout, “Don’t go in there!” before you’re feeling the need to shout, “Don’t touch that!” It makes sense that, in order to progress the storyline, mistakes are made and the crew finds themselves in mortal peril, but be warned: there are a few really doofus moments that might make your eyes roll out of your heads. Though, in the moment, the iffy plot and multitude of loose ends in no way detract from the fun.
What a thrill it is to sit through an Alien film that awakens some of the cold dread we’ve been craving. Plus, Covenant is legitimately gory — a reminder that, for all his reputation as cinema’s supreme visual stylist, Scott can still conjure up brutal B-movie ickiness with ease and class.
Let’s talk characters. Having been heralded for spotlighting strong female leads, the Alien series has now become used to its audience expecting a certain kind of treatment. We needed a kick-ass woman up front.
This round we get Daniels (played wonderfully by Katherine Waterston), our resident terraforming expert aboard the Covenant. She is some kind of firecracker, because this chick won’t quit. Right from the get-go, Daniels is faced with the loss of her partner, Branson, as the Covenant crew are emergency ejected from hypersleep, his pod failing to open and instead burning him alive. Her power doesn’t necessarily lie in her ability to shoot guns, slam airlocks close or run from Xenomorphs in full heavyweight space gear. Instead, you feel the weight of her power in her ability to compartmentalize the terrible tragedy and get on with her duties as a member of the crew, somewhat thematically echoed by the rest of the plot and characters as they, too, struggle between duty or emotion. The greater good or love. Creation or destruction.
Among the other many members of the crew we encounter, I have to say the biggest shock was Danny McBride as Tennessee. McBride turned an a-typically lovable pilot/navigator role into an unexpected badass with a deep respect and loyalty to his crew, swooping in to rescue the remaining stranded crew on a glorified hover-crane like some kind of intergalactic Bob the Builder. Like Daniels, Tennessee ultimately loses his partner in a horrific quarantine-gone-wrong incident that results in the Covenant’s landing ship exploding into a ball of fire. This doesn’t stop him, either; instead, it leaves Tennessee with nothing left to lose, and this drives him to ultimately risk everything to save his teammates. Crewing the Covenant exclusively by couples adds a nice dimension to the franchise, heightens the stakes and makes perfect sense. It makes every casualty all the more heartbreaking, and there are a lot of casualties. Lastly, there’s Walter. Michael Fassbender returns as the synthetic that David should have been — a cared for and caring crew member — whereas David represents a prized possession, a child who was always told by his mother that he was the “most special.” Walter and David perfectly represent two opposing sides of artificial intelligence and end up playing out some incredibly fascinating and uncomfortable scenes that address what it means to be human, to be a creator and to engineer life.
Through Fassbender’s excellent performance skills, we learn what humanity’s fight is really about in Covenant. Instead of focusing on humanity fighting the hostility ofnature, Covenant suddenly becomes something much more timely: a story about humanity sowing the seeds of its own demise through a relentless pursuit of technology and artificial intelligence. Prometheus had poked around the edges of similar ideas, with the notion that humanity was the result of some sort of alien intervention, but Fassbender’s David and Walter make it brutally clear that it’s our own creations that will destroy us in the end.You can tell that, wherever possible, Ridley Scott tried his best to implement practical effects and use camera tricks, clever direction and suspense to turn the heat up in Covenant. Oh boy, is it greatly appreciated. He takes us back to a more “old-school” style of horror and of violence — which is to show as little of it as possible until you let it all out in one big, gross, sticky bang. This is why the original chest-bursting scene in Alien will forever be heralded as one of the greatest scenes of violence in horror of all time. There are more of those in this film, and I’m telling you, they’re deliciously rank. Peppered around the dodgy philosophy and kind of awkward yet extremely engaging sub-sexual tension between David and Walter, there are brilliant action sequences and some jump-out-of-your-skin shocks to remind you that this is, in fact, an Alien movie and not a slightly more violent Interstellar… or some equally self-reflective, existentially confused sci-fi flick. The Xenomorphs look great, and the new Neomorphs are insanely gross-looking and weird but great as well. In my everything we know so far article, I predicted some butt-invading spores. I was not correct, but I’m also not disappointed. Spores in your ear holes are pretty bad, too.
This film takes everything we thought we pieced together about our “creators” from Prometheus and smashes it into a thousand tiny little pieces. Covenant actually completely changes what you know about the whole of the Alien series! It fills in the gaps just enough to tilt the entire history of Xenomorphs, Engineers and Humanity, leaving you deeply fascinated and also mildly confused.
Just in case you still haven’t seen it and you’re reading this regardless of the spoilers, I’m going to keep the last few plot twists to myself. Those of you who have seen it will know exactly what I’m talking about. Some of it is a helluva stretch, but some of it made me genuinely shake with excitement (and possibly revulsion)!
At the end of the day, Alien: Covenant really isn’t the best film ever. It’s not even the best Alien film ever. What it is, however, is a great bone-crunching, action-packed, suspenseful horror film. Name one classic horror flick that didn’t have a few plot holes, some dodgy dialogue, a couple of pointless characters and a good “Oh, come on!” moment. Spend your money going to the cinema to be thrilled and just enjoy yourself. Don’t think about this one too hard, and don’t let it play on your mind for days after you’ve watched it. You’ll end up ironing out the creases, over-analyzing it and taking away the glossy sheen of violent fun replacing it with, “What, Covenant? Yeah, I thought it was heaps shit.” And before you know it you won’t be enjoying anything anymore.
Live your best life, the world is falling apart, Trump is in power, just go and enjoy a new Alien movie. The scattered plot and dicey bits can all be excused away because, when all’s said and done, I defy you to not have fun watching this. (Unless you’re Maude Garrett. In which case, you absolutely, one-thousand percent will not have fun watching this.)
What did you guys think of Alien: Covenant? Did you get past the weird and just enjoy yourself? Tweet me @mickeyralph, and let me know what I should review next!