Movie Review - Alien: Covenant
By Felix Quinonez
May 29, 2017
After the polarizing reception its predecessor received, Ridley Scott has lowered his ambitions considerably with Alien: Covenant. The new entry in the decades old franchise foregoes the thoughtful ruminations of Prometheus and strives to be an unabashed crowd pleaser hoping to win back audiences.
But in aiming for the so-called “return to form,” Covenant comes off as a clumsy step backward for the once venerable franchise.
It’s been almost 40 years since the infamous tag line “In space, no one can hear you scream,” heralded the arrival of a horror/sci-fi masterpiece. Alien, directed by Ridley Scott, became a classic and a cultural phenomenon whose influence is felt to this day.
Seven years later, the sequel, Aliens, directed by James Cameron, garnered similar acclaim and box office success. Although it mostly eschewed the horror elements in favor of action movie tropes, it’s also considered a classic and a benchmark for all sequels.
However the following entries did not please fans or critics in the same way. And the box office returns diminished accordingly. By 1997, after the fourth entry, Alien: Resurrection, it seemed the series had gone off the rails.
After that, the franchise spent the next decade dragging its goodwill through the mud with a couple of embarrassing Predator crossover films that were easily the creative nadir. The first one made money, but the second one was a new low point at the box office. With that, it seemed, at least for a while, that audiences had seen the last of the franchise’s iconic Xenomorphs.
But in 2012, fans had reason to be optimistic with the release of Prometheus, which saw the return of series creator Ridley Scott. Although its connection to the Alien franchise was initially kept vague, eventually it was confirmed as a prequel to Alien. (Or at the very least, the first prequel)
Except this time around, Scott set his aims higher by not only trying to illuminate the beginnings of the franchise but to also meditate on the creation of mankind. Unfortunately, fans weren’t ready to follow Scott in his new direction. And it appears that the director’s confidence might have been shaken. His desire to take the series into new territory has now been replaced by a boring need to appease fans. And because of this, Covenant plays like a sort of greatest hits package.
The result feels like Filmmaking by committee at its most blatant. It’s not hard to imagine executives sitting in an office assessing the various strengths and weaknesses of the franchise in an attempt to cultivate a newer, more popular strain (not unlike the interspecies alien hybrids that kill the characters in the movies). But the efforts are both transparent and disappointing. In the end, Covenant winds up being less suspenseful than gratuitously gory and painfully predictable.
Things begin promisingly enough with David (Michael Fassbender), a synthetic, and his creator Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) having an intimate discussion. It’s a beautifully shot scene in a minimalist way. And their discussion about creation hints at the profundity found in Prometheus. Unfortunately, that’s quickly pushed aside for what turns out to be a frustratingly by-the-numbers affair.