‘Alien: Covenant’ lost in ambition

Michael Fassbender carries mediocre follow-up

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Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox
The Xenomorph makes it’s big on screen return in “Alien: Covenant.” The iconic monster attacks the escaping dropship containing the crew of the Covenant.
Synopsis

Bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, members of the colony ship Covenant (Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup and Danny McBride) discover what they think to be an uncharted paradise. While there, they meet David (Michael Fassbender), the synthetic survivor of the doomed Prometheus expedition. The mysterious world soon turns dark and dangerous when a hostile alien life-form forces the crew into a deadly fight for survival.

Review

In Ridley Scott’s classic film “Alien,” there’s a suspenseful scene where the crew of the Nostromo investigate a signal that originated from a crashed alien spacecraft. Shortly after entering the ship, they walk into a room where a giant humanoid corpse is laid on a chair with a hole from something that bursted out of its chest. The identity of the corpse’s species (originally known as the Space Jockey, now called Engineers) would remain a mystery until Scott returned to the franchise in 2012 with the semi-prequel, “Prometheus.” This was in response to Scott’s disappointment in the “Alien” sequels never exploring this ambiguous aspect of his film.

“Prometheus” was meant to be the start of a new series of films that would later tie in with his original film. However, the film was met with mixed reviews about its plot structure and poor character decisions. The public reaction changed his direction in exploring the mystery of the Engineers in favor of bringing the iconic Xenomorphs back into the franchise.

Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox
Ledward (Benjamin Rigby) screams in agony as Karine (Carmen Ejogo) and Maggie (Amy Seimetz) try to help him in one of the most tense moments of “Alien: Covenant.”

It’s this decision that makes “Alien: Covenant” somewhat disappointing, as it doesn’t follow up the potentially interesting story implied by the ending of “Prometheus.” Instead, that story mostly takes place off screen and doesn’t spend a lot of time addressing it. The absence of this story ends up making “Alien: Covenant” feel like reading a book with a missing chapter. Although you can decipher what happened in that missing chapter based on the chapters before and after, you still want to read it. This is made even more infuriating as there is a short prologue published online before the film’s release that briefly explores this narrative.

Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox
Daniels (Katherine Waterston) and Lope (Demián Bichir) stick close together as they try to fight off the Xenomorphs.

The other downside of the film is, ironically enough, the inclusion of the Xenomorphs, since they felt unnecessarily thrown in and lacked the tension that made them so iconic. The Xenomorphs aren’t given anything new to do, other than to kill off the expendable characters and chase our protagonists in tight hallways. It would’ve been more interesting to see more of the Engineers and their culture, but who knows if producers will ever take that risk.

However, this film isn’t all bad. There are still plenty of things going on to keep viewers interested. Scott and his frequent cinematographer, Dariusz Wolski, once again give their film gorgeous imagery that features the unique, gritty texture that’s become a common trait in recent Scott films. The soundtrack makes great throwbacks to the scores from “Prometheus” by Marc Streitenfeld and “Alien” by Jerry Goldsmith. Even the performances from the main leads are good, including the surprising casting of Danny McBride who did a great job acting in a film outside of his normal line of work.

Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox
Walter (Michael Fassbender), an android, inspects a broken human embryo while on board the spacecraft, Covenant. Fassbender also plays the other android, David 8, in “Alien: Covenant.”

As far as the best aspect of the film goes, that would be Michael Fassbender. He steals the whole film with his Oscar-worthy performances as the two androids, David 8 and Walter. In fact, he might be too good at playing David 8. David 8 is perhaps the most horrifying example of an “artificial being gone rogue” ever put on film. Without giving too much away, David 8 reminds viewers that the most terrifying thing is a human face that lacks humanity. On the other hand, Walter is shown as struggling to find the appropriate responses to situations. Since the David model made people uncomfortable due to how it could think independently, the Walter model is more “robotic” in personality.

While “Alien: Covenant” is slightly disappointing upon its first viewing, it’s important to remember the film is meant for repeated viewings, much like “Prometheus.” There are plenty of things to think about after seeing it which could potentially change your opinions. It is also strongly recommended that anyone interested in seeing this take the time to watch the original “Alien” and “Prometheus,” as well as the two prologues available on YouTube. Watch “The Last Supper,” which gives a better sense of what the Covenant crew’s relationships are and then watch “The Crossing” after seeing the film to get a better understanding of what took place between “Prometheus” and “Alien: Covenant.”

 

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