Alien: Covenant Review

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Movies:
Matt Donato

Reviewed by:
Rating:
3
On May 6, 2017
Last modified:May 7, 2017

Summary:

Alien: Covenant goes the mainstream creature-feature route with vigor, even if story elements are overcomplicated and too hellbent on franchise tie-ins.

With Alien: Covenant – a movie about the evolution of species – Ridley Scott’s Alien franchise evolves (or devolves, depending on opinion) into a different cinematic beast. What was once a deep-space containment nightmare becomes overblown God-complex commentary. Xenomorph origins are no longer a mystery, style flaunts open-world access and tension has given way to gory, grip-your-seat action. As we hurdle closer to the truth, Scott distances himself further from Sigourney Weaver’s masterclass in isolated, fear-of-the-dark survival horror. This might be a bonus for some – adrenaline junkies who hate waiting for payoffs – but Alien: Covenant has more in common with Alien vs. Predator than anything else. Take that for what you will.

Aboard the colonization vessel Covenant hangs some 2,000 cryo-sleeping pioneers. Walter (Michael Fassbender), a Weyland automaton, is running routine maintenance when a solar flare causes extensive damage to the ship. He’s forced to wake the emergency crew earlier than expected, but an unfortunate sleeping pod accident leaves Oram (Billy Crudup) as the new acting captain. Daniels (Katherine Waterston) becomes his second in command, Tennessee (Danny McBride) is introduced as the pilot, Lope (Demián Bichir) as the gunman – the crew is assembled, and maintenance is completed. But just when their job seems done, a rogue transmission (singing John Denver) points towards an unknown habitable planet within reasonable distance. Oram decides to investigate, with protest from Daniels. Rank prevails, Covenant re-charts course and before long, the team is exploring an eerily Earth-like new world with no signs of habitation.

That’s when David (Michael Fassbender) shows up.

For those keeping track, Alien: Covenant is post-Prometheus, pre-Alien. David works as a tie between Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw and Katherine Waterston’s Daniels, who grabs the “female-driven lead” baton and runs for her life. I’m not going into spoilers here, but it’s enough to note that Scott is incredibly forthcoming when it comes to birthing his Xenomorph brood. Cold, claustrophobic spaceship interiors are replaced by stone-chic cave dwellings, Richard Wagner discussions and genetically modified superbeasts. Xenomorphs didn’t *just* exist. Scott becomes lost in mythology that pits the folly of man against scientific curiosity – a heavy-handed composition of fleeting hope and the ill-effects of playing God.

It just becomes too much.

On the other hand, Alien: Covenant wastes no time jumping into action. A charred body turns up in minutes, then it’s not long before colonists become flesh-pods for new Xenomorph prototypes. Scott infects and kills with reckless abandon, as there aren’t just chest-bursters this time. You’ve got back-bursters, mouth-bursters, interrupted shower-sex impalements – ferocity is not skimped on, that’s for sure.

Carmen Ejogo finds herself battling a newborn Mini-morph (Neomorph, but whatever) which immediately projects all the mannerisms of a tiny velociraptor. Humans are utterly outmatched from the get-go, even with the true Xenomorph not appearing until a final daring act. Until then, alien makeup blends the naked white dude from Prometheus with Xeno familiarities, vicious as all hell in the process. People die, and they die brutally. It’s quite the bloody sight to behold. 

Although, we’re talking about a big-budget Alien prequel here. Money out the wazoo. It shows in set design, production aesthetics, cinematography, scenic beauty – but why are Scott’s alien attackers all digital? CGI allows for frantic movement, but these Mini-morphs whirl about like a coked-up critter blur of pixels. Animation is more than noticeable, and while the visual of a rubber zip-up suit is saved, action sequences feel cheapened by overused CGI. If you’ve seen any Alien: Covenant trailers, you’ve seen what Scott’s Xeno-tribe physically has to offer. Practical Xenomorph effects never play a larger role, which is quite the let-down for genre fans.

Make no mistake, Scott pans and zooms over the epic terrestrial lake-dips and mountain regions, as a spaceship floats overhead. The visuals are breathtaking, again, much like how Prometheus was in these interplanetary moments. But Alien: Covenant invests so heavily into being a B-Movie creature feature that lacking – yes, disappointing – monster creation never feels natural. The Xenomorph form always stands out (and not in an eye-popping, “WHOA” kind of way). Sorry, but you can’t convince me CGI wins versus practical. If Jurassic Park brought dinosaurs to life in ’93, I dare say Scott could wrangle up some pretty gnarly Xenomorph baddies to fear in reality. And if he did (Goran D. Kleut/Andrew Crawford are credited Xeno/Neomorph actors)? Well, their presence sure isn’t felt.

Comparatively, Waterston’s defacto hero fits appropriately into Scott’s Alien world. Weaver is a legend, but Waterston has a similar take-no-bullshit personality that translates into her crane-dangling Xenomorph standoff. She’s light on talk and all-action, which is the opposite of Billy Crudup’s reluctant leader and man of faith. Waterston gravitates more towards Danny McBride’s maverick flight-ace, who – I’m happy to report – crushes his Alien franchise introduction.

Most characters have an easy time conveying fear – Amy Seimetz in a confined space, Demián Bichir while chewing a cigar, Callie Hernandez while naked – but shout out to Benjamin Rigby for his body-horror spasm. Should it be any surprise that Michael Fassbender steals the show, though? We need more movies where one Fass teaches another Fass how to play a recorder, with heavy heapings of awkward sexual tension. That’s without mentioning David’s whole “perfection” arc, and Walter’s upgraded kicks.

With everything said, Alien: Covenant is a “fine” addition to Ridley Scott’s space-age terror franchise. It gets back to the more military roots of Aliens while going full-out gonzo gorefest, but the script both overcompensates with backstory (social satire) and dodges other plot-hole-territory details (a David/Walter exchange in the finale). You’ll cringe, whimper and recoil, but not with devastating or lasting repercussions. Scott’s latest is a thrill-ride that blasts through celestial carnage, while building a bigger Alien world that might not be 100% necessary. Out of all the films in the franchise, Alien: Covenant has the least stand-alone potential – but dammit if it’s not a wild, warp-speed-killing-machine adventure.

Alien: Covenant Review
Fair

Alien: Covenant goes the mainstream creature-feature route with vigor, even if story elements are overcomplicated and too hellbent on franchise tie-ins.

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