Alien: Covenant focused on the all-encompassing desolation that Prometheus offered in the far depths of space, yet smartly moved Ridley Scott's vision forward for the franchise. Was it flawed? Yes, but it was also very evocative and provoking in that it played on the everlasting concept of meeting our creators. There were almost as many pros as there were cons to the movie but it kept you engaged as it continued the story of how the Xenomorphs were unleashed in the dark cosmos, picking up on the Covenant spaceship changing course after a solar flare accident in order to explore a distress signal.
This signal, offering hope, was tied to David and Elizabeth Shaw, who ended the prequel on a search for humanity's creators (and would-be destroyers) the Engineers. The Covenant crew (boasting Katherine Waterston, Michael Fassbender, Danny McBride and Billy Crudup in its cast) proceeded to be fooled by the paradise they encountered, with their resident android Walter realizing that fraternizing with his ancestor, David, minus Shaw, could signal trouble ahead. A lot of the film required you to suspend disbelief and, sadly at some points, common sense, but overall, its worth checking out. Ergo why CBR decided to dissect what made the movie tick and what didn't!
SPOILER WARNING: Major spoilers ahead for Alien: Covenant
Long-time fans of this franchise know that gore and squeamish scenes are essential. When it came to the Neomorph and Protomorph aliens (all belonging to the Xenomorph family), they were as rabid as pitbulls, which allowed their attacks on the human explorers to be super gory. No benevolence was shown by Scott when it came to having the aliens sussing out their prey and then mauling them, or fatefully bursting from their hosts' chests in dark moments of birth and triumph.
These scenes, as well as David's genetic experiments, persisted as brutal, personal tragedies filled with suspense that made your stomach turn. The blood, amputations and explosions bore the marks of the older films, yet here, things felt competent and real in terms of danger, as opposed to simple gratuitous violence. Everything on display was as distinctive and iconic when compared to the pillars of old.
In a major stumbling block, Prometheus' story wasn't merged well at all, relegating the prequel to nothing more than setting David up as a mad scientist. When the explorers landed on the Engineers' homeworld, they were tricked by David. He told them Shaw died when they crashed, accidentally releasing the biological weapon their ship carried which then exterminated the Engineers. It turns out he released the weapon in a genocidal act, killed Shaw and began his genetic experiments on everyone.
This move totally threw away Shaw's character, her previous struggles and overall work, and any chance of understanding the Engineers' hate for humanity in their misty, pristine world which clearly had a society set up. It unfurled a grim story, but intentionally lost the evocations of a strong, compelling character by treating her like a bug. Shaw and Daniels would have made such a dream team too.
Waterston as Daniels did a subtle yet extraordinary job of replacing Noomi Rapace's Shaw as the lead of this movie, continuing the franchise's legacy of starring badass yet sympathetic and tragedy-laden women. Sigourney Weaver's Ripley was a different action hero, but here, Waterston deserves epic commendations. She gave us someone less cold and built more around heart and emotion, with a performance showing that she was never meant to be Ripley. And that's because this story had no hero. In fact, the invasive species was actually her team of explorers!
She was amazing and dramatic in this survival saga which focused on a tenacious individual dealing with a rapacious life form intent on spreading itself across the universe. She also offered a great duality to the android aesthete of David, truly feeling suffocated and trapped in the ruins and overall maze he laid for them.
Just like its predecessor, Covenant found its scientists making stupid decisions. They change the ecosystem by walking around without masks and disregarding safety rules, urinating and smoking wherever they see fit, and even poking their heads in alien pods when asked to by a suspicious android. This team was dangerously curious, gullible, unintelligent and acted with minimal logic.
It's cruel, but they were kids burning ants with magnifying glasses, which made for irritating scenes. Such poor decisions outdid the tangible parts of the story -- such as their insecurities, fears, and love for one another -- as they were inevitably driven by unsound choices. Dragging an infected colleague back to the ship for treatment, acting with no urgency amid tons of mayday calls on the radios, and deciding to colonize a new planet on a whim and fancy after training for another in a different star system all compounded how amateur they were.
The S.F.X. was spot on here, creating moods of tension, suspense and surprisingly, horror. All the alien designs, how space and the new frontier looked, and even the spaceship designs felt like the game had been upped by Scott since Prometheus. You were treated to a brawny haunted-house-in-space movie with screeching monsters testing the limits of human perseverance. When we came face to face with the drooling, perfect predators, we saw a nightmare creation capable of killing everything.
It was all about doom brought in vividly disgusting ways, with the audience invested in the human fodder being hunted. The scenes where face-huggers implanted themselves -- turning a living body into an incubator -- and the ones where they burst out the humans further wowed us. The celebration of the C.G.I. strength came in the finale when we witnessed a rampaging and seemingly impervious Protomorph.
The fight choreography needed work because, at crucial intervals, you couldn't tell what was happening. A prime example would be when the aliens first attacked the crew, and when David and Walter fought. Similar to the early Transformers movies, everything was so blurry and quick, you couldn't make out what transpired and what made it worse was that most of these scenes were in the dimly-lit night.
Had things been clearer, it would have been more awesome and gruesome, building on the extraterrestrial sense of dread being painted by Scott. Watching the humans court oblivion with bold acts of faith, an insistence on taking care of the wounded instead of leaving them behind, and of course, ill-timed sex hookups, built to these moments where we wanted to bask in the kills that ended humanity. However, the rapidly edited sequences only came across as choppy, muddy and inefficient.
The cinematography was stellar, establishing a link to the film's original title, Paradise Lost, and yielding a visual spectacle that was as profound as it was gorgeous. The Engineers' homeworld, even after genocide, felt like Earth, with fields of wheat, mountains and waterfalls, all played up by a stunning color palette. Scott made the place feel soothing, filled with answers, yet enigmatic when you traversed the monoliths and ruins David called home.
This was the haven for not-so-benevolent gods yet it didn't feel like a highly-advanced planet that was responsible for humanity's development in Prometheus. Scott's visuals, from the depths of space to David's caverns, spoke of creation as an act of individuality and also, of ego. The associated visuals were embittered and outrageous yet filled with a simple, terrible beauty.
This dynamic didn't register well at all. First off, there were a lot of couples (for procreation when they colonized), but this made things overly emotional when folks got killed. The concern for relationships clearly compromised the missions and we lost any real sense of teamwork or togetherness early on. Everyone was cool with each other, but it didn't feel like scientists with a real duty. In fact, apart from Fassbender, Waterston and McBride, the rest of the cast didn't have much organic chemistry, especially Crudup's Oram, whose role as a man of faith came off weak.
It's an Alien movie for the new generation where mankind isn't just under the thumb of an oppressive corporation, but also sowing the seeds of its own destruction on a more sweeping scale. Thusly, we expect a solid cast and more impetus propelling the movie's momentum as per the classic films.
David was an epic mad scientist a la X-Men's Mister Sinister, which was tellingly set in the opening scene with Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce). He knows he's superior to mankind, but meant to serve and not outdo it. Eventually, he breaks these restraints, operating without limits or moral code, as when he poisoned Shaw's lover in Prometheus.
David's journey from being created to now being a creator is remarkable because his desire to find answers saw him transcend due to his immortality, with all logic now supplanted by a full-blown god complex. Thus, creating a villain of the highest order, filled with idiosyncrasies and a consistently disturbing personality that even worried Walter. His sense of distrust was quite apparent, but still so alluring because it had the audience watching, not from a horrified human perspective or their dead forebears, but from the clinical point of view of a synthetic.
The old franchise had a lot of solid action sequences but here, Scott missed the mark on quite a few scenes. Almost all the gunplay sequences were disappointing, which are magnified even more when you compare them to modern flicks in the AvP series or the Predator reboot. Everything done here was rushed, grinding out shots with an incompetent execution that clearly needed more technical expertise.
It may have been convenient to have explorers inept at self-defense, but we needed sturdy resistance to enjoy things a bit more. When it came to the finale, we got the signature alien-boarding-the-ship schtick, but this also didn't feel like a rousing climax. As Daniels tried to eject it into the bowels of space, it all felt ineffectual and lessened in scope. These key scenes were reined in and neutered, taking away the grandiose of the threat at hand.
The music in this film was superbly ominous, with Jed Kurzel (who replaced Harry Gregson-Williams) brilliantly combining elements of Jerry Goldsmith's original score to Alien with Marc Streitenfeld's score to Prometheus. Kurzel's best works came on The Babadook and Assassin's Creed, and here he netted a powerful emotive feel in terms of sci-fi and horror. Scott also drummed up his creative vision using Norwegian singer and songwriter AURORA to paint this new chapter.
The aura of monstrous extraterrestrials to that of the mythology and origins of mankind came out so poignantly with all these orchestral swells and symphonic notes on tap. It truly made the movie respond to questions we fear asking -- creating a bleak, artistic and grand relationship between creators and the created, and also, further clarifying the doom and gloom of the black hole Scott wants to drive humanity into.
The movie ended up being very predictable but a lot of this could have been prevented if the marketing for it didn't release so much material beforehand. The plethora of trailers and pre-marketing clips ended up giving away key scenes that took away from the catharsis Scott wanted you to experience. The scene with the Protomorph attacking Daniels' getaway ship was spoiled early on in trailers, not to mention we saw David in the released prologue dropping the weapons on the Engineers.
This was most disappointing because it made David's turn into a full-fledged villain unsurprising, as we all knew by then that he had killed the Engineers, and most likely killed Shaw too. Seeing that happen eliminated the tension early on with him and Walter, which made David's big swap with his fellow android at the end something you saw coming from a mile away.
From the onset, Covenant provoked you with the concept of the creator and also, the Almighty God. It continued where Prometheus left off, further giving us insight into David's evolution into a master of fate and shaper of destinies. This was all about the story of faith, both by way of the religiousness expressed by the likes of Oram, and conversely via Weyland's more science-filtered insistence that there must be a purpose to humanity.
It also lent to humans trying to find a way to extend its existence. Weyland, in particular, is so presumptuously certain that his makers would welcome and assist him that he doesn't really hear the point that David makes to him in Covenant's opening sequence which is that David has already met his maker, and that it wasn't all that fulfilling. It begs you to consider the predisposed notion that this higher power will eventually disappoint.
Prometheus' plot was very naive and Covenant follows up in similar fashion. First off, we're expected to believe that a random solar flare at this particular time places the Covenant ship in danger and sets them up to land in David's playground? The fact that this wasn't further addressed really comes off as pretentious as opposed to complex or as a series of unfortunate events.
What's even more unforgivable is that apart from the other dumb decisions the crew makes, Oram convinces them not to go inhabit the planet they were trained to go to and instead head to uncharted territory to colonize where they got a distress beacon from. Guess fuel wasn't a factor? It was a facepalm moment that had the audience literally groaning because their job was to colonize the initial planet, not road trip. Daniels' resistance to the move was also even more laughable.
We all wanted to see Xenomorphs unleashed! Now, while the nostalgia kicked in seeing the aliens on ships terrorizing and torturing the crew, it was a breath off fresh air to see them stalking their prey, unconfined in the wild and picking them off in the dead of the night. In fact, this is the kind of scenery that begs for another Predator crossover.
We would have liked to witness Shaw harvested as their queen, but all in all, seeing how David decided to cultivate them made for quite an intriguing showdown, with these creatures as his children and him as the new Engineer. He took over Weyland's role from the opening as a creator and father, now boasting new children to play with at the film's end.
Thoughts on our picks? Let us know in the comments what you liked or didn't like about Alien: Covenant!