Upon sitting down at an attempt to enjoy the sequel to a prequel of a beloved classic, my popcorn and I were ready to be whisked away with (at the very least) some form of entertainment. As the horrors unfolded both on the screen and script, I found myself once again wrestling with this question: Is it worth it?
Alien is a classic Ridley Scott horror film followed by an action sequel by James Cameron properly named Aliens, that not only allowed for the series to be scary, but thought provoking and ahead of its time. The series blended science fiction and horror in time when Star Wars, Star Trek, and Steven Spielberg films dominated the big screen. They also gave us Ripley, the perfect female action lead with no stereotypes or limits in a male dominated genre. After a slew of terrible follow ups, production disasters, and the general separation of the entire point of the original vision, it was a breath of fresh air for this fan when Ridley Scott announced a prequel series based on the foundations of the original. With Prometheus, we were given a flawed but solid start on the study of a virus that held the genotype for the Alien we have come to love and fear. Although that film in particular failed to bring us a third act consistent in quality, we had hope for a refreshing prequel series similar to what we have in Rise and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The problem once again, the studio needed more ALIEN like Christopher Walken needs more cowbell.
Alien: Covenant begins with a crew of scientists and colonists on their way to a new habitat when they are suddenly woken early from cryosleep due to an unannounced solar flare damaging the ship. Already we’ve stumbled on a hybrid plot of Passengers and Sunshine, but I digress. After the flare, the ship detects a distress beacon with coordinates of a new planet, one that would provide an even better atmosphere than the original. After a string of arguments, the crew decides to visit this planet in hopes that their discovery would be fruitful. We are introduced to a new world with no life except a virus that infects a few members of the crew early, releasing an untamed monster immediately ready to strike. In the darkness, the viewer is shown the full destruction of the alien object terrorizing our central characters. In an attempt to escape, the characters are backed into corner when in uncovering the true origin of the species.
Despite the clear rip off from previous space adventure films, the movie establishes likeable characters from the start. Daniels, our new heroine (Katherine Waterston, Fantastic Beasts), Captain Oram (Billy Crudup, Watchmen), Tennessee (Danny McBride, Pineapple Express), and our newly upgraded synthetic Walter played by Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class) in a reprisal role, give the viewers an upbeat group of new characters. The film is clearly back to the roots of horror as Scott gives us beautifully shot new version of the monster that made him famous. For the fan of xenomorph itself and all her chest popping glory, the fanboy in me was on the edge of my seat for nearly two thirds of the film.
Starting with Prometheus it was clear Ridley Scott was going to put together an atheistic study of the dawn of man. This film starts with a simple blow-em-up and terrorize plot, eventually unfolds to a study on how Scott and company envision a universe without God. For starters, the Captain Oram is described as a man of “faith”. He is ridiculed by the flight and cultivation crew, and doubts his leadership throughout the film. This faith is never explained. I guess it’s too much to pinpoint religion in film that questions it. Either way, like many films surrounding scientific exploration, this character is shown as naive, underpowered, and disrespected. We are then given a lecture as to why man continues our quest for the “unexplained originator”. Surely there must be one? To the world, human creation is a study that must have ironic purpose. We can never truly understand our own origin, but our demise will come from our need to create. As a Christian, many times we can use this application to shape our own faith through the Hollywood agenda. Here, it feels forced. The substance of life outside and fear of the unknown we loved 30 or more years ago is now riddled with unnecessary questions theology.
The main issue with Covenant is the same as many of its predecessors; heavy studio involvement. Based on backlash of the lack of alien in an “alien” movie, the sequel to Prometheus must contain more ALIEN! Clearly we needed this reminder due to “covenant” being the subtitle. Rather than sticking with a simple plot, slow brooding pace, and high intensity action given to us in the first hour, the final act is nothing more than a predictable mess. A mess rife with uninspired monologues and shower scene jump scares more common in Friday the 13th than an inspired Alien sequel. As with many screenplay penned by John Logan (Gladiator) the third act goes out with a transcendent triumph or a decent in mediocrity. Despite a great opening and thought provoking middle segment, the free fall that is the third act leads to the film’s undoing.
Once again, we have another chapter in the series that falls short. The story is there, the frame and makeup is there, Fassbender’s powerful performance on the cruel reality of man’s incessant want is there. What we end up with however, is an inability to completely suspend our disbelief with the same tired story told over and over again. By the end, there’s little suspense or intrigue. I want to love it. I find myself trying to outweigh the good with the bad to no avail. So, as I threw away the popcorn and drove home and contemplated whether or not I’ll continue the journey of this new vision, I once again asked myself; is it worth it? Maybe it’s time to give up and leave the classics alone unless the story can fall into an inspired writer, who’s not worried about making a film about applied science and religion in a series loved for acid spit and face hugging spider-babies. Until then, maybe it’s time to hang it up.
Alien: Covenant, Runtime: 120 minutes, Rated: R
Content Warning: Brief Sexual content, Language and Gore throughout