Alien: Covenant is the sixth film in the Alien franchise, a prequel to the first Alien film, and director Ridley Scott’s follow-up to Prometheus. I’m not going to pull any punches: Covenant isn’t a great film, it’s barely a good film, and, there are massive problems with it’s pacing and plotting. It should come as no surprise that the Alien franchise is one of my favourites: my dog, and website mascot, is named Ripley, after the protagonist from the first three films. I am going to warn you now, this full review contains spoilers for the film; something I was hoping to avoid, but it’s near impossible to have a critical look at this film without talking about it’s surprises. So: if you don’t want to be spoiled, I suggest you come back to this review after seeing the film.
There’s a heavy emphasis on themes of family throughout the Alien franchise. The second Alien film, Aliens, focused on motherhood, and the forms it takes. Covenant, on the other hand, deals with themes of fatherhood. The film opens in a flash-back with David, the prototype android from Prometheus, opening his eyes for the first time, and meeting his creator, and father, Peter Weyland. Even in these early moments we can see the contempt that exists between the two of them, and it’s this perverted relationship that warps David into the monster he becomes by the end of the film.
Alien: Covenant picks up 10 years after the events of Prometheus, and many years after David’s inception date. It follows the misadventures of the very stupid crew of the Covenant, a long range colony ship bound for a new home. Events lead to the Covenant stumbling across the Engineer planet of Paradise, Shaw’s destination at the end of Prometheus. Here they discover that the black goo mutagen has killed off all of the population, and made the planet a very dangerous place.
This is the films biggest problem: pacing. Alien: Covenant spends far too much time getting to the dangerous planet of Paradise. We know what’s waiting for them there, and the tension is foreboding; but, overstays it’s welcome. I found myself waiting for the shoe to drop, and when it did, instead of the rush and intensity you’d expect from a sci-fi horror, all I could think was: finally, someone’s going to die. This is further complicated by the fact that the characters aren’t terribly memorable, or remarkable; except for Danny Mcbride’s Tennessee. Even the principal protagonist, Daniels, just becomes a bland facsimile of Ripley, but with a far worse hair-cut.
Near the end of the second act, and a good hour into the film, we get to the real emotional, and thematic, heart of the film. David has been living on Paradise for 10 years, having carpet-bombed the populace with the black goo, wiping them out. David has grown resentful and hateful of his creators, humanity, and has used his time to create the perfect killing machine, and the ultimate life-form: the xenomorph (the famous black alien we all know and love from films of yore). Yes, Alien: Covenant establishes that the aliens are the work of an android. It completes the thematic circle of Prometheus: the engineers made humanity, humanity made the androids, and now the androids have created the xenomorphs. It’s all very Oedipal: fathers fear being replaced by their children, and the children grow resentful and hateful of them.
In this way Alien: Covenant has more in common with Blade Runner than Alien. Ridley has suggested that the Alien and Blade Runner universes are linked, and now, they are thematically, more than anything else. There’s even some common imagery with a nail. Sadly, all of this rich story telling comes far too close to the end of the film, giving the characters and the audience little time to ponder the ramifications of what’s happening.
I should also mention that if you came here for answers for some of the questions that Prometheus poses, you’re not going to get them. If anything, Alien: Covenant gives us more mystery. We still don’t really know who the engineers are, why they created us, and why they seemed to be intent on wiping us out. We also don’t know why the black goo turned them into petrified black statues instead of, well, anything else it has done in the past. Prometheus was a film that sought to take the Alien creature out of the Alien franchise, and now Covenant tries to shoe horn them back in. Prometheus was a bad prequel for Alien, and now Covenant is a bad sequel to Prometheus.
All that being said, come for the spectacle, and the scares. Alien: Covenant is a beautiful film: the photography, effects, and, the art design, are stunning. Sadly it lacks in that roller coaster of scares and tension we crave from thrilling horror films, and, lacks the depth of a cerebral science fiction film. It tries to walk the line between the two, and does so poorly;but, I still found myself entertained. It’s a shame, I feel like Prometheus was underrated and largely misunderstood; but, Director Ridley Scott’s response to that was to take the films in another direction, and it compromised this film greatly.