Director: Ridley Scott
Screenplay: John Logan, Dante Harper
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir
Runtime: 122 Minutes
To say that Prometheus divided opinion is a generous supposition at best. While following the DNA of the now archetypal Alien structure, it set about to explore admittedly old materials concerning ancient astronauts, gods and men and Greek mythology. Aiming high with ambition, though compromised by a convoluted screenplay of half measures and bewildering gestures.
Alien: Covenant follows more or less the same path, though it’s one that has clearly verged toward placing the brand and long-time fans of the series first as it essentially runs out the clock as an amalgamation of elements from across the series’ history. The structure is there, but it’s never quite felt as stale and uninvolving as this, as its new cast of ‘characters’ venture down to an unexplored world and are slowly picked off in expected and lacklustre fashion by familiar looking creatures of a once nightmarish design.
As with Prometheus, the tell instead of show ratio is out of control as characters explicitly state their observations and motivations to other characters without reason, and speak in wholly unbelievable manners to one another as they trundle their way through the filmmaking every worst decision possible without adequate reasoning. It becomes so rote that every time a character announces that they’re leaving the scene, you know that they’re not coming back – but as opposed to the joy this might elicit from genre fans almost none of the kills are unique, memorable or even investing.
But around the edges of this very Alien film lie the scattered pieces of a Prometheus sequel that the film is left to pick up on with varying degrees of success. The answers to some of the many questions of said film do arrive in some form or other, with much of the resolution falling to the character of David (Michael Fassbender) in his continuing development as this new narrative's most interesting character. His interactions with doppelganger Walter of the ‘Covenant’ ship are some of the best scenes in the film, with Fassbender delivering two brilliantly different performances as the stoic Walter and the insidiously deranged David.
The whole time this is happening the human cast is left as vague figures of the backdrop, with only Katherine Waterston’s Daniels and Danny McBride’s Tennessee getting any human sympathy out of their situations and experiences with a decent amount of range. Sadly, we are also saddled with the likes of Billy Crudup’s Captain Oram and his suicidally moronic tendencies and occasionally baffling dialogue.
The good mostly comes from the technical attributes which are unsurprisingly right where Ridley Scott now feels most at home as a cinematic technician. The film looks gorgeous with a drained colour and design to its interior universe that feels worn and physical, accompanied by Jed Kurzel’s pulsating score, but he uses much of this as a crutch and seems to be where most of his attentions lie as opposed to its narrative. He’s far more interested in the way that this world works – looming over events with authorial rule – than how the story is being told or how the audience might be able to connect to it beyond simple acknowledgement of this being an Alien film.
There are moments of grandeur and some neat twists and visuals at play here, with an effective intensity to some of its action, but its handling of themes from gothic literature and poetry mean little when its being piped into a film of such little to say beyond allusion. Whereas the original film dwelled on happenstance and corporate greed, Covenant's determination to make sense of its plot overrides all of its more conceptually interesting divergencies. It doesn’t feel like there’s a specific audience for it to find great pleasure in, and as such lacks identity. There is little new to be mined from a title that has long since lost so much of its unusual ambiguity.