Ridley Scott’s original Alien film is an all-time classic, and undoubtedly among the most iconic films ever made. Seven years later, James Cameron’s Aliens, would go on to redefine the sequel for an entire generation of filmmakers. Since then, the series has struggled to find an identity, often landing awkwardly between the claustrophobic horror of the first film and the suspenseful action of its successor.
Alien: Covenant is the filmic equivalent of a greatest hits album made by someone with a flawed understanding of why fans love the band. Director Ridley Scott and the writing team have made a clear attempt to combine the tones and themes of the most highly acclaimed films in the franchise (notably Alien, Aliens and Prometheus). Unfortunately, the result is noticeably unoriginal, only occasionally satisfying, and far inferior to the sum of its parts. The erotic horror of Alien, politically fueled action of Aliens, and sophisticated tale of human ambition in Prometheus, are far too incongruous to combine into a single feature, and Covenant consequently feels muddled and lacking a concise vision. Isolated scenes from the film are enjoyable and frightening, but even then, are too familiar to reach their full potential. Thus, Covenant may be among the few sequels that would be more impactful – and much less predictable – having not seen its predecessors.
Apart from the film’s tonal identity crisis, one of Covenant’s most damaging flaws is its cast of characters. The film immediately establishes that there are fifteen crew members aboard the colonization ship known as “The Covenant”, but does little in the way of making audiences care about or relate to any of them. The film seemingly assumes that pairing the crew members into romantic relationships is a suitable substitute for giving them personalities, and resultantly, viewers are left asking why they should care if any of the undeveloped characters end up the victim of the Xenomorph. The actors themselves do well with what little they are given, but even Fassbender’s stand out performance can’t save this disappointingly underwhelming film.
Regardless of their fluctuating quality, the Alien films have always been, at the very least, a visual treat, and after the undeniable beauty of Prometheus, Alien: Covenant’s mediocre special effects are somewhat baffling. The aliens themselves don’t carry the weight they did in the ’70s and ’80s and are sure to look dated within the decade. More immediately concerning, however, are the green screen effects in the third act, which are so noticeable that there was audible chuckling in the theatre.
Alien: Covenant isn’t a horrible film. It’s competently directed, largely well-acted, and does (at times) progress themes from previous Alien movies. However, its convoluted plot, inconsistent tone, and lack of character development prevent it from restoring the franchise to its former glory, to which it is unlikely to ever return.
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Release Date: May 19, 2017 (United States)
Run Time: 123 minutes
Check out the Alien: Covenant official movie trailer