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‘Alien: Covenant’ continues to kill the mystery for no reason

by Tim English on May 19, 2017

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: Swiss Fist]

Full disclosure before we begin: I’m in the minority of those who actually enjoyed Prometheus for what it was. Unfortunately, my biggest problem with the 2012 DNA prequel to 1979’s Alien was that it seemed to be promising to answer questions that didn’t need to be answered. Alien: Covenant continues to fulfill that promise in a very pedestrian installment in this seemingly unnecessary prequel trilogy.

Covenant picks up years after Prometheus, introducing us to a colony ship (the Covenant) on a mission to a remote planet, Origae-6, with some two-thousand colonists and a thousand embryos on-board. But after an accident nearly cripples the ship, the crew detects a mysterious signal coming from a previously uncharted planet. It’s at this point early on that these characters, scientists and shit, start making the dumbest decisions possible. So, obviously the decide to track the signal, because fuck it, right? Maybe they can just colonize this planet instead. Potato, Potahto.

But the stupidity doesn’t end there. In fact all of the characters take turns doing dumb things, which I get — it’s a horror movie after all, dumb decisions lead to running and screaming and all. But these are scientists dammit. You’d think they’d know better than to go outside on an alien planet without proper head gear, or staring down into a slimy, squirming egg as it slowly peels open even if someone is trying to assure you, ‘I’m sure it will be fine.’

The thing is, Covenant is actually a pretty okay movie. But that’s just it. It’s just okay. Sure, there are some decent scares. Director Ridley Scott has always been very capable of delivering seat-gripping tension. It’s really the direction it’s heading as it aims to connect with the ’79 classic by the end of the next installment. In Prometheus, that crew set out to investigate the creation of humanity, which I was kinda into. Why did those freaky bald dudes create us poor bastards?

Covenant all but drops the investigation into the Space Jockeys and instead continues to explain the genesis and evolution of the Xenomorphs. I’m sure Scott will pick up the loose threads from Prometheus in the next movie, and tie them into Covenant and give us a twist on how it all ties into Alien. But it doesn’t feel interesting enough to necessitate three movies of explanation. Especially when all it’s doing at this point is make Alien slightly less mysterious with each bit of exposition.

And the characters are fucking bo-ring. The only one who appears to have any discerning personality traits is Tennessee (Danny McBride), but he’s sidelined for much of the first half of the movie and his dramatic connection to the plot isn’t developed nearly enough — much like all of the interpersonal relationships on the Covenant — to have proper emotional impact. Katherine Waterston‘s character has potential early on, but slowly becomes another Ripley clone by the end, just not as cool.

The one standout continues to be Michael Fassbender, who blesses us with a dual role — one as Walter, the synthetic assigned to the Covenant mission, the other as the lone character returning from Prometheus, the other synthetic David. Last time we saw him, he was just a head, but he’s got a body now; but he’s kind of an asshole (being stranded on a planet with some dangerous shit will do that to you) and some seriously fucked up ways of trying to play God.

Sir Ridley Scott does deliver a visual masterpiece, no surprise there. Everything from the design of the Covenant ship to the Earth-like planet and it’s mysterious caverns to the evolving Xenomorphs looks top fucking notch. The action is okay, looks cool, has a few decent moments of excitement, but a lot is riffed from the other Alien franchise flicks, and while Scott still has the skills to make it effective, it doesn’t have the WOW impact it had going back to those earlier films. Far too often, Covenant settles into an over reliance on predictable jump scares rather than building on the grandiose ideas the filmmaker is suggesting.

Despite all of this, I’m still interested to see where this is all going. That’s the power a filmmaker like Ridley Scott can have. It may all be one big fucking tease, and I really may not even want the answers that are ultimately coming, but dammit if I won’t be ready to hear everyone out when Alien: Awakening (early title) rolls around here in a few years. Hopefully Scott can figure out a way to inject some freshness into a concept that is becoming slightly more ripe for parody than further investigation.

Writer. Ad Man. Jedi. Sometimes people ask for my opinion on movies. Sometimes they agree. Member of the Kansas City Film Critics Circle and the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Creator and voice of the Reel Hooligans podcast. Find us on iTunes. Board member for the Independent Filmmakers Coalition of Kansas City and founder of the Terror on the Plains Horror Festival.

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