Alien: Covenant is an improvement on Prometheus but falls short of being a great science fiction film due to Ridley Scott belaboring key points of the narrative.
The film set out on a strong course with an incredibly creepy prologue that lays the groundwork for the narrative. The Covenant is a vessel carrying 2,000 people including a crew of 15 meant for colonization. A tragic space accident occurs involving solar flares and the crew’s captain is killed. The second in command (Billy Crudup) assumes control of the vessel and does his best to maintain the momentum of the previous captain. However, he can sense that the crew is restless and the idea of six more years on this ship is becoming less and less appealing. Luck appears to finally break their way when the sensors pick up a planet that seems entirely habitable and it’s less than a week away. The science officer (who happens to be a terraforming expert played by Katherine Waterson) doesn’t agree with the captain’s decision but he won’t listen to reason. Among the crew is an android named Walter (Micheal Fassbender). The android bears a striking resemblance to David who was a member of Prometheus’s crew (a little bit of foreshadowing). When the crew eventually reaches the surface, they quickly realize that this seemingly harmless planet is home to a terror just waiting to spread across the cosmos.
It’s safe to reveal, as it already has been in multiple trailer releases, that one of the highlights of the film was the dynamics between Walter and David. Walter is clearly created with the purpose of serving his crew while David was created with the purposes of forethought. His creators instilled in him the idea that man can and should evolve and we could create a better species. Walter believes in limits and David doesn’t see any limitation, even it means harming others, or in this case, a planet.
I thought Katherine Waterson did a good job in the film. While some might have wanted her to slip into a role similar to that of Sigourney Weaver, her character was equal parts logical and badass.
Danny McBride is great as well in playing his typical role of a hothead with heart. One of the more powerful moments in the film is between Waterson’s character and McBride’s as she has to break the news to him that his wife is dead.
The production design was good and really added elements that helped to enhance the scare factor in the film. For example, David’s laboratory wasn’t the most well lit and easily accessible place on the planet. It was dark and dreary (partially due to the weather) making those Aliens seem scarier than they probably were.
While we are talking about the Aliens, the special effects were on par with what we’ve come to expect from Ridley Scott.
What Didn’t Work
Scott spends a great deal of time discussing creationism in the film. David’s purpose is to explore and seek out the best version of ourselves. Walter’s is to serve and provide for others. While the dichotomy between the two characters is certainly compelling, the discussion goes on and on to the point where it weighs down the film.
Other than perhaps Waterson’s character, there is a supreme lack of character development during the picture. It’s almost as if the cast is meant to play “stereotypes” not actual people. McBride plays the hot-headed pilot. Waterson is a level-headed science officer. Crudup’s is someone who relies less on data and more on faith.
Alien: Covenant is an effective science-fiction thriller that attempts to recapture the franchise’s past glory but falls short. If the picture had focused more on the terror of Xenomorphs and less on why they existed then it would have lead to a more enjoyable experience. It’s certainly an upgrade over the dreadful experience that was Prometheus and makes us hopeful for what’s to come.