By Sean Pellman (New York)
Alien: Covenant – A Review of a Possibly Good Movie Gone Wrong
So first thing’s first, I’ve never actually taken the time to sit and write a review of a movie before, but for whatever reason, this movie annoyed me to the point of reviewing it so other fans of the Alien series don’t have to be as disappointed as I was. I watched the original Alien from 1979 with my dad when I was about 8. He loved that movie and somehow convinced me I could handle it. From what I can remember (when I wasn’t hiding behind the box of the DVD), I was actually completely enthralled by the film. The sheer sense of dread and suspense coupled with characters that felt all too real, shoved into a terrifying situation they were not prepared for was incredible. I think I’ve re-watched that movie about 30 times. I introduced it to my friends in high school and I’ve loved the sci-fi horror genre ever since.
What Ridley Scott was able to accomplish with that movie was beyond incredible, a feat I don’t think he managed to accomplish again outside of Blade Runner. Aliens is also a fantastic movie, though obviously of a totally different type. Leave it to James Cameron to take a horror movie concept and make it into one of the best action movies of the time. Christ, why do we have to get Avatar sequels from him nowadays? Let’s not talk about any movie including a Xenomorph after Aliens though, because whether it was studio meddling, or just movies that are so dark and poorly filmed it’s impossible to see the movie at all (*cough*cough* AVP:R), they’re all essentially garbage. I mention all of this just to set the stage properly for how much I really enjoy this series (despite the majority of the movies in it not being good).
Which brings us to Alien: Covenant. The latest example of how Ridley Scott these days is not worth our time unless he’s got great source material and a great script behind him (see The Martian for good, see Exodus: Gods and Kings, The Counselor, Robin Hood, etc for bad). I really want to know what has happened to Ridley. Here’s a man who’s directed some of the greats, and many of my personal favorites: Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma & Louise (yes, he directed that), Gladiator, Black Hawk Down. So why, when it comes to his baby, the movie that made a splash and propelled him to perpetual stardom, the film that launched an entire series of movies, comics, toys, art and more, is this the series he’s chosen to go back to and destroy? Look Prometheus is not a bad movie. I’d like to think I’m one of the many who have now discovered that. It requires multiple viewings and a complete lack of Alien expectations.
It’s not an alien movie. It’s a think piece on creation. What is the relationship between creator and creation? It’s not a great movie; can be kind of boring at times and there are no real characters I care about other than Shaw and David, but that’s fine. I’ve accepted the fact that it does loosely tie in to Alien and the numerous questions it raised would be answered in future sequels that Ridley had planned. So now, enter Alien: Covenant which might as well be called “Alien: I wanted to make Prometheus 2 but audiences didn’t seem to want it”. Now I bet most audiences wished they could have Prometheus 2. Probably would have been a more interesting movie. This is just my belief, but I think somewhere in the interim of the release and reception of Prometheus and Ridley’s plans for a sequel, he or better yet a studio executive read the field as people not wanting a thoughtful movie technically set in the universe of Alien, but instead wanted another brilliant sci-fi horror romp, so rewrites and brainstorms ensued. The mess that resulted is this movie.
Rather than just rant, I’ll actually start with what works, and what I liked in this movie. First of all, the scenery is incredible. I really need to get to New Zealand (of course Peter Jackson basically convinced me of that 11 years ago). The set design is also fantastic. Tons of practical sets and props which really made the movie feel lived in and like it could actually exist. Michael Fassbender. He needs no additional praise from me, but he was great as both the good android, Walter and the psychotic android, David. He gives a wonderfully robotic performance as Walter (not a criticism) and conveys actual human emotion from David. All around, great performance and interesting characters. Surprisingly enough, Danny McBride (Tennessee). He was about the only character I cared about other than the androids and he held his own, meshing some lighthearted comedy with tense drama. Kudos to him. And that’s about it. That’s what I liked; that’s what worked. Everything else….lord give me strength.
So I’ll follow whatever semblance of plot that exists in order to keep this a continuous flow through the story. Billy Crudup’s character of Captain Oram is a fucking idiot. He might be one of the most boneheaded fucksticks in a movie that I’ve seen in a long time. And he’s the god damn captain so that doesn’t bode well for the rest of our merry crew. I’ll continuously hit upon how fucking stupid Captain Oram is as I go through the plot but thing #1 that makes him a useless sack of potatoes that’s beyond dumb, is he decides to check out this new planet that they receive a mysterious signal from on route to Oragui 6. Oragui 6 is the planet they have scoped out as the location for their colony, the primary objective. As the crew mentions, there should be no other human life out there.
So let’s not reroute the entire mission and the 2,000 sleeping passengers just because this planet seems like it could be a better prospect. Katherine Waterson’s Daniels makes this abundantly clear. They have NO idea what the planet holds. Sure the vegetation and air seems nice from an initial scan, but it could house giant space worms that spit fire and shit space AIDS! They have no clue. They planned the mission for Oragui 6; they ran simulations that worked on Oragui 6. But no, creepy human transmission comes in from a seemingly alright planet and Oram is like, “Yeah, we’re going there now. Fuck protocol and fuck the 2,000 colonists.” Solid commanding officer I gotta say.
What’s my next issue? A bit of a minor one that I can kind of justify, but also I really can’t. They step out of the lander with no spacesuits or masks on. Nothing. Now I know they did a scan of the atmosphere and it seemed basically like Earth’s, but they’re supposed to be intelligent people from the future correct? What if, oh I don’t know, there’s an element in the atmosphere that’s foreign to the scanners, goes undetected, and kills everyone as soon as the door opens? You can argue all day about scanning an atmosphere and future technology mumbo jumbo, but at the end of the day, the fact they step out without spacesuits or protection seems ludicrous. Next, they leave Faris, Amy Seimetz, (Tennessee’s wife) on the lander. One of the crew members even says as they walk out, “Make sure you keep that door locked,” or something like that. The door remains open for the remainder of its time in the movie. Smart. All alone; left at the lander on a foreign planet. I’m gonna leave the door wide open. Congrats! You played yourself.
Alright who’s next? Carmen Ejogo, Karine (Oram’s wife). I think she’s the medical officer, though to be perfectly honest, that’s never actually made clear. She seems to know botany. I don’t know. Either way, she doesn’t matter cause she’s also a fucking idiot. Thank god her and Oram don’t have kids cause I’m sure they’d be a special kind of stupid. Once one of the crew members, Ledward (played by Benjamin Rigby), gets infected by spores released from a plant – and hold on. Let me pause right here. Ledward is one of many faceless goons who we’re never actually introduced to (unless you watched the prologue online but we’ll get to that later) and is basically just cannon fodder for the looming doom to come. The other faceless idiots who are just there to die are Hallet (Nathaniel Dean), Ankor (Alexander England), and Cole (Uli Latukefu). These guys have no purpose so fuck ’em. Anyway back to Karine being a dipshit. So Ledward is infected by spores and very quickly starts to become sick. Understandably, Karine wants to get him to the medical bay on the lander to check him out. But here’s the thing.
This is a colony mission; there can be no risk of contamination and the medical bay is some rooms into the lander, which means that you’ve gotta walk through the better part of it to get to your destination. Plus, Karine has had blood puked on her by this point. As far as Faris is concerned, she should have shut the damn lander doors and never let them on the ship at all (though she’s sort of redeemed once she locks the medical bay once she notices a creature beginning to burrow its way out of Ledward’s back). With Karine trapped in the medical bay with Ledward, the Neopmorph finally crawls out of his back in a wonderful bit of gore (too bad this isn’t scary at this point because we saw this done better in the 1979 original. Just because you add more blood, Ridley, and have it crawl out of the back instead of the chest does not make this scary).
Now, as frightened as you might be in this situation, I’m gonna be perfectly honest, my first inclination would be to stomp this fuckin thing that just came out of my crew member’s back. It’s tiny, and hasn’t shown any real response or movement since it hit the ground. It also looks pretty squishy so I’d say it’s probably pretty stompable. This is an overarching issue I have with all of the alien movies after the first two. In Alien, Parker immediately tries to kill the Xenomorph once it comes bursting out of John Hurt, but Ash yells, “No, don’t touch it. Don’t touch it.” Turns out it’s because he’s an android and Weyland Utani wants the creature, but Parker’s response should be everyone’s response. This tiny thing just came out of a human being, killing them in the process, and seems pretty vulnerable. Kill it! Kill it now! But not Karine. She instead tries to run to the other side of the room, slips on Ledward’s blood and grabs a fuckin knife to defend herself, never once attempting to stand again. Solid. Real solid. You deserve to die you stupid twat.
Then we’ve got Faris who decides alrighty now let’s ruin the quarantine I’ve created by opening the med bay in an attempt to shoot the Neomorph. Only problem: she slips on Ledward’s blood and falls. Two blood slips, Ridley? Two? What the actual fuck? I mean are the people in this movie bad at everything, god dammit!?!?! Needless to say this draws the attention of the Neomorph which attacks Faris and in the ensuing gunfight the lander manages to explode. Oh and the Neomorph got out alive. Can’t say the same for our dynamic duo of morons. Great.
Another Neomorph comes out of Hallett’s mouth (he got infected earlier with the rest of the ground crew but I didn’t care to mention it because they didn’t care to give him a character). Again, no one, including the 4 soldiers even attempts to kill the damn thing before it comes to and scurries away into the brush. Night falls and the Neomorphs have gotten bigger, as you’d expect in an Alien movie but it’s maybe been an hour so their size difference seems kind of ridiculous. Anyway, both Neomorphs attack the group who are all huddled around and in a tight circle. Cool. So uh where’s the tension? Where’s the fear of being picked off one by one? The damn things just come charging in like rhinos, get shot a bunch and manage to kill Ankor (who was he again? Who cares?) and bite off Walter’s hand. They get saved by David, yada yada, and he takes them to some building. On route to the building, they pass by the thousands of dead engineers. So now the first question of David once in safety should be, “Hey buddy. Thanks for the save out there, but uh did you kill all these things outside? Cause it sort of seems to reason that you did and that’s kind of sketchy.” No one decides to ask him.
Whatever. Now the remainder of the crew is in this building attempting to gain contact with Covenant hovering above the planet with Tennessee, Ricks (Jussie Smollett), and Upworth (Callie Hernandez). David shows Walter some of his experiments and has actually a wonderfully interesting conversation about David’s ability to create and Walter’s inability to do so. These are the seeds from Prometheus that were interesting and thought provoking. Clearly what Ridley wanted to make a movie about. David was deemed too human and thus Walter as a later model is more robotic and cannot really think for his own or have emotions. David thinks of this as a weakness in Walter and cherishes his ability to create and feel. David then tells him that Shaw died when the engineer ship crashed on this planet. He shows Walter her grave and actually seems to have a touching moment thinking fondly of her. He even made a garden around her grave site. This would have been a great scene if it wasn’t for the fact that it also flashes back to David arriving on the planet, not crashing by the way, and dropping a bunch of Prometheus black goo on the engineers, killing them all. No explanation for this; it just happens. Rosenthal (Tess Haubrich; yeah I haven’t mentioned her yet, who gives a shit she’s about to die anyway) decides to clean herself up and gets picked off by one of the Neomorph’s that followed them to the building. The second Neomorph is never seen again by the way so I’m pretty sure one of the screenwriter’s just forgot about it and hoped the audience would too. I did not sir. I did not.
David comes across this Neomorph feeding on Rosenthal (minor gripe here but her head is floating in the fountain in the room and it seems perfectly intact. Not idea why this annoyed me, but if the damn thing came in to eat her, why would it remove her head, pretty cleanly I might add, and then leave it in the fountain while going to work on the body? Was it just for a “chilling” shot, Ridley? Cause it wasn’t. It was stupid) and it notices him. He seems to be able to communicate with it because it doesn’t immediately attack him and even tries to return his whistle. It’s at this moment that our favorite fucking moron comes back, Oram. He comes up behind David and shoots the Neomorph, killing it. Not a stupid move. What is stupid is not immediately wasting David because he’s obviously fucked in the head and has no regard for whether the crew lives or dies. What a dope. Then, as if he couldn’t get any fucking dumber, he follows David to the bowels of this building as David explains he’s been trying to create a perfect organism since he arrived on the planet. The Neomorphs are the closest he’s come so far but takes Captain Dipshit to see some eggs he’s made. Also in this scene, you see the remains of Shaw and that clearly David killed her and experimented on her so now he’s just an insane villain as opposed to an interesting character. Cool beans. Captain Dumbass sticks his face in one of the eggs cause David says it’s safe and whoops, wouldn’t ya know it? There’s a facehugger in there and it latches on immediately. Okay, so you just came across the weird android that seems sketchy as fuck communicating with one of the creepy aliens that was currently eating a crew member. Sure, let’s follow him to a bunch of terrifying eggs and shove your face in one without questioning anything or using your brain at all. I swear to god, I don’t know why they wrote Oram to be so fucking dimwitted, but Jesus Christ dude. Shoot David, grab the crew, get the fuck out of there. There is no such thing as a perfect organism. It’s just stupidity in one of the supposed smartest that ends it all.
Oram regains consciousness and almost immediately the Xeno bursts from his chest. Good. Fucking. Riddance. (Pay attention to this though, the Xeno bursts about a minute or so after Oram gains consciousness. That’s important. Don’t forget it.) David communicates with this little bugger too. Don’t fully understand how? Too bad, says Ridley Scott. I’ve got 3 more movies planned to confuse you without actually answering you. Mwahahaha. So now we’ve got a Xeno. Great. Cut to David and Walter talking about how Walter’s figured out David’s kind of crazy (little late there bud) and David stabs him in the neck with a flute seemingly killing him. Spoiler – he’s not dead. Whatever. Who cares? Then cut to Daniels investigating some of David’s drawings. He tries to kill her / maybe rape her? I’m honestly not sure. This scene didn’t make sense. Walter (oh shit! He’s alive? Lol jokes) comes in to save the day. She runs off. Cut to Sergeant Lope (Demián Bichir; another character I didn’t mention earlier. Shows you how much he’s in the movie and/or matters to it) and Cole investigating the basement of the building.
They find the dead Oram (boohoo, so sad) and a facehugger leaps onto the end of Cole’s gun. He fires, it fucks off and finds Lope and jumps on his face. Cole cuts it off, it bleeds acid and burns Lope’s face though really not that bad. Last time I checked, that acid can cut through 4 levels of an industrial mining ship and this guy gets a minor scar. I mean has Ridley Scott even gone back to watch Alien to see how his own creation works? Anyway Lope’s crying in pain on the ground and looks up and sees the now full-grown Xeno above them. Okay. From how fast this movie has been rushing through this second act ending right now, I’m pretty sure only about 15 minutes has gone by since that Xeno came out of Oram. Just how the fuck, is it full grown? I’ll tell you how, because the screenwriter was backed into a wall and needed a big Xeno for this supposed finale so uh yeah, it’s full grown now. Anyway, it kills Cole immediately.
Tennessee is arriving now on some crane platform thing. He forced his way through a plasma storm to do it. Yippee. David and Walter are still fighting. David reaches for a knife. Cut to Daniels meeting up with Lope and them running for Tennessee and the crane thing. Walter follows (he’s got a missing hand, but any idiot could tell you that’s David and he cut his hand off to fool them). They get to the lander just as the xeno gets outside and it charges after them and climbs on the lander. Shenanigans ensue, but in the end Daniels traps it in the claw of the crane and crushes it to death. Alright pause. 1) This entire scene takes place in the daytime. You see the entire Xeno in broad fucking daylight as it charges in like a fucking idiot. That’s. Not. Frightening. It makes the Xeno less menacing. Way to go. 2) In total, the Xeno kills 2 people and that’s including the person it came bursting out of. Is this really the same creature that killed an entire crew of people from the shadows in the original? I mean that thing was a terrifying psycho ninja. It picked people off intelligently and was only bested because in all honesty, it got cocky with Ripley. Now it kills one dude, charges in like he’s going into medieval battle, messes around a bit and then dies. Ridley, are you okay? Do you even want to make movies anymore? Because we’d rather you didn’t if it means this is the outcome.
They get back to the Covenant and everything seems hunky-dory. Guess what, it’s not. But we knew that already didn’t we? They give Lope some minor surgery and a sedative. Daniels is catching some zzz’s when the A.I., Mother, wakes her up with a message that there’s an unidentified organism in the medical bay. Pause one more time. This is actually something that I find as the most frustrating thing in the entire movie. It’s what I like to call the plot convenient chest burster. Earlier in the movie, the Xeno popped out of Oram almost immediately after he regained consciousness. Now, we never see Lope get effectively face hugged because the initial one is cut off almost immediately so I’m assuming he gets properly face hugged in the interim of him reconnecting with Daniels while she was being attacked by David. That is literally the only time that he could have been infected. So now that I know that, let’s do a breakdown of timing. Lope gets face hugged back on the planet. Wakes up. Runs away. Meets up with Daniels. Gets to the lander. They fight a fucking Xenomorph on this lander for a good amount of time. They fly back up to the ship. They give him some minor surgery. He goes to sleep. Daniels takes a FUCKING NAP for god knows how long. And then, only then does this Xeno pop out. And why did it take so long? Because the screenwriter needed another Xeno on the ship at the end because no one is ever out home free in an Alien movie so let’s just have it burst out when we need it. Not when it’s been established that it would. Holy fuck that’s gotta be the laziest dumb shit way of writing a movie. What the actual fuck were they thinking when they greenlit any of this garbage?
The Xeno is already full grown (again no idea how) and is loose on the ship and is headed for Ricks and Upworth who are, and I’m not joking when I say this, showering. They are taking a shower and blasting music while they do so. Thus, they don’t hear the alarm and Mother telling them that they’re about to be fucking murdered. Holy shitamole, I’m convinced this script must have had at least ten different rewrites to get this bad. It’s got four writers and it seems like they were all writing different movies. With Ricks and Upworth dead, it’s up to Daniels and Tennessee to kill this thing. Walter/David helps them lure it to the cargo hold and they launch it out into space. Hooray! Daniels and Tennessee both go back into hyper-sleep headed for Oragui 6, the original mission, but just before Daniels goes under, she mentions something to Walter that she said at the beginning of the movie and he doesn’t respond. It’s at this point that she realizes it’s David but she’s too late and is put to sleep. David then spits up to facehugger embryos and opens the colonists section, presumably to use them to make all the Xenomorphs he wants. End.
God damn that was exhausting. Believe me, it was even more exhausting to watch. I was bored with about 90% of this movie. And I don’t know how that was even possible. Look the ideas that are continued from Prometheus are interesting and sort of work, but in a broken way. I understand that David is disappointed that his creator is human, something he considers beneath him. I understand that by proxy, since the engineers created humans, he must think that they are below humans because in his eyes, it is the goal of every species to create something that surpasses it. Thus, his goal was to create an organism better than himself. The Xeno is that organism in his eyes. Couple of issues with that. It is very clear that David does have emotions. He feels things as a human would often times and he is doesn’t always seem happy that to create, you have to destroy. And…..it is also clear that Shaw surprised him. He seemed to even grow to lover her. How then did he so callously kill and experiment on her? The old “In order to create one must destroy” argument doesn’t work here. He never loved Weyland. He was petty and focused only on eternal life. He never loved the engineers. He didn’t even know them. But he loved Elizabeth Shaw. In his own words she was the only human to show him compassion. It’s completely unrealistic that he would kill her and use her internal organs to experiment. It just doesn’t fit the character. Separate from this idea with Shaw, he wants to create the perfect organism. Here’s the thing, the Neomorph is the perfect organism. Sure it’s not as big or as armored as the Xenomorph, but shit, it comes from a plant spore. It’s completely undetectable by the people it infects and works almost instantly. Why would a creature that requires an egg to be approached by another creature and be foolish enough to look inside and be attacked by the facehugger which is only an incubator, be a superior organism? That shit requires so many additional steps and variables. Regardless of the end product being stronger, the process to create it is dumber and thus is not perfect. I’ll just chalk that up to bad writing.
So how do I go about summarizing my overall problems with this movie? Well first of all, it isn’t remotely scary. Like I mentioned at the beginning of this rant, I watched most of Alien from behind the “protection” of the DVD box. That movie was terror incarnate. Now, the trailers leading up to Covenant put out a similar tone and feeling of tension as the original movie. I definitely wasn’t going into expecting the badassery of Aliens or the general “meh-ness” of Prometheus. The trailers (and shit the title alone seeing as it has the word Alien in it again), the marketing (I work in NYC and the Times Square subway station was covered floor to ceiling in posters for this movie just with “Run. Scream. Hide” written all over them), and the conversations with Ridley himself all built up this idea that this was getting back to Alien’s horror roots. Well wasn’t that a lie. Most of this movie takes place in bright daylight with very clean and pristine ships and sets. A good majority of the dread that was built in Alien came from the fact that the mining ship the crew was on was dark, ominous, and had many pieces and architectural choices that looked like the Xenomorph. Once that thing was out and about, you were on the edge of your seat saying to yourself, “Is that it right there? Oh god where is it?” You felt the same fear the crew did. You never come anywhere near moments like that in Covenant.
Which brings me to the crew. I hate to constantly compare this movie to its far superior predecessors, but if Ridley Scott wants to keep making these prequels and tainting his legacy, I’m gonna compare them to the better times. That being said, the crew of Alien was small. Seven people. The conversations they have feel so real, I feel like I’ve had similar ones with my friends. If you just went to Covenant without watching the marketing campaign videos on YouTube or something (which I’ll get to soon enough), you have no idea who anyone is, how they’re connected to each other, or why you should give a single fuck about them. Then they immediately start making decisions a brain dead monkey wouldn’t make and that pulls you away even further. A mining crew reacting to a stress call planned things out better and was more intelligent about keeping themselves alive than this colonizing mission. How exactly does that happen? Within 15 minutes or so of them actually landing on the planet, 5 crew members are offed. I didn’t know the names of 3 of them because their names were never even said. That’s garbage writing. If the audience has to say, “Wait, who the hell just died?” ya might have a fucked screenplay. Every time someone died, I just said “Oh, who cares?” *snooze*. The only way tension/suspense can be properly built in a horror movie is if the audience cares about the people in danger. I didn’t give a single fuck about anyone on this crew other than Walter and that motherfucker’s an android so he’s not even in danger! I mean just why? Why was this seemingly written by some horror movie cliché machine?
Another issue I have is the marketing campaign. Why were “The Last Supper” and “The Crossing” shorts not in the movie? What purpose did it serve to cut them out and make your movie worse, Ridley? “The Last Supper” introduces the entire crew and who they’re all married to and that jazz, and did a better job of developing characters in 4 minutes than the entire 2 hour movie did. And then there’s “The Crossing”. This actually showed why Noomi Rapace was on set at least (Dr. Elizabeth Shaw for those of you who are too lazy to look it up at this point). It again gave some better insight into what sort of happened in between Prometheus and Covenant. Why leave it out? Did cutting 2 minutes save this movie? No. No it fucking didn’t. Thank god I watched these videos before I went cause the buddy I went with (shout out to Tom) didn’t and had no idea what was happening to who or why or what for most of the movie. Great job with that folks.
Alright this thing is long enough as it is. To wrap things up, this movie was written by morons who have no idea how to create characters, tension, or even a semblance of a coherent plot. The things from Alien that made it great (likeable/relatable characters, an understandable situation, claustrophobic environments, minimal lighting, fantastically creepy visuals) weren’t in Alien: Covenant. The things from Prometheus that made it at least somewhat interesting (creative/thought provoking ideas, SOME good characters) weren’t in Alien: Covenant either. I’m starting to think that there was nothing in this movie and I imagined it all in a boredom induced coma. Unfortunately that’s not the case.
This movie is not good in any way. The setting and environment looks amazing but that’s more of a credit to New Zealand and the cinematographer. Michael Fassbender gave a great performance. Danny McBride did a surprisingly good job. Katherine Waterson was passable, but that’s more because her character isn’t written for shit, not because she’s a bad actress. In fact, no one does a bad job acting in this. They just play garbage characters with no cognitive abilities and no plot to support them. I am begging someone, take this franchise away from Ridley Scott. He’s clearly lost what he started with. Give it to Blomkamp like they were supposed to and send it forward to close out with Ripley. We don’t need to see Ridley botch up an interestingly mysterious past anymore. Fuck. This movie sucks. Don’t pay to see it. Hate watch it when it comes on TV. Or do go see it. Whatever. See if I care….