In space, no one can hear you sigh disappointedly.
The sequel to Prometheus – and the prequel to Ridley Scott’s own Alien – is a ham-fisted affair, lacking a good script, well-defined characters or effective scares.
I went in with some enthusiasm based on Scott’s interviews and a degree of goodwill; I, like plenty of others, desperately want another good Alien film.
Sadly, this ain’t it. I highly doubt we will ever see one again.
There are plenty of things wrong with Covenant – which I’ll get to – but it’s worthwhile first mentioning the positives.
The score, for instance, nicely marries Jerry Goldsmith’s score from Alien with Marc Streitenfeld’s from Prometheus, linking old and new in a way which the script struggles to do.
Katherine Waterson does good work as the Ripley-alike, Daniels. She sells the thin time she’s given to grieve over her husband, and comes across as likeable, clear-headed and tough.
Michael Fassbender, meanwhile, is excellent as both David, and as his fellow synthetic, Walter. He convinces both as the crazed, mad-scientist with a God complex, and as the more sympathetic, caring, upgrade. It is David’s story – the story of creation – which Scott really wants to tell, and David’s obsession with both Gods and monsters is thematically interesting.
Sadly, Scott has tied himself to the Alien franchise and, within that context, it doesn’t really work. A film discussing androids, creation and the role of God is prime sci-fi material, but it should have its own story; a place where it can breath and where plot elements can more comfortably fit around it.
Instead, it’s required to sit uncomfortably within the mythos of Alien. By doing so, as Mark Kermode excellently explains, it also does no favours to Scott’s own 1979 film.
Covenant, too, has failed to learn from the errors with Prometheus. The earlier film was, rightly, criticised from the number of stupid decisions characters make purely to move the plot forward. The same happens here.
Why don’t the colonists wear space suits when exploring the new planet they’ve never heard of, or know anything about? Why does Oram (Billy Crudup) follow David into the basement with the Alien eggs, even though he knows he’s a wrong ‘un? Why do people always go off alone?!
It’s lazy writing which feels cheap and unnessary.
The film treats time with a frustrating disregard too. From facehunger to chestbuster, Oram must have been infected for no more than 30 minutes. Yet, Lope’s parasite is incubated much longer for plot reasons – not only can he get off the planet, but he’s treated back on Covenant.
Meanwhile, character development is hinted at rather than explored. We hear early on – in painfully clunky dialogue – that Oram is deeply religious, but it’s literally never used to any effect. His faith is never called into question and it’s never used in any effective, relevant way.
Similarly, the relationships between the ship’s crew are disappointingly under-explored. Unlike any previous Alien film, the characters are all couples. It’s a new avenue for the script to explore, yet when husbands and wives begin to die it barely registers. We get a few people briefly sad about their spouses death and…that’s it.
I mentioned earlier about there being a separate, better, film within Covenant focussing solely on David’s story – well, there’s another one buried within Covenant about the relationship between couples and dealing with emotional trauma in extreme circumstances. In this film though, we get an underwritten jumble of nothing.
The ‘nothing’ extends to the Xenomorph itself.
It’s treated in Covenant in a way reminscent of Venom in Spider-man 3. On the latter film, director Sam Raimi made it abundantly clear that he did not much care for Venom and was effectively forced into including the fan’s favourite by the studio. As such, Venom is under-served in a film with two other villains. He’s in the final picture, but it’s clear he’s not much-loved. Similarly, with Covenant, Scott seems to have felt obliged to include the Xenomorph after its absence was criticised in Prometheus.
It’s to the detriment of the film. In some ways Scott was correct to be cautious of using his creation; Covenant proves that the Xenemorph has lost it’s ability to shock or scare. But, even so, the last 30 minutes seem completely flat – the scenes aboard the ship are completely perfunctory, the violence is messily filmed and the climatic battle is over-familiar and un-involving.
- As someone who watched the Youtube prologue of the Covenant crew pre-hypersleep, James Franco’s death seemed strangely de-combobulating. I initially thought his death must be a dream.
- The Xenomorph CGI seemed…bad. There was no point at which it seemed anything other than a collection of pixels.
- I quite enjoyed the spine-burster. That was satisfyingly gruesome.
- The scene with the Neomorphs amonst the wheat was fairly effective. Reminded me of the similar scene with the raptors in Jurassic Park 2.