#REVIEW: “ALIEN: COVENANT”
Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
The Covenant ship is heading towards a distant planet on a colonization mission. On board are a small crew, alongside thousands of colonists and embryos – all in deep cryosleep. A freak shockwave hits the ship, killing the captain and a number of colonists. As the newly awakened crew assess the damage, they receive a radio transmission from a nearby planet – which may have a better chance for colonization than their original destination. Against the better judgement of lead terraforming expert Daniels (Katherine Waterston), the crew decide to investigate and the results are disastrous.
Alien: Covenant is a step up from its disappointing predecessor Prometheus. It is a lot scarier, more viciously violent and significantly more intense. Thematically, this is every bit what the legendary Alien franchise has been defined as. Despite this, Covenant remains just as frustrating and genuinely silly as Prometheus. None of the human characters are particularly smart, acting like clueless camp counsellors from Friday the 13th more than they do experts in science and security (there’s even a gratuitous shower sex scene!). And while the Film features the glorious return of the iconic Xenomorph and introduction of the frightening Neomorph, Director Ridley Scott cares more about his obsession with his philosophical musings and enigmatic ideas about creators and their creations. His focus on those elements bog down the Film’s second act more than they should, taking away from precious time with the Film’s monsters.
Another point of contention – specifically in relation to Covenant’s spot in the Alien franchise – is how much of it hinges on blatantly obvious plot twists. I rarely pick up on any Film’s clues for what might be coming next, but John Logan and Dante Harper’s screenplay is all too predictable. These twisty moments are downright infuriating as their inclusion make the characters seem that much more inept. One twist becomes all the more ridiculous because it leads to a moment that has zero context, set-up or explanation. It simply exists because it can and because the audience expects it. Perhaps the inevitable Director’s Cut will drop a scene or two back in to make sense of it?
What does work for Covenant is the look and scope of the Film. The locales are even darker than previous entries, but they still look visually spectacular. The detailed make-up effects are also quite enjoyable, no matter how gruesome or gory they become. The Xenomorphs are just as menacing and horrifying as you remember, and the new Neomorphs are intriguing to marvel at – as is the return of the Facehuggers that have plagued the series’ characters since the very beginning. I think Scott could have relied less on CGI in bringing these hideous beasts to life (especially during the sometimes incoherent action scenes), but I am just happy he actually brought them back considering they were basically absent from Prometheus.
Despite how talented the cast is, the majority cannot elevate the material given to their one-dimensional characters just waiting to be killed. Thankfully the same cannot be said for Michael Fassbender, who is absolutely magnificent from beginning to end. He plays an android much like he did in Prometheus, but he has perfected the minutia of the role and brings a heightened nuance that was missing previously. His multi-layered presence on-screen in Covenant is fascinating, magnetic and strengthens all of the film’s glaring weaknesses. And it may sound shocking, but Danny McBride is great as the crew’s pilot Tennessee. He has a few fun lines, but gets to show an unexpectedly honed range with the Film’s more dramatic and horrific elements.
Alien: Covenant deserves to be a much stronger film with the level of talent involved. But looking past the silly acting and overly complicated storyline, the rest of the Film’s parts make for an entertaining return to the Alien franchise’s roots. Some moments may enrage lifelong fans, but the deeper connections to previous entries will intrigue them. Let’s just hope they bring in some new directing blood to take on the next adventure.
20th Century Fox Canada release ALIEN: COVENANT on Friday, May 19, 2017.