Here’s my advice to you: if you’re going to go see Alien: Covenant in the theater and you have not watched Prometheus since it came out, you will be vastly better informed if you give yourself a refresher course. Now, if you hated Prometheus, that’s going to be a problem, because Alien: Covenant picks up 14 years after those events and the end of Prometheus spawns by far the most interesting parts of Covenant. The quick and dirty of my opinion on Covenant, because I am going to have to get into spoiler territory a bit, is that I think two episodes into Ridley Scott’s demystification of the origins of the xenomorphs have convinced me the entire endeavor is a mistake. Sometimes things become a lot less interesting the more you know about them (Wolverine’s origin should still be a mystery, for example). Prometheus was gorgeous, dreamed big, was massively flawed, but was admirable in its ambition. Covenant provides answers….eventually, but is criminally boring in getting to them with 75% of Prometheus‘ budget (no one will be calling this film “gorgeous”). It’s not Aliens 3 or Resurrection….but, honestly, it’s not even Prometheus.
For those hoping that Ridley Scott was going to take the feedback he largely got over Prometheus and return the series to its horror roots, the first scene of the movie is David’s creation by Dr. Weyland. Like so:
The Covenant is a colony ship traveling to a distant world with 2,000 souls in cryogenic sleep, a crew of 15, and their very own version of David (Michael Fassbender) whose name is Walter (Walter likes hats and carpentry). When an accident damages the ship, Walter is forced to awaken the crew, and they are a step down as an acting brigade from that of the Prometheus. Rebecca Ferguson, and surprisingly Danny McBride are good, but the rest are completely forgettable and we spend an interminable amount of time with them until the decide to explore the source of a distress beacon, and run across the planet where Dr. Shaw and David were headed at the end of Prometheus.
Covenant was supposed to be a return to horror, and after the interminable first half, we do get xenomorphs aplenty. I will leave what happened post-landing to the film, but we do run into David again, which leads to all sorts of ….fun. Fassbender is one thing I cannot in any way criticize with this experiment. He was the best part of Prometheus and is the best part of Covenant. It’s here I have to stop with plot because David is the key to this movie (and this entire franchise), but the “horror” portion commences shortly before the Covenant crew run into him.
The xenomorphs still aren’t the classics. There are dozens of varieties as they are still evolving and even moving toward the classic monster, there seems to be some serious breaking with the gestation period. Monsters pop out fully formed and grow to adult size within minutes. The assault on the crew isn’t the cat and mouse of Alien, it’s really just butchery and not the return to scary we were promised. It’s irritating, because for all the answers we do eventually get, and when you get them, it begins a climax that’s really quite good, makes up for a lot of the dross that comes before, and sets up yet another prequel film (perhaps THIS one will be the one that returns the series to its glory).
Ridley Scott is now 80 years old. Like James Cameron is going to spend the rest of his career cranking out Avatar sequels no one is waiting for and no one particularly is waiting for, I’m afraid another visionary film maker is going to spend his last years taking all of the mystery out of his best film, and there aren’t so many visionary directors running around that I want Scott’s last films to be four more of these (or however many he now thinks he needs to fully lay out the story of the xenomorphs). If he’s intent on making these, could he at least let Neal Blomkamp make HIS Alien film so we have a finale that isn’t Resurrection? Covenant has the monsters Prometheus lacked, but its cinematography is murky, the F/X are notably worse, the crew is less interesting, and not even Walter and David and some franchise shaking revelations can make up for the pacing of the first half of the film. Honestly, if you want to go to see a space film this weekend, go see Guardians Vol. 2 again and save this for a rental.