I remember how excited everybody was when it was announced Ridley Scott would return to the Alien franchise and make a prequel to his breakthrough movie: Prometheus. It would revolve around the Space Jockeys briefly seen in the original Alien. An interesting concept, but one that failed in my opinion. It’s been 5 years since that movie was released and I can hardly recall what the story was about. I remember it had just a few winks and nods to tie it to the franchise, but otherwise had little to do anything with it. There were no Xenomorphs, as the Alien creature is often called, in the movie leaving the audience disappointed. It’s what they came for. With Alien: Covenant Scott returns to the franchise hands on fully, promising us the true origin of the species and another R-rated bloodshed horror movie.
Alien: Covenant follows much of the first half of the Chris Pratt/Jennifer Lawrence movie Passengers: a colony ship, bound for a remote inhabitable planet ends up in an accident. A small part of the crew is woken up prematurely from their cryo-sleep and have to help an android, who is looking after the ship while the humans are asleep, to fix the ship and get back on course. They pick up a distorted signal from a nearby planet which seems to be put out by humans. A scan of the planet reveals it’s also inhabitable. With 7 years to go to their original destination and mere weeks to the planet where the signal comes from the freshly installed captain decides to abandon course and set sail to this unknown planet.
What could go wrong right?
At this point you probably know what happens next. The surprise here is, this being an origin story, the focus lies more on how these creatures were created. Yes, created.
The theme in this movie is creationism. How the androids were created by Peter Weyland, how the captain is a man of faith unlike the rest of the crew and how the Alien creatures were “made”. It’s an interesting choice but one that feels forced into this movie. Like life on Earth I’m pretty much content with the evolution theory. Therefor I was just content with the whole idea of a planet somewhere in the galaxy inhabited by these creatures. They probably evolved in their own way. It’s not like I ever wondered how those creatures came to be. I don’t think a lot of people did, which makes the whole origin-story element redundant.
But what makes an Alien movie an Alien movie is the simple concept of a group of people ending up running for their lives because they have one or more vicious acid-bleeding apex predators chasing them. It’s not hard to make an entertaining movie out of that. The first two movies were masterpieces, the third movie was enjoyable when you choose to watch the Assembly Cut and provided some closure to the series. The fourth was a quick cash grab, but despite its faults it still had its moments and a nice cast full of familiar faces.
Alien: Covenant follows these basic rules but tries to add some originality with the character of David: the android from Prometheus who is still on this planet. His loyalty is questioned right from the start and those who have seen the first Alien movie know that not everything is always as it seems with these droids. Even though it’s been almost 40 years, the whole idea of an android with possible ulterior motives is not that original any more. In fact, it has become somewhat of a trope with 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Terminator franchise and many more movies in which Artificial Intelligence turns on its creators.
Next to its lack of originality, there is another problem I had with this movie: the crew is as dumb as rocks. They act like they are teenagers in an 80’s slasher movie or people who have never seen a movie about visiting an alien planet. This year also saw the release of Kong: Skull Island, a movie in which a group of explorers go to an uncharted island. Even though they were no match against the giant animals on this island, they at least had the common sense of enlisting a large group of soldiers.
The crew of the Covenant, not so much. They explore the planet without any sort of protective gear, ignore every warning they get and make one dumb mistake after another. At certain points the movie even feels like a spoof of the Alien movies. When someone bursts into a room to shoot a Xenomorph she slips over a puddle of blood on the floor. When the next person comes in trying to save her she also slips over the same puddle. At that moment I did not know whether I should laugh, cry or just do me a good old fashioned face palm.
Alien: Covenant only works on the basic levels of an Alien movie. It has the running, the screaming, the face hugging, chest bursting and everything you come to expect from an Alien movie, but not much else.