ALIEN: COVENANT: Lackluster PROMETHEUS Sequel & ALIEN Prequel All In One

That’s right: Prometheus is better than this movie.

Love it or hate it, Prometheus swung for the fences with its ideas. The film sets out to not only explore the origins of cinema’s nastiest xenomorph, but also those of mankind itself. Creation, faith, and the mysteries of the universe are the things Ridley Scott and company chose to wrestle with in that largely derided film. It’s an objective truth that at the very least, Prometheus really went for it with its science fiction.

Seemingly having “learned his lesson” after the substantial critical drubbing that Prometheus underwent (unfairly, in this critic’s estimation), Ridley Scott returns once again to the cinematic universe he birthed with Alien: Covenant, a film which undoubtedly aspires to be much less “out there” than Prometheus, and succeeds at being far more generic than its predecessor.

Indeed, Alien: Covenant does serve as a sequel to Prometheus, following up on many specific plot points of that film. There’s a lot to be hopeful about in the first half of Alien: Covenant. We’re introduced to a whole new crew loaded with quality actors (props to Danny McBride for being one of the most relatable and fleshed out of the entire crew). The Covenant is a ship brimming with crew, thousands of colonists, and even a whole mess of embryos, intending to colonize a brand new planet. The “be fruitful and multiply” imperative yields a crew made up almost entirely of couples, which is an intriguing setup that feels largely wasted when all the dust settles. First to lose a partner when their cryosleep is interrupted by a space anomaly that damages the ship and kills some crew is Katherine Waterson’s Daniels. She’s to be our Ripley surrogate in Covenant, and while she acquits herself well from a performance perspective, Daniels is given remarkably little to do here. The loss of her partner in the space anomaly offers little of import on the proceedings that follow. And what is it that follows? Wouldn’t you know, it’s a distress signal that leads our crew to a planet that seems ripe for human life. [I’ve seen enough movies to know I should never, ever respond to a distress signal].

It’s at this point, when the crew arrives on this mysterious planet, that the most interesting and thrilling elements of Covenant take form. Act II tackles many of the looming mysteries of Prometheus in a way previously unseen in the Alien franchise. With the tradition this series followed for decades of swapping out auteur-ish directors for each installment, the Alien films each had unique visions that took the expanding tale in different directions. With Alien, Prometheus, and now Covenant, Ridley Scott is staking his claim and retrofitting this franchise to be his own. It provides a heretofore unknown continuity, but that continuity comes at apparently great cost. That said, if the saga of Michael Fassbender’s androids David (Prometheus) and Walter (Covenant) made up the bulk of this prequel series, then maybe we’d have something fantastic on our hands. Because Michael Fassbender is bringing a level of craft to these films that no one else is even approaching. He’s single handedly trying to save this franchise not only with his compelling portrayals of these androids, but his characters are consistently the best written and offer the most interesting pieces to the puzzle Scott is doling out to varying degrees of success.

As we see how the “virus” has continued to evolve on this strange planet and as the inevitable happens when our traditional xenomorph is birthed, the questions of Prometheus go largely answered, offering the most compelling and satisfying set pieces of this film. When we inevitably segue into the final act, we’re treated to a flat re-tread of Alien that’s about as lazy as can possibly be imagined. It frankly reminds me of how the last act of Riddick was largely a remake of Pitch Black. Only it worked in Riddick, whereas here is feels like an empty tank of creativity that simply caved to audience demands of once again seeing this admittedly wonderful creature get outsmarted by our female protagonist.

There are some twists and turns along the way that I would be loathe to discuss in detail here as what pulse Covenant does have are contained in some of those twists and turns. But in the end, Scott seems to have attempted to appease audiences by sanding off the edges of Prometheus and ultimately committing the sin of retracing his own steps, recreating Alien sans the claustrophobia, the mystery of the creature, or the deep investment we had in the characters from the first film.

I didn’t find myself angry or bored as Covenant played out before me. Indeed, I was engaged and curious about the Prometheus elements and how big the questions would be that Scott continued to wrestle with. But as the third act steeply declined, and upon much reflection after the fact, Covenant is ultimately a disappointing film. As a fan of the hard sci-fi of Prometheus (and all four previous Alien films to varying degrees), Covenant finally feels like the film that convinced me that this series needs a break. Sure, a third film would likely bridge the final gap that brings us right up to the events of Alien… but I definitely don’t feel compelled to see that after the events of Covenant. Granted, Fassbender’s work alone here is so brilliant, and his characters so intriguing, that if a final Scott-directed, Fassbender-starring Alien prequel were to materialize, I likely couldn’t resist.

The world and aesthetic of the Alien universe remain highly enjoyable. Set designs, score, ship designs, costuming, body horror, The Company… it’s all a sort of comfort food that tastes good going down. The creatures, the diverse crews played by wonderful actors… I enjoy spending time in the Alien universe in a way that hasn’t soured quite as sharply as the world of Middle Earth did throughout those interminable Hobbit films. Scott is fully capable of re-creating the world he birthed and bringing us the nostalgia and familiarity that comes with that. He just needs to really do something remarkable in another installment if he wants audiences to care about that crashed ship which Ripley and the Nostromo ultimately encounter.

And I’m Out.

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