If watching Prometheus makes me go: “Meh, I’d rather pop in Alien again”, then watching Alien: Covenant makes me go: “Meh, I’d rather pop in Prometheus again.” On the surface, these three films are all quite similar. Their stories follow the same beats: we have a ship, we land on some planet, we find alien structures, we get eaten. Usually, people escape, but the monster has followed them onto the ship and there’s a last stand-off. But what is behind this descending order of quality?
Alien: Covenant is simply regurgitating the same stuff that we have seen a thousand times, and to be fair, some people want that. Some might like every Alien film to be the same movie, but it gets really formulaic by now. An Alien film basically writes itself. The least a director could do is provide a new spin, a new twist to the tale. Looking at Prometheus, that movie did succeed in doing so. It looked epic; it had vision and memorable scenes. Not all of it made sense but it breathed new life into that same old story. But Alien: Covenant lacks vision. Worse, it is boring.
The whole first hour hardly takes us anywhere. We get some pretty shots of the new space ship, inspired perhaps by Passengers and Avatar, and our characters walk around a planet that looks like Oregon or Norway. Katherine Waterston plays eeuhh… I forgot her name but she cries and blubbers a lot. The characters just don’t really come to life. Michael Fassbender commands the movie as the android David, but this time he feels overused. And the moment something goes wrong, the whole crew started screaming and panicking like mindless chickens. It was as if the characters suddenly lost all ability to think straight because the plot asked this of them.
Then in the second half, when things are supposed to pick up, there is no suspense. On top of this, the supposedly scary scenes are not properly grounded in the world that the movie establishes. For example, the sparse, industrial ship that the crew arrived on also had a luxurious two-person shower just so that we could film an Alien shower scene straight from some 80s slasher movie. Also, this giant colony ship only has one tiny shuttle to transport people to a planet.
On the whole, Alien: Covenant feels slapped together as if a script needed to be found within a weekend. The writers simply let the previous films lead them. The solution or continuation of the story of Prometheus feels unsatisfying, because it enters the film out of nowhere and had much greater potential for wonder and imagination. But that is now unfortunately lost to us. The special effects are not utilized well, because the alien “xenomorph” never really thrilled. It was too visible, perhaps, but it seems more as if the director didn’t understand how to build suspense well. Big vistas were clearly matte paintings that had no feeling of depth.
I’ve got to wonder what was going on before and during the production, because originally, Neil Blomkamp, director of District 9, was planning an Alien movie. But that one got put on hold indefinitely, probably because director Ridley Scott protested against this, and then Scott quickly pushed through this one. In effect, wresting the Alien series away from other directors and back into his own orbit.
I was really disappointed by this movie. It tries to be two different movies: it takes the philosophical angle of Prometheus, and it tries to be Texas Chainsaw Massacre in Space, but it half-asses both of these elements. The whole story about the Engineers and Elizabeth Shaw’s travels has come to an abrupt ending without the satisfying sense of wonder that Prometheus promised. And it just wasn’t scary or tense. I am mostly frustrated because the Alien franchise is once again dying. It fizzled out after Alien 3 and everything that came after, got a new boost with Prometheus but that second wind is proving short-lived.