There’s a scene in
Prometheus 2 Alien: Covenant in which one Michael Fassbender tells the other Michael Fassbender that the poem Ozymandias wasn’t by Lord Byron as he thinks, but by Percy Shelley. It was at that moment I told myself Alien: Covenant wasn’t by Ridley Scott, the man who gave us Blade Runner, Alien and The Martian, but instead by Ridley Scott, the director of Exodus: Gods and Kings, Robin Hood and Prometheus.
In terms of story, Alien: Covenant is pretty straightforward, as long as you keep in mind that’s it’s a sequel to Prometheus, which in turn starts the cycle of prequels that will ultimately lead into the events depicted in the 1979 classic, Alien.
After a quick prologue laden with exposition and heavy ideas, we jump to 10 years after the events in Prometheus. The spaceship Covenant is headed to Origae-6 carrying alien fodder — its crew made up of married couples, 2000 sleeping would-be space colonists, a thousand embryos and a synthetic android Walter (an upgraded version of Prometheus’ android, David) played by Michael Fassbender. James Franco plays himself in a video clip shown on a tab, and in the movie per se, he portrays the role of a burnt-to-a-crisp body with aplomb (I kid you not! And that’s not a spoiler by the way. This review, if you can call it that, contains no spoilers. You can’t spoil an Alien movie).
Then they meet David, the android from Prometheus who’s been up to no good in his man-cave and who isn’t the biggest fan of humans.
En route, they are forced to make a stopover on a strange planet, and do stupid things like touch alien flora and fauna with bare hands and breathe in alien spores (of course they’re not wearing helmets, that’s how this works). Cue a monster. Then they meet David, the android from Prometheus who’s been up to no good in his man-cave and who isn’t the biggest fan of humans. Cue exposition. And a scene that this movie will perhaps be mostly remembered for: Between the two Fassbenders, starting with a description of a flute being a tube that you put in your mouth and blow. Just in case you missed that clever piece of dialogue, it’s adroitly followed by another piece of deft writing where one Fassbender tries to teach the other Fassbender to play the flute by putting into his mouth while saying, ‘I’ll do the fingering’. And just to be sure you really get the homoerotic point, cue Fassbender making out with himself. Cue more exposition.
After this lots of deaths occur, with one facehugger appearing, one chestburster and one adult proto-Xenomorph. Cue blood and predictable screaming and running around featuring a diluted Ripley (from the original movie), here played by Katherine Waterson who seems to be having a bad Sigourney Weaver hangover, right down to the vest. Somewhere in between one Fassbender fights the other Fassbender. The shower scene you saw in the trailer is still there but you know what happens to that couple. That’s what they are there for. Cue more predictable screaming and running and one oh-so-clever plan to survive. Cue proto-Xenomorph. Show a little more proto-Xenomorph, but not enough. Cue explosion and fire. Cue survivors. A cute little twist later, Fassbender is ready for one more Alien movie (at least!) in almighty stylish fashion. Credits roll. The end.
Cue more predictable screaming and running and one oh-so-clever plan to survive. Cue proto-Xenomorph. Show a little more proto-Xenomorph…
To paraphrase one of the most famous lines from Ozymandias, ‘Look on this work, ye Alien fan, and despair’ aptly sums up my feelings towards Alien: Covenant.
But what’s Ozymandias doing in Alien: Covenant you ask? Well, there’s also Michelangelo, Lord Byron, Wagner, musings on creators and creations, the purpose of life, more Wagner, the search for meaning, existential crisis, a bit of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, the topic of free will, more Wagner, Biblical metaphors, symbolism and metaphysical subtexts. All the things you don’t expect to see in an Alien movie, and what weighs this whole movie down. And when it does return to its roots, it keeps running over the same old ground, albeit not as gloriously as you’d expect.
It would perhaps have been a better idea to call this movie Prometheus 2…But With Real Alien Monsters. And that’s where the movie suffers. Slipping somewhere in the cracks between wanting to be grand and ambitious but still stay true to its roots. Between Ridley Scott’s desire to give us more than just another space slasher film but while delivering enough horror, scares and blood that made the 1-2 punch of Alien and its sequel Aliens so impactful (let’s pretend Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection never happened). And Alien Vs Predator? Well, at least that movie was honest in its intentions to grab cash from fans of not one, but two properties.
Slipping somewhere in the cracks between wanting to be grand and ambitious but still stay true to its roots.
So, is Alien: Covenant dishonest? Absolutely not! It’s just confused about what it wants to be, quite possibly because the script looks so ad hoc and put together as a reaction to the criticism that Prometheus got. I wouldn’t be surprised if the first meeting to decide the story and script went something like this:
Person 1: Ok, so, Prometheus 2?
Person 2: Whoa! Hold on. We don’t want that name to rub off on this movie. It’s an Alien movie, let’s have ‘Alien’ in the title.
Person 1: Capital idea! Now for the story, where do we begin?
Person 2: Well, most people just simply loved Michael Fassbender in Prometheus, the best thing about it many say. So…wait for it…how about we have two of him in this movie?!!
*high fives ensue*
Market Research Dude: Excuse me sirs, but the biggest criticism about Prometheus was that it was an Alien movie without Aliens or rather Giger’s monsters. You think you could fit them in?!
Person 1 & 2 (in chorus): Amazeballs! Why didn’t we think of that?!
Person 1: So that’s settled then. Two Michael Fassbenders and the alien monsters. We can work with that and fill in the gaps with some leftover dialogues from Prometheus and some ideas never used in Exodus: Gods and Kings.
*more high fives ensue*
The fact that there seems to be no clear plan as to where this is going is further bolstered by an oft-quoted statement Ridley Scott gave earlier in the year regarding future Alien movies: “If you want a franchise, I can keep it cranking for another six. I’m not going to close it down again. No way!” That to me sounds more like a veiled threat than a promise, going by Prometheus and now Alien: Covenant. A threat to part me from my money as I troop back in again and again to the theatres to watch yet another Alien movie with expectations that maybe we’ll get to enjoy the visceral thrill of the classic Alien movies again (let’s admit it, most of us sci-fi fans are suckers that way).
“If you want a franchise, I can keep it cranking for another six. I’m not going to close it down again. No way!” — Ridley Scott
And speaking of suckers, I should’ve probably described the Fassbender & Fassbender scene here, but since I’ve already done it, let’s move on upwards to the visceral bit. Which is what made the first two Alien movies such classics. Visceral, not faux cerebral. Smartass banter not clunky dialogues. Action, not exposition. Fresh, not formulaic. Straightforward, not filled with gaps. More of the same, but not.
So, Is Alien: Covenant really that disappointing? No, it’s better than Prometheus. Should you lower your expectations? Yes, that would be a good idea. Is it worth watching it in theatres? Of course! It’s an Alien movie. Plus, if you don’t, how will this movie make enough money to justify Prometheus 3 which we all want to happen, just to see where this is really going, if it is going to go anywhere at all and how, before all of Aliens’ mystery and charm is sucked out by the vacuum of milking a franchise.
But, hope springs eternal. Knowing what Ridley Scott is capable of, maybe we can expect something better in the next edition of the Alien saga. That’s still a while way, but the next edition of New Worlds Weekly is out next Friday as always and I hope to see you again then. In the meanwhile, why not share your thoughts on Alien: Covenant in the comments section below? Agree with this sci-fi fan’s review of the movie? Disagree? A bit of both? Let us know. You can also tweet to us with #NWWonFD. I look forward to some fun conversations on this.
Live long and prosper!
Subscribe to FactorDaily
Our daily brief keeps thousands of readers ahead of the curve. More signals, less noise.
Disclosure: FactorDaily is owned by SourceCode Media, which counts Accel Partners, Blume Ventures and Vijay Shekhar Sharma among its investors. Accel Partners is an early investor in Flipkart. Vijay Shekhar Sharma is the founder of Paytm. None of FactorDaily’s investors have any influence on its reporting about India’s technology and startup ecosystem.