I saw Alien: Covenant last week, and ever since then, I’ve felt conflicted about it. Or rather, I know exactly how I feel about it, but am conflicted about where I lie in the continuum of audience reactions.
Let’s get this out of the way first: I love Prometheus. I understand the criticisms of it. I will be the first to agree that it has its flaws that keep it from being objectively great either as part of the Alien franchise or as a stand-alone science fiction film. There are things about it that bug me when I re-watch it. But there are enough things that I really like about it that I’m willing to overlook its imperfections. Also, it was one of the first movies in the Alien franchise that I saw, so maybe it helped that I didn’t go into it with many preconceived notions.
Leading up to the release of Alien: Covenant, I saw a lot of promising speculation about it. It was going to be a sequel to Prometheus, but also a throwback to the original Alien. This sounded great to me. I wanted a sequel to Prometheus, and Alien is a great movie. My most optimistic hope was that Covenant would combine the best aspects of them both. My more realistic hope was that I would enjoy it even if it wasn’t perfect.
Unfortunately, what Covenant actually feels like is a generic slasher movie where the characters serve no purpose except to get killed off in stupid ways. I could barely tell the characters apart, and by the time I even learned most of their names, they were getting killed. The film spends barely any time establishing their personalities or motivations before throwing them into chaos, so it’s hard to care about them or forgive them for their monumentally stupid behavior. Instead of relying on what worked in the previous films, Covenant relies too much on horror movie cliches. Tonally, it doesn’t even feel consistent.
The premise of Covenant is that the crew is piloting a ship carrying 2,000 colonists in hibernation to a new planet, and for much of the movie, I kept thinking about how angry I would be if I were one of those colonists and my life was entrusted with these idiots. They do everything wrong, and the film expends barely any effort to justify these decisions or make them understandable. I’m usually pretty forgiving of characters making bad decisions in movies because frankly, I’m not convinced that my judgement would be all that great if I were a character in a horror movie. But I feel fairly certain that I wouldn’t go stomping around on a strange planet without wearing a helmet, and that I wouldn’t stick my unprotected face in an alien egg.
As a sequel to Prometheus, Covenant is only barely satisfactory. Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of David, the intelligent and morally ambiguous android, is still the most enjoyable part. But he can’t save this movie. The unanswered questions from the end of Prometheus are sort of answered, but the answers just raise new questions.
All of the actors do a pretty good job with what they’re given. They’re just not given much to work with in the script, and there isn’t enough space for them to develop their characters. Katherine Waterston is a fine actor, but her character gets hardly any development. We know close to nothing about her except that she’s grieving from the death of her husband.
As the end credits rolled, the guys sitting behind me in the theater were talking about how the death scenes reminded them of a Final Destination movie. Though I don’t know if I agree with that exact comparison, it is fairly apt.
Suffice to say, I was disappointed. There’s no way around it. At the same time, I really wanted to like it. The tricky thing about being a fan of a film franchise is that sometimes you don’t want to trash it, or see it trashed, even if you agree that it deserves it. On the other hand, I really can’t agree with the positive reactions I’ve seen to it, because frankly, I just don’t see much that redeems it. If it delivered on even one of its promises, I could praise it but it just…doesn’t.