Alien: Covenant, now the eighth installment in the Alien universe, arrives on Earth nearly forty years after Ridley Scott was put on the map for directing the original eerie and sophisticated creature feature. Perhaps it’s the pending anniversary that made Scott nostalgic for his glory days, for Covenant is sadly anything but a dismal, rehashed and sluggish attempt to recapture what made Alien (and Aliens) effectively original and terrifying.
Ten years after the disappearance of the Prometheus expedition, we find ourselves aboard the Covenant: a spaceship housing around two thousand people bound for Origae-6. Once awakened, the passengers will colonize the empty, Earth-like planet and begin anew for the human race. After a rogue transmission, the crew touches down on an unknown planet, and find themselves under siege from a few pre-pubescent Xenomorphs. While rescued by David (Michael Fassbender), the bot from the Prometheus expedition, the survivors’ fight for survival becomes more perilous, as the hellish world they’ve landed on is the birthing ground for something sinister.
Covenant, equal parts action spectacle and philosophical drool, ultimately fails to have an identity. What made Prometheus a success, for some, was its ability to innovate and develop a mythos within the Alien universe that felt referential and fresh. Trying so desperately to set itself apart from its predecessor to appease those who felt triggered by its lack of Xenomorphs, Covenant relies heavily on past achievements, which leaves its horror elements and creationist diatribes feeling stale. Most of the dialogue is so on the nose that it’s unintentionally hilarious when trying to be metaphysically stimulating, and its sequences of terror are so forced they’re cliché.
The cut and paste nature of the script, especially in terms of Daniels’ (Katherine Waterston) characterization, are some of its most egregious flaws. Scott’s Alien films are known for their active female heroines, but Daniels is largely passive. Events happen to her, and rather than working to change her environment and fight the villain, Daniels sulks in the background for most of the film. Her decision to take charge in two of the film’s climatic moments reverberate as underwritten and shoehorned in for the sake of emulating Ripley and Shaw.
Sadly, Scott had a good movie here. He just quarantined it to a two-minute segment (which you can see online), shoddily backhanding one of the strongest and most layered characters in the series. With how Covenant picks up, any unanswered plot points established in Prometheus are either unaddressed, or given the one-sentence resolution in favor of choppy and indulgent action sequences that hardly feel constructed by a director who once had a singular and imaginative vision.
Even David fails to have much personality for being a robot that has the ability to create and evolve like a human. The structuring of the third act is so haphazardly constructed that David’s motivations are hardly riveting, leaving much of the mystique of the final fight scene to play out unceremoniously, leading to a dead-end conclusion that does less for bridging the Alien films than it will for an irrelevant spin-off.
Alien: Covenant is little more than fan-fiction in the studio era (even with Scott having final cut), seeking to cash in on better, and still more relevant success stories.