Alien: Covenant, the followup to the controversial film Prometheus, is a film that addresses that film’s problems in the worst way possible. For a film that was supposed to be a return to form after the stumble that was Prometheus, it looks more like the Alien franchise has been effectively hobbled indefinitely. If my antipathy for this film is plainly visible, it’s because I hate this film. The more I think about it, the angrier I get. To say that Alien: Covenant makes Prometheus look competent is an understatement.
That’s because while Prometheus is a dumb film masquerading as an intelligent sci-fi film it at least tried to be entertaining and thought provoking. Alien: Covenant, however, relishes in its lack of effort and doubled down on the idiocy found in its predecessor. And it ultimately suffers from the same issue that Prometheus did: it squanders its near-limitless potential.
Like Prometheus, the film attempts to explore the themes of creation, the creator and its creation, and how the created seek to defy their creator. The opening scene quickly establishes these themes as we see Michael Fassbender’s David speaking with Guy Pierce’s Peter Weyland. It is actually an amazing scene and by far the best part of the film. Fassbender is excellent as David, and Pierce is delightfully detestable. The subtle power play going on between the two characters is fascinating and helps flesh out David’s own character even more.
Sadly, aside from a handful of scenes where David and his updated double, Walter, discuss their views on humanity these themes are either briefly touched on or straight up abandoned. Which is a pity because if the film had committed to this it may have given it some level of depth or intrigue. Instead, the film devolves into a poorly written slasher film with rock stupid characters, their only character traits being super tasty to seven foot tall, armor plated, alien, killing machines.
It doesn’t help that many of the cast could easily be replaced by sequoias. I’ll be damned if I can remember any of their names (yes I googled them, no I’m not using them because I can’t be bothered to remember them). It’s really sad given the impressive lineup.
Billy Crudup plays the ship’s second-in-command, and he struggles with assuming the role of captain due to some insecurities regarding his faith. However, nothing comes of any of this at all. And for most of the film Crudup suffers from a severe case of stupidity that makes the idiots in Prometheus look like geniuses by comparison. And his attempts at command come off as the character being a mincing little turd rather than an competent-yet-inexperienced commander struggling with his new duties.
Katherine Waterston is a wet blanket in the film, simply stepping into the ill-fitting shoes of Ellen Ripley because it is an unwritten requirement in all Alien films to have a “badass female character” as the lead. Oddly enough, Waterston feels like a supporting character despite her supposed role as the film’s main protagonist. Even when the body count begins rising she doesn’t take charge like Ripley would. At the end of the day, she’s just a pretty girl in a sweat soaked tank top toting a shotgun.
It’s not all bleak, though. Fassbender, as always, is a delight. Here he manages to make his dual role as the androids David and Walter feel distinct. Walter is more robotic, yet there’s a warmth to him as you get the feeling that he does genuinely care for his crew, especially for Waterston’s character whom there are hints at a romantic connection between the two. Meanwhile, David has become more creepy and malicious. His usual cool and charming demeanor a weak mask for his contempt for humanity. The film starts to pick up once David arrives, but even Fassbender can’t save the film as even he falls prey to the film’s hamfisted and stilted dialogue. Worst yet, the film attempts to inject some homoerotic tension between David and Walter that feels more comical than anything else. Though many Fassbender fans will enjoy the sight of him kissing himself at one point.
The real gem of this film, oddly enough, is Danny McBride. Firstly, he’s the only member of the Covenant crew whose name I remember (it’s Tennessee). Secondly, while I’ve never liked McBride, finding him to be more or less of an irritant in all of his films, he clearly has some serious acting chops. While I was bored stiff watching Waterston mourn the death of her husband (a toasty James Franco), when McBride’s wife dies and his character learns what happened I was surprised to feel sorry for him when he went off to mourn. You care about his character, and he’s the most competent member of the crew (not that he has much competition).