Sunday Sesh: I Hope You Didn’t get Bursted this Weekend
In space, no one can hear you sequel your prequel.
This past weekend saw the release of Ridley Scott’s highly anticipated Prometheus sequel Alien: Covenant, and in many ways it feels like a course correct for the franchise. The aforementioned Prometheus, while stunningly gorgeous and containing a few scenes of white knuckle terror, felt incredibly shallow for a movie that’s foundation was creation and the reason for being. Then, of course, were the (silly) complaints that it didn’t feature any xenomorphs.
As you’ve probably guessed by the title, ads, posters, interviews and every other bit of marketing, Covenant goes above and beyond to assure you that it has fixed the latter complaint: This isn’t an Alien-adjacent film, this is an ALIEN film. Delivering on the promise of Hollywood’s most famous space creature slaying hapless crew members is the easiest fix though. The harder part is adding depth to the shallows of Prometheus, an area where Covenant mostly succeeds.
The story is one as old as time, one that sees a spaceship crew composed of eight couples trying to reach a habitable planet to start a new colony with some 2,000 odd other humans they have in their cargo bay. After a solar storm wreaks havoc on their ship and causes the death of their captain (a short lived cameo by James Franco that merely sees him burned alive) the crew intercepts a strange signal from a nearby planet. According to their systems the planet sits square in the Goldilocks zone and may be better suited to colonization than the planet they were headed to. The setup is the strongest stretch of Covenant, immediately grabbing your attention with chaos aboard the ship and dropping you into a world that feels at once familiar and foreign. The same can be said for the alien (not Alien) world that the crew lands on. It reminds you enough of Earth that you feel relatively comfortable, but it looks so grey, weary and empty that you can’t help but allow a sense of dread to creep in.
Not long after landing, things start to go seriously wrong for our crew, and unfortunately for the movie too. Unlike the original, this Alien movie seemingly can’t wait to get to the titular beast and practically sprints to the brand new neomorph’s appearance. The scene itself is a masterclass in escalating tension and gag-worthy brutality; it’s just a shame that the film feels so eager to get to it instead of wrenching every last drop of terror it could out of the setup.
This is a problem that shows up all too frequently in Covenant. The film is so enamored with its own musings on creation that once it comes time for action or plot advancement it requires idiotic action from a character or the extremely sudden appearance of a xenomorph. That’s not to say the questions raised by the film aren’t worthwhile or interesting. They most assuredly are and lead to some truly great scenes, almost all of which star Michael Fassbender talking to himself, but they come at the expense of the rest of the film, causing some scenes to feel hurried and the movie as a whole uneven. In fairness to the film’s more philosophical leanings, some of the less ponderous and more horror-oriented scenes feel laughably out of place (the debut of the classic xeno in this movie brought to mind Spaceballs).
It isn’t all the lamentations of the creation at his creator’s inadequacy, though. Covenant also features some truly stellar action set pieces that left me in awe, among them a brutal display of the murderous efficiency of the neomorph set in a wheat field and a nutso ship sequence. The grand finale doesn’t quite carry the same raw energy as those scenes and instead feels more like CGI masturbation than a fulfilling resolution. Add in a rather predictable ending, and Covenant winds up limping out of the theater instead of sprinting like it hinted it would a bit earlier.
Alien: Covenant is a film that wants to be a mixture of Alien and Aliens filtered through the lens of Prometheus and in doing so vaults over the latter while falling well short of the former two. It delivers a weird, uneven, sometimes rushed experience that, while flawed, is still an enjoyable watch thanks to its interesting world, tense moments, spectacular action and fun characters (again, Fassbender to Fassbender is cinematic gold every time it happens). If you go in with tempered expectations and a lust of burstin’, then you will surely leave satisfied.
If you saw Alien: Covenant this weekend, hop into the comments and let’s be sad that Fassbender didn’t get naked with himself.