Alien Covenant movie review: Twice the Michael Fassbender, twice the terror
Alien Covenant movie review: Director Ridley Scott replugs Michael Fassbender in his exploration of deep space, armed with the philosophical ideas of Prometheus, and the terror of his original Alien movie.
Alien - Covenant
Director - Ridley Scott
Cast - Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride, Billy Crudup, Demian Bichir
Rating - 3/5
How could an alien race – which, for the sake of this argument, we must assume is far more advanced than ours – be even slightly interested in colonising us? How could a people whose understanding of life – in addition, of course, to the magical technology that has allowed them to travel to our remote corner of the universe, perhaps even through time – even consider ‘ruling’ us, the petty, violent blobs of insignificance that we are?
To wipe us out – every tiny sign of our brief, inconsequential existence on this little blue dot – our past, present, and future (remember, these aliens don’t look at time in a linear manner like us savages), would probably take them a week. And it would require roughly the same level of mental (and physical) effort as you squeezing sanitizer onto your hands. So the only realistic situation in which these… Aliens… would even bother to waste a reflex glance in our direction would be if Trump accidentally lobs a nuke at Texas. Or if, like Douglas Adams wrote, Earth was getting in the way of a massive intergalactic highway, and building a bypass was too much of an inconvenience.
Alien: Covenant does the only logical thing: It makes us, the delusional schoolyard bullies that we are, still thinking we’re the centre of the universe, the aggressors. It makes us the colonisers. Like the pilgrims who crossed the Atlantic to populate/desecrate the New World, the humans at the centre of Alien: Covenant travel in a spaceship with the intention of colonising a distant planet.
En route to the planet, which they’ve named Origae 6 – which suggests that five Origaes have previously come and gone – they receive a distress signal that sounds an awful lot like John Denver’s Take me Home, Country Roads. Against the protests of Daniels (the Sigourney Weaver surrogate played here by Katherine Waterston), the crew heads out in search of the mysterious source.
Obviously, things don’t quite pan out as pleasantly as they’d expected.
History, and the movies, haven’t been particularly kind to colonisers – except, in a classic American move, Christopher Columbus, who was, by most accounts, a rather evil man. And nature finds a way of punishing the Covenant’s crew.
Alien: Covenant is a quasi-prequel to Ridley Scott’s classic 1979 creature feature Alien, and a quasi-sequel to Prometheus, a film I still maintain, five years after its release, is an unfairly slapped around gem. It is a movie that, in a turn of events that was so shocking to the mainstream audience that so savagely dismissed it, valued substance over style, ideas over resolution. Because Scott has a uniquely understated approach to filmmaking that makes even his grandest films seem like intimate dramas. He does that by grounding these dense, philosophical ideas with stories about regular characters experiencing regular, unremarkable, but identifiable emotions. The large-scale, lavish visuals are there to compliment the story, and not as a distraction from the lack of it.
However, being a sequel to Prometheus definitely hurts Covenant. For one, I’d assume it would be nearly impossible to follow the plot without having already (and relatively recently) seen Prometheus. In fact, much of the story’s central thrust hinges on how well you remember David, that idiosyncratic android played so wonderfully by Michael Fassbender in the previous movie. But the larger problem is this: When films try to retroactively course-correct a franchise, abandoning established ideas and tones, you’re left with a movie that feels neither here nor there (Batman - ahem - V Superman).
Covenant is at its best when it is a straight up horror movie, much like the original ’79 film, and not when it is reciting Ozymandias atop a cliff, surveying the vast empire that lies in rubble beneath its feet.
The crew at the centre of Alien: Covenant, of which only two or three members resemble real characters (the rest are simply lumps of meat for the Alien to chew), is far too large, perhaps a conscious decision since they seem to die at an alarmingly rapid rate.
But watching them die, the terror of the buildup, and the release of the gore, that is when the film works – and not when it is posing, and failing to answer the biggest questions of them all: Who are we and why are we here... And this is unfortunate, since we so often complain that movies nowadays are designed in boardrooms by ruthless corporations with third-quarter targets.
Here’s Alien: Covenant, a film brave enough to have one Michael Fassbender driod kiss another full on the lips, opening up a world of philosophical debate, but we sit there impatiently wondering if the Alien only eats humans.
Watch the Alien: Covenant trailer here