Max Redmond Smith on Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien: Covenant’ (2017)
Alien: Covenant is an unnecessarily truncated story: it serves only as an off-kilter glue between Prometheus (2012) and yet-to-be-released, Alien: Awakening. Jettisoning all character development besides android David (Michael Fassbender), the film becomes a dislocating experience for spectators. If one were to not have seen the short prologue to the film released online, it would be forgivable not to care for any of the characters at all, or be able to distinguish them from any other archetypal motley crew seen many times over in countless horror films. And if audible audience sighs are anything to go by, this is precisely what happened.
Fassbender is undeniably once again flaunting his acting chops, but he is perhaps the only redeemable feature of the film. Sure enough, the crew are supposed to slot in with David’s view of the human race as inferior and shallow, but some character development would have at least made David seem somewhat threatening. Murdering and mutilating Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), the protagonist from Prometheus, is certainly callous on paper (not least to actress Noomi Rapace), but being told this only by way of flashback does not build David up as a cruel enough character to warrant the entire film revolving around him. Subsequently, a complete disservice is done to the character of Shaw, who had great potential to carry the new trilogy on her back. So, with David now centerstage, is there anything keeping audiences in their seats? With David indifferently ravaging all that stands in his way to create a perfect life-form after Shaw’s death, he lacks true depth, and falls quickly into the tired stereotype of a maniacal scientist with a God complex. In fact, many parallels can be drawn between Mary Shelley’s Creature from Frankenstein (1818) and David, and conveniently it is Shelley’s husband that is being misquoted by David in the film. Inasmuch, David’s behaviour becomes highly predictable and tediously banal. His supposed immortality, that he frequently makes a point of highlighting, also strips the spectator of the pleasure of suspense by marginalising the theme of mortality that the original Alien canon had revolved around; why fear for David if he is never at any risk, and clearly just being saved for the next instalment of the franchise?
Alien: Covenant has rather disastrously attempted to philosophise the Alien canon, and its weak script and sloppy editing make for a limp film with surprisingly indiscernible direction from seasoned filmmaker Ridley Scott. Functioning merely as a compilation of Scott’s needless afterthoughts on the Xenomorph mythology he created, Alien: Covenant is then peppered with isolated action sequences — with admittedly adept acting and special effects — that feel incongruous to the film as a whole. Lacking suspense, the sequences invade the story and appear to be desperate attempts to revive the tired canonical tropes audiences are familiar with.
Moreover, multiple lines are reused and paraphrased from the original canon, the Alien music theme makes several reappearances, and the final scenes simply felt like a digitally remastered release of standout scenes from Alien (1979), Aliens (1986), and Alien 3 (1992). As it is, Alien: Covenant is a lacklustre intermediary; a chicken-scratch love letter to past glories of the Alien canon, sealed in a flimsy Prometheus envelope. Offering nothing on top of Scott’s first prequel return and sucking dry the franchise iconography in desperate search of substance, Alien: Covenant is a vapid, unnecessary, and disappointing addition to the established franchise — a footnote that could have been condensed into an Alien prologue, although the necessity of that is equally questionable.