Alien was set against the backdrop of corporate struggles between white collar and blue collar. Aliens: on the backdrop of ragtag soldiers not understanding the gravity of their situation; an extended metaphor for Vietnam, if you will. Alien 3, although flawed for it, is about religious persecution by way of prison purgatory.
Alien: Covenant? It is set on the backdrop of ironic lost love. Thanks, Hollywood.
On a colonization vessel, the Covenant, headed for an Earth-like planet, an aberration in space causes a handful of the thousands of passengers to lose their lives. Among them is husband of crew member Daniels (Katherine Waterson), played by a James Franco who is literally sleeping through the role.
This incident rattles the crew, who, in the haze of crisis, decide to land on a nearby planet after picking up a “rogue transmission.” There they find…well, you know, it is an Alien movie.
Alien: Covenant takes a long time to set itself up, especially given that its premise does not deviate far from the Alien formula. This does not come with pacing issues for those who are fans of the franchise (particularly Prometheus), but it is a stark contrast to what immediately follows the setup.
The film amps up the body horror element of the Alien concept to extreme degrees. While a natural progression for horror sequels, and not one that is immediately problematic, it is a surprising turn. I mean, since when has the operative word of the Alien franchise been “gross?”
At least it doesn’t pull its punches. The film goes in visually intriguing ways with its bloody brand of parasitic expulsion. But the film also becomes tonally challenging as a result.
The visual elements of the film are engaging. Cinematography on any shot scale is gorgeous, especially when it captures the astounding set design and landscapes or a stylized use of lighting. The editing strongly aids the excitement of sequences and is handled perfectly in the introduction of the xenomorph.
The computer effects, however, can get cartoonish, particularly at the onset of the alien creature, the baby xenomorph appearing more akin to 1992’s Alien 3 than competing 2010’s science fiction.
As the movie progresses, and the aliens mature, the CG gets more appealing. We also get the cicada crackle sound of the creature, used to perfect effect.
For a movie about the relationships between separated couples, you could go the whole film not fully grasping who’s married to whom. Take that as a sign of the level of characterization the film tackles.
It is a problem of numbers that Alien—a perfect horror film—does not suffer from. Here, remembering a name is rare. Sympathy is rarer. This is perhaps the cruelest, most cynical Alien film in canon (Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem and its chest-bursted child doesn’t count).
The most developed, intricate character isn’t even human. Then again, that is likely the point. Michael Fassbender gives a surprisingly affecting performance as dual cold, monotone characters. (I mean, it gets figuratively phallic in ways about as obvious as the tongue of a xenomorph, but that scene can be overlooked). His cool Hannibal Lecter routine is more of a menace than the high concept Giger creation that got us to this point.
Alien: Covenant essentially posits that humanity is more ugly than the monsters it creates. The film glorifies the xenomorph creature just as pop culture has. The artificial Ozymandias figure, king of kings, is given more complexity than the newly widowed Daniels.
While intriguing thematically, this complicates the structure of the narrative at its core. The shooting gallery plot is already a problematic one from a character standpoint. Adding themes that heighten alignment with the monster only lessens the interest in watching the protagonists struggle to survive.
Even still, the few jump scares don’t make up for a general lack of suspense in the film. The middle section adequately handles action and horror elements. But this leads to a climax that hinges on a plot reveal that is not veiled for a moment.
Alien: Covenant: B
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)