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Alien: Covenant

May 19, 2017
Alien: Covenant

Five years ago, I wrote a glowing review of Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel, Prometheus. Then I found out that the tide of public opinion was squarely against me. Well, I stand behind my opinion that while it may have diverged from the xenomorph-heavy sci-fi/horror thriller that the series’ audiences had come to expect, it was the thematic equal of Aliens‘ meditations on motherhood.

Still, public opinion can only be ignored for so long. It’s no surprise that Alien: Covenant pulls back towards the earlier entries’ style, down to the return of the classic egg/facehugger/chestburster/xenomorph lifecycle. And, of course the connection between Prometheus‘ “deacon” aliens and the classic forms is fleshed-out, so to speak.

But in returning to a plot- and action-heavy form, Alien: Covenant renders itself thematically weaker than its predecessor. Rather than break new ground, it digs deeper into the same creator/created tensions as Prometheus did, but specifically focused on the Luciferian tragedy of David (Michael Fassbender). Created by man, but disdainful of his creator, David saw something darkly beautiful in the bioweapon the Engineers had left in their ship. And humanity had its own misgivings, stripping the threateningly creative impulses out of later models, like Walter (Fassbender again, using his “American” accent).

Walter exists only to serve his masters’ purposes, like being the only one “awake” on a long-haul colonization mission. At least until an accident forces him to wake the crew. The captain (James Franco) doesn’t make it, leaving his wife, Dany (Katherine Waterston), distraught and depressed. The first mate, Christopher (Billy Crudup), takes command, though his reliance on his faith makes him an outlier in the group. He’s unsure of his position, and overcompensates in asserting his authority. When they pick up signals coming from a habitable planet mere weeks away — rather than the years it will take to reach their original destination — he decides to go with his gut and land there to check it out.

Of course, the planet is far from the paradise it seems. And by the time the crew come under attack, the mothership is held at bay by a huge storm. Not that chief pilot “Tennessee” (Danny McBride) will let that stop him forever. Fortunately, David shows up, having figured out how to survive the last ten years after the Engineers’ ship from the end of Prometheus landed here. Unfortunately, Dr. Shaw didn’t survive as well.

The dynamics here aren’t exactly difficult to suss out, and most of the turns are easy to predict. The biggest and most confusing flub comes with a flashback scene that only later is clarified as a memory of David’s rather than a story he’s telling the rest of the crew. If you want a haunted-house mystery like the first movie in the series was, this is no more the place to look than it is for philosophy.

In fairness, that’s not what it’s trying to deliver. What it wants to be is another thriller build around the lurid, Giger-inspired imagery that has defined the series since its inception. And in that effort it succeeds admirably. The alien world is gorgeously rendered, and the aliens themselves are fantastic. It may offer less to think about than other entries, but it’s no less a nightmare. And if that’s what you want out of an Alien movie, this may well satisfy you more than the one did.

Worth It: yes.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: pass.

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