My daughter and I went to see Alien: Covenant last week, having seen all the previous Alien movies, so why not this one? Like any Ridley Scott film, it’s stylish and attractive; the production design is attractively creepy, beautifully eerie. The acting was generally good, and the scary moments were appropriately scary. The fact that the movie really didn’t work very well at all isn’t really the fault of the production team. Editing, lighting, special effects: kudos to all. Sorry things didn’t work out overall.
We went to a weekday matinee, and the theater was close to empty. Which meant that my daughter and I felt freer than usual to talk a bit during the screening. And she kept saying “here’s what’s going to happen next. This is going to happen, and that’s going to happen, and that character there is going to die.” And I’d think, “I can see where you’re coming from. That’s clearly what they’re setting up. But it’s can’t possibly all be that obvious. Surely, a veteran filmmaker like Ridley Scott–just a few months shy of his eightieth birthday, with forty films in the can, an amazing career–will throw in some plot twist, surprise us, change things up.”
Nope. He never did. My daughter got it all right, every twist and turn. She got one thing wrong. She assumed that the character played by Danny McBride, a veteran spaceman named Tennessee, would be killed by the alien before the end of the movie. Because: Danny McBride. Fine actor, and it was nice to see him in a dramatic role, after all the obnoxious comedies he’s done. Still, it’s an Alien movie: I figured he was toast. So, here’s your spoiler: he survives.
But see, here’s the real problem. This is, as I understand it, the second movie of what should become a trilogy, closing out the Alien saga with Prometheus (2012), Alien: Covenant (2017), plus a third one, apparently. And based on the first two movies of that trilogy (if it happens, because IMHO, another movie’s completely unnecessary), what Scott’s trying to accomplish is to provide us with a complete, fully fleshed out origin story for the aliens. How did they come to exist, how did they spread, where did they come from, in short, what’s the deal with the monsters? And I don’t care, and I don’t think anyone else does either.
Here’s what I assumed: the aliens came from some planet somewhere. They evolved. They’re the apex predators on that planet, just as we humans are the apex predators on ours. At some point, some idiot brought them aboard a space ship, where they survived by, among other evolutionary traits, burrowing inside the body of a rival species so they can burst spectacularly out of some poor schmuck’s chest. That’s what I assumed. They’re a life form; they evolved. And I’m good.
Sorry, no. There’s an elaborate backstory. Michael Fassbender plays two androids, a good one and an evil one. I’m not going to give away anything more. Just know this; you’ll figure it out an hour in, and then you’ll doubt yourself, because it couldn’t possibly be that dumb. Yes it can.
So there’s lots of sound and fury. It ends up not signifying a darn thing. Various characters fight valiantly against creepy, evil, skeletal, fast moving aliens. And, mostly, succumb. The Ripley this time is a ship’s officer named Daniels. She’s played by Sam Waterston’s daughter, Katherine. She’s very good. She’s a fine actress, and she plays desperation convincingly.
Also, Billy Crudup is in this, and that’s always a treat. He’s such a fine actor, and he plays a complicated, compelling character, the ship’s captain (accidentally), out of his league and in over his head, but doing his level best to keep everyone alive. And screwing up, but still. Crudup is the reason to see the movie, I think, to the extent that there is one.
Other than that, I can’t even say it’s a big disappointment. My expectations were low enough, to be honest. This movie fell short nonetheless. Remember a few weeks ago, a very similar (VERY similar) evil-aliens-in-a-space-ship flick called Life? It was derivative and obvious and not very good. But the alien was scary, and I thought the movie, overall, worked a lot better than Alien: Covenant. Shame, really. The first Alien movie was terrifically scary. The second one, Aliens, was even better. But the franchise hasn’t held up, and that’s disappointing.