Think back to the first time you saw Alien. The awe you felt at encountering the downed spaceship, with its enigmatic pilot seemingly a part of the cockpit. The terror as the xenomorph bursts from Kane’s chest. The growing sense of unease as the almost sexual Alien picks off the Nostromo’s crew. Alien: Covenant pisses all over these feelings and repurposes them for its merciless butchering of its own mythology.
It’s ten years since the events of Prometheus, and the colony ship Covenant is on its way to a far distant planet when – surprise, surprise – it’s diverted by a mysterious signal. This is the first of a parade of references and callbacks to previous Alien films, none of which reflect well on Covenant. We’ve seen it all before: the facehuggers, the chestbursters, the acidic blood. Scott himself practically wrote the book on Alien, and spends the entire film failing to do anything new.
So Covenant is a subpar Alien film, but only when it remembers to be an Alien film. The rest of the time it’s a bloated mess of ideas, some carried over from Prometheus, others shoved in just for the hell of it. It wouldn’t be so much of a problem if any of these ideas actually went anywhere, but none of them are given any time to develop. They’re hauled in front of us, pointed at as if to say, “Look how clever and important this film is,” then we’re dragged on to the next one.
The script, by John Logan and Dante Harper, is largely to blame. This is Stephenie Meyer-level writing, wherein characters have to state their personalities because they sure as hell don’t display them any other way. The actors, especially Katherine Waterston and Michael Fassbender, give adequate performances, but they can only do so much with what their given. As for Ridley Scott, he’s a great visual director, but he is no storyteller. If he’s handed a bad script, he makes a bad film.
When Covenant finally remembers the “Alien” in its title, it’s too little too late. The climax is a high-octane version of the original’s, but it pales in comparison to what James Cameron came up with for Aliens. The action scenes throughout the whole film are a disappointment, in fact. Bizarrely, Scott appears to have taken some inspiration from the terrible Predator crossovers. The action scenes are a confusing jumble of shuddering cameras and fast editing that leaves us with little idea of what’s going on.
The final insult in this litany of invectives against such a venerated sci-fi series is this: once the end credits roll, we’re no closer to seeing the link between these turgid prequels and Scott’s original film. Not that we need a link. It’s the mysterious and the half-explained that comprises much of Alien’s appeal. But it does mean that not only is Alien: Covenant a dull, bloated mess of a film, but that it’s also pointless. A dull, bloated mess of a pointless film.