By: Arlene Allen
Alien: Covenant is perhaps both one of the most anticipated and most dreaded releases of 2017. Everyone certainly wanted something better than 2012’s Prometheus, an overlong, underwhelming case of navel gazing. While fans of the franchise can expect a formulaic rehashing of the alien-terrorizing-a-ship, we were expecting what the studio has been hinting at throughout the film’s post production – something better and scarier than what was delivered in 2012.
I’m sorry to say we don’t get any of that. What is delivered is a choppy, confusing, non-terrifying direct sequel to Prometheus, maybe even something worse. Opening with twenty solid minutes of yet more navel gazing where we meet our old friend/android David (Michael Fassbender), on his awakening years prior to the events of Prometheus. He and his creator, Mr. Weyland (Guy Pearce), ruminate on the meaning of life and creation and props to everyone who stays awake during that sequence. Didn’t we deal with this philosophy last go-round?
Cut to a colony ship filled with 2000 colonists, 1000 embryos and a crew consisting of fourteen couples and one android named Walter (Michael Fassbender again; he must have been a popular model). When a “monumental tragedy” (their words, not mine) happens and the crew awakens early, they are now led by Oram (Billy Crudup) who self identifies as a man of faith – which is never explained but must in his book mean both heartless and stupid. The first thing he does is forbid a funeral for the intended captain and the spouse of Daniels (Katherine Waterston). When the wife and crew ignore the orders and hold a funeral his first inclination in to punish them for insubordination.
Stupid comes in when he discovers the perfect planet for earth life, does no reconnaissance or research on it and (against the wishes of his crew) lands a shuttlecraft on it. Guess what they find and guess what happens. Yeah. Sadly, that’s not even the dumbest move he pulls; when he gets what is coming to him, all I could think of was “he deserved that.”
That leads to the absolute worst thing about this mess of a film: you can’t really care about any of these characters because there is no character development. Daniels gets the most, as does her dead husband played by James Franco for about thirty seconds of screen time. As for Tennessee (Danny McBride), we know he likes John Denver. Ricks is played by Jussie Smollett and is married to Upworth (Callie Hernandez). They get a horror movie trope of a shower sex scene before the ubiquitous creature shows up. The rest is so sadly forgettable that this is a shame on so many levels because we are dealing with a whole lot of widowhood, including a gay couple. The cast deserved better than bickering and screaming over each other, drowning out anything important that may have been said.
I am hoping that when the director’s cut comes out there will be deleted scenes that give the movie new life and a terrific cast their due. I was psyched to think John Logan (“Penny Dreadful,” Gladiator, Hugo and The Aviator to his writing credit) was a co-writer on the screenplay, but I ended up leaving the theater knowing my hero has feet of clay. For the life of me I can’t imagine him and co-scripter Dante Harper creating such a mess. I do understand there is a prequel mini-film available on the internet called Last Supper, (a recurring image in Covenant) which hopefully sheds some light on the people/cast of the movie. I would highly advise watching it.
On a positive note, the special effects and visuals are spectacular, just as we’ve come to expect them to be. Of course, there’s been 38 years to perfect them, which leads them to resonate as close to reality as a serious science fiction movie can render. On the other hand, it feels like Hollywood is beating a dead franchise horse in a completely paint by numbers method.
Final Analysis: What made the first Alien so effective was that it was basically a haunted house movie set in space and it was scary. This is not scary. Oh, when things get too slow, there is a gory scene to remind us we’re supposed to be scared, but it just doesn’t work. Final Grade: D