Movie Review: Alien - Covenant


Alien: Covenant (2017)

Rated R: For Intense Blood and Gore and Violence, Strong Language, and Some Sensitive Themes

Running Time: 122 minutes (2 hours and 2 minutes)

Genre/s: Action, Adventure, Drama, Horror, Science Fiction

Released on May 19, 2017 (US Release Date; Available For Worldwide Viewing)

Presented by 20th Century Fox, TSG Entertainment, Scott Free Productions, and Brandywine Productions

Based on the "Alien" Mythology Originally Created By Dan 'O Bannon, and Ronald Shusett

Writers: John Logan, Dante Harper, Jack Paglen, and Michael Green

Director: Ridley Scott

  • Michael Fassbender as David and Walter
  • Katherine Waterston as "Dani" Daniels
  • Billy Crudup as Christopher "Chris" Oram
  • Danny McBride as Tennessee "T." Faris
  • Demián Bichir as Sergeant Carl Lopé

Finally, after a long time, we are back with what we do best, movie reviews! After having to suffer through a series of migraines and trust issues at school, plus my all-time favorite (and no, it really is not sarcasm, as I really do love this type of activities), speeches, and a few recent short posts here and there, we review the latest installment in the Alien prequel series. Funny enough, I wanted to review the classic Blade Runner, in commemoration of the release of the highly anticipated follow-up, and to accomplish all my other draft posts, but my memory is wrecked from the stress, so I decided to review another modern Ridley Scott-related film.

In the vein of this month's Halloween theme, I and my family watched two movies last time, this and the much better and much more terrifying Don't Breath, and I have been dying to watch this one, as we did mention in our most anticipated releases list. I have to say, I am not even sure if this is even an Alien movie anymore. It is still good enough to at least receive your attention, though. Welcome back to Dateline Movies, and this is our review of Alien: Covenant, the sequel to Prometheus that nobody asked for, but still got anyway!

What is the movie about?

"Covenant", a ship of colonizers, set a course for a faraway planet known as "Origae-6". While venturing into the great unknown, the chief crew of the Covenant, comprising of terra-forming expert Daniels, played by Waterston (Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them), newly established captain Christopher "Chris" Oram, played by Crudup (Watchmen), security officer Sergeant Dan Lopé, played by Bichir (The Hateful Eight) co-pilot Tennessee "T." Faris, played by McBride (This is The End), and advanced android Walter, played by Fassbender (X-Men: Apocalypse), are instead lead to another planet, after picking-up a suspicious signal. 

The doomed crew ventures across the seemingly peaceful paradise, with Earth-like features such as breathable atmosphere, and consumable vegetation. Unfortunately, none of them can prepare for the nightmarish terrors that lurks within the planet. Freaks of nature that are birthed through hazardous spores, all across the planet, have quickly slaughtered their way to the Covenant.

With almost no chance of returning back to their original course, Daniels, Oram, Lopé, Tennessee, and Walter must work together and uncover the disturbing revelations that link to the origins of their monstrous pursuers, as well as another expedition prior to them, Prometheus, which they can all find through David, also played by Fassbender the supposedly lone survivor of the failed tour.

What we think of the movie?

When one thinks of the Alien franchise, he or she would often say that it is one of the most influential science-fiction horror film franchises known, with a huge emphasis on "horror". The entire film series is all about evoking fear to the audience, similar to how the "chestburster" scene from the first movie shocked viewers, while at the same time adding a dash of old-school action into the mix, just like how James Cameron upped the ante. This movie tries to reach the same levels of dread and thrills that one originally received when they watched the classic films, as well as attempting to further expand their fictional universe. The result, as we said, is still entertaining, but it really does not reach the same amount of depth and fear factor that the first two carried.

But before anything else: what is it with this reign of prequel series? First Star Wars, then The Lord of the Rings, now Alien? What's next, The Matrix? (Checks Facebook newsfeed on a prequel about Morpheus, starring Michael B. Jordan.) Oh, just forget I mentioned anything.

However, is Alien: Covenant really worth watching? Let me begin with what I consider as the best aspect of this more or less good movie, and that is none other than the multifaceted, megalomaniacal robotic Lucifer-type Doctor Frankenstein, Michael Fassbender's David. What makes David two parts compelling, and three parts messed-up yet appealing, is his overall character. Admittedly, he does fit the bill for the "slave with potential gone rogue" cliche, wherein the slave, in this case David, realizes that he is actually capable of so much more than bowing down to his master's wishes, but it is his god complex that truly drives him. In the first Alien prequel flick, Prometheus, he was just a simple, overly curious and somewhat immature robot, and now, he is just borderline ambitiously psychotic. Starting from a normal fateful servant, he has evolved into a technological manifestation of the Biblical Lucifer, defying his "creators" as he believes that he has the capacity to be like them, or even be better, all along. And his master plan? Create the "perfect" creatures in the universe. (So I guess by "perfect", he means "hellish"?)

Michael Fassbender delivers the best performance that this movie has to offer, which is made all the more amazing by his double-role as both the much more human-like David, in contrast to the more-robotic Walter, who has an American accent. It is through his performance, plus the script that truly fleshed-out David's devilish nature, that cements David as arguably one of, if not, the greatest original big-screen villains that have ever menaced the big screen in the last generation! Since the recent prequel trilogy is aiming to make David a "Big Bad" for the series, I am really hoping to see what the crew is planning for David, and I hope it is something that will really captivate me.

I would just like to highlight the twist ending, wherein after a climactic escape from the Xenomorph homeworld, David disguises himself as a now-deactivated Walter, so as to continue his experiments elsewhere, is every bit spine-tingling. That moment when David hushes Daniels prior to her entering cryo-sleep, complete with a scary smirk ... (Shivers.) Wow, Mister Fassbender, you really are a one of a kind talent! 

But while Fassbender's haunting portrayal of a robotic hellspawn is on-point, with the full support of a potential cinematic universe catalyst of a script that fleshes-out David, the performances of the cast, while worth the effort, are a tad bit underwhelming, considering that the script gives the characters almost nothing interesting about them. This makes the script officially the weak point of the entire flick. We are not saying that the cast, outside of Fassbender, sucked, since they did breath life into their thinly sketched personas. In fact, all of these characters had way better development in their promotional short films, lasting only four minutes!

Katherine Waterston's Daniels, for instance, did deliver a fascinating take on an Ellen Ripley-type of a protagonist, and her character did shine in the film's most desperate scene, especially in the part wherein David revealed to her that he switched places with Walter during the course of the movie's climax. However, besides from the fact that all she wants to do is to "make a cabin by the lake", in honor of her fallen husband, the original captain of the Covenant, Jacob "Jake" Branson, played by James Franco (The Disaster Artist), Daniels, unfortunately, does not possess traits that make her distinguishable from other typical action movie protagonists.

The same can also be said for Danny McBride's Tennessee Faris, and Billy Crudup's Christopher Oram. I actually see McBride's performance in this movie as one of his finest, even if you barely know anything about his character, save for the fact that he just heard his wife massacred by the newly grown Xenomorph in one of the earlier scenes. Temporarily stepping away from his usual comedic field, McBride delivers an emotional delivery, and arguably with the strongest of emotional resonance, especially at the discovery of his character's wife, Maggie, played by Amy Seimetz (You're Next), demise. Man, he really should do more movies like these because, no offense, most of his comedy outings fall flat.

And speaking of Oram, his most distinguishable character trait, his underdeveloped and unexplored faith, in God probably, or something else (Faith in this film of actually living-up to a once glorious and influential movie franchise's legacy, perhaps?) makes him having the most potentially compelling character development, that might actually match David's intriguing arc. Unfortunately, as other users say, this is left untouched for the remainder of the runtime. Aside from having some hints that he is just way in over his head with his "faith", as evidenced by his tendency to think way beyond logical reasoning, he is mostly just reduced to a forgettable red shirt-wearing nitwit.

Also, his very lack of common sense to order his crewmates to use helmets/suits on an uncharted planet is the very reason as to why the movie happened in the first place. Seriously, who does not wear helmets in space? Fine, it is a planet with a breathable atmosphere, but did he not consider that the planet might be carrying hostile species, little or towering? Also, who in their right mind would actually look straight onto a clearly dangerous alien egg, carrying an obviously lethal beast in stasis, even if a seemingly good demon robot telling you to do so? I guess Oram's definition of "faith" is "stupidity". But in terms of Crudup's performance, he really tries his best, but the script simply does not offer him any fighting chance.

For Bichir's outing as a security officer with almost no lines at all, except for maybe a few there and over there, I have not really seen much of his other works, aside from The Hateful Eight. From what I can tell, like everybody else in this movie, his talents are wasted, and honestly, I really cannot say anything about his portrayal, as his performance is so limited, you can just remove him from the overall flick, and it would barely even make any difference.

And since we mentioned James Franco a while back, his incredibly brief, and ultimately wasted presence in the flick is questionable. One odd thing about his casting here is that he is just too noteworthy to be killed off immediately in the opening scenes, given that role can literally be taken over by anyone, and we really do mean, anyone. It really is a huge shame when someone as talented as James Franco, whose skill set equally matches the energies exerted by the other main cast members, is not given anything at all to do.

If you thought that we were done trashing the film's already flawed script, then you are dead wrong. Two-dimensional characters are nothing compared to this one major detractor, which is the movie's confused tone. For the most part, it is a science fiction horror movie, but at times, it mixes elements of a philosophy documentary, and those of a modern Hollywood shoot 'em up. These three can work together like clockwork if done right, but in the case of Alien: Covenant, they still work, albeit not as smoothly as it should be.

There are times when the movie really, really, really is just trying to act and sound smart, and the best examples are basically all of the interactions between David and Walter. We hear them discuss about various allegories pertaining to famous historians, and the ever immortal poetic genius of Percy Bysshe Shelley, but amidst all of the bloody carnage that transpires, it does not really mesh well. It feels more like a rushed school project, rather than a clever comparison. This also applies for, as we said before, Oram's character trait of religious faith, as even with the huge amount of throwaway lines that suggest he really is a man of God, it does not make his character any more appealing. It is like shoving down the obvious facts through our throats.

And while the movie aims to be scary, as in, a traumatizing level of fearsome, Alien: Covenant sadly succumbs to the grave mistake of claiming that having much more mindless blood splatters is equal to pure dread. This is not a slasher movie, guys. This is an Alien movie, and a film under this series is all about closed corridors, dark corners, and psychological terror in space. While I do appreciate that the film deviated a little bit from the usual formula of a limited, closed setting, notably in the film's rising action, which takes place above David's hideout, midair, it really does not make the movie much more terrifying when there are CGI blood splatters constantly covering my television screen, making it really hard for me to look at the obviously cartoonish CGI Xenomorphs. The Xenomorphs still know how to bring shivers down your spine, though. Their endless waves of carnage, especially the first Xenomorph attack the crew experiences at the near beginning of the movie, are still enough to put you at the edge of your seat.

For me, the film officially jumped the shark, in an attempt to appeal to "casual viewers", who are there for the generic Hollywood stuff like just plain, heartless death, when two of the remaining characters, Ricks, played by Jussie Smolett (Empire), and Upworth, played by Callie Hernandez (La La Land), have a graphically explicit moment in the Covenant shower room, just moments before finally dying by the newly bred Xenomorph. We can say that, yeah, this is to show that the two characters really are intimate with each other, but by adding a sex scene in the middle of an important, and very tense sequence, it makes one important sequence meaningless, and it just infuriates me more than it makes me want to tremble.

I am also baffled by the fact that the original main protagonist of Prometheus, Doctor Elizabeth Shaw, played by Noomi Rapace (Dead Man Down), is killed off unceremoniously off-screen in the movie. While we do see her in some way, we only see her corpse. I am actually not that mad at the character's demise, but rather, disappointed. It is as if the movie decided to abandon ship at the last minute. I do understand her death just shows how ruthless and twisted David can be, but the very fact that Shaw had a more or less abandoned story arc completely ruins everything Prometheus was building-up to. Honestly, if Alien: Covenant is more about Shaw exploring the Engineer homeworld, while it is being ravaged by a maniacal David, would make a much thrilling experience. Just imagine, it would be this movie, with a mix of body and psychological horror, and Cast Away?

Also, what is the deal with the large amount of deleted scenes here? Fine, we need to cut some due to time reasons, but most of these scenes contain important moments of character development. These scenes include a small cameo from Doctor Elizabeth Shaw, as she and David arrive in the Engineer homeworld, which is the planet that the crew of the Covenant landed on, as well as some funny and lighthearted moments for our doomed crewmates. The latter clip contained shreds of revelations, pertaining to the personalities of our main characters, including Christopher Oram's religious devotion, alongside his wife, Karine, played by Carmen Ejogo, (Both Waterston and Ejogo appeared in Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them), Lopé's homosexual relationship with crewmate Hallett, and about one, or three lines from James Franco. All of these scenes are incredibly integral to the overall narrative, so why just post them on YouTube, instead of making them parts of the final cut?

Actually, there is one scene that I am actually glad at its removal. In one scene, Daniels is grieving from the death of her husband, and Walter, who has a secret crush on Daniels (Sigh.), attempts to comfort her. His recommended coping mechanism? It is getting high on marijuana, in space. The juvenile delinquent in me is laughing at its immature throwaway nature, but at the same time, the exchange itself, while hints at key moments in the movie, feels very, very out of place. Seriously, Walter? Weed is the answer to everything? Whatever happened to love being the answer?

And like every multi-flawed product, there is always a specific set of redeeming qualities. For instance, the interactions between David and Walter, even if, at times, their little intellectual discourse is anything but enlightening. You really cannot just help but admire the effort Fassbender exerted in doing a complex double-role such as this one. David's turn as the main bad guy, as we previously said, is also a unique and fresh way to take the franchise into a potentially much more compelling territory. The epic cliffhanger also helped established the truth that David is one hellish beast in a mechanical shell. The performances were also decent, even if the character development is clearly lacking.

And of course, let us not forget the film's score, done by Jed Kurzel, as well as the reusing of the Prometheus theme by Marc Streitenfeld, as well as the one in the original Alien by Jerry Goldsmith, bring the on-screen horror to life. I do find it oddly intriguing, and "meta", that the theme of Prometheus is actually played by David in the movie itself. Good touch though, even if it is just a plain old Easter egg.

Overall, this awesome thrilling and engaging, albeit narrative-wise uneven, entry in the Alien prequel trilogy does not break that much ground, but with an interstellar cast, lead by Michael Fassbender in a dual role, it is a must see!

Here is where we end our review of Alien: Covenant. You know, now that we reviewed the latest Alien movie, I am starting to wonder on what could have been, if the then Neil Blomkamp-headed Alien flick, with Sigourney Weaver and Michael Biehn reprising their respective roles as Ellen Ripley, and Corporal Dwayne Hicks. Would we actually get to have a movie that is just as decent as this one, but one that truly captures the spirit of the original Alien? Either way, this movie sure got us pumped for the next installment of the Alien prequel series. We did mention awhile ago that the movie removed very important scenes from the final cut. So before you leave, take a look at some clips that we can all agree that these should have been added to the film. Also, if you do not believe my "xeno-bis" claim, take a look at the last video below. Stay tuned for more Dateline Movies!

1 comment: