‘Alien: Covenant’ is a beautiful looking haunted house designed by a bored architect

| May 19, 2017

Going by slasher rules, ‘Alien: Covenant’ checks all of the boxes; the kills are gruesome, having sex gets you killed gruesomely, and if someone seems a little off-kilter, there’s probably a reason for it. alien covenant

Unfortunately the Alien franchise has a reputation for its best films to transcend slasher rules and be a classic. And director Ridley Scott brings the goods on a surface level. The cinematography is amazing and the production design fits right in, finding a great middle ground of modern user interface design that still stays loyal the primitive (by today’s standards) UI of the original film. The actors also bring honest portrayals of their characters, with some (Michael Fassbender) working overtime to give his characters substance.

But the film hints right from the beginning that Scott, who directed the original ‘Alien’ as well as its prequel,‘Prometheus’, just wants to go through the motions with this franchise at this point. The film’s opening titles let on to this right away. They take the design from the original ‘Alien’ with each letter’s stroke slowly fading in as we float through the vast, empty abyss of space. But we’ve seen this before, and Scott knows it. The gracefulness of the original’s letters is sped up to get the complete title on screen as quickly as possible so we can get to the next thing the movie has to offer..

And that continues to be the strategy the film calls for throughout most of its run time. It gets to a point where characters make decisions that betray logic to get to the gruesome bits quicker. This film’s crew is on a mission to find a planet similar to Earth in order to terraform it and set it up for a colony. This calls for the work of scientists who take samples and analyze planetary life. When they land, one character stops to get water samples for analysis. Yet these people are comfortable walking on a new planet without any atmospheric suits or protection from any sort of microscopic threat, which of course comes into play.

And once it does, the story makes most characters become entirely inept at any function. One person trips as they are trying to shoot an alien, causing them to hit an explosive instead. The action sets up stakes for the surviving characters, but feels so avoidable that it’s a miracle the facehuggers have any fresh meat to attach themselves to at all.

Yes, facehuggers are back, as is the xenomorph, missing from a pure ‘Alien’ movie since ‘97’s ‘Alien Resurrection’. From a timeline standpoint, this is the first chronological point humans have come across them. It feels like it should be a special moment, but much like the opening credits, these moments are rushed. The first chestburster scenario happens literally minutes in the film after its facehugger attached itself to its victim. There is no build-up or suspense. And once the xenomorph is fully birthed, it gets sidelined by other plot points in the film.

And it are these other plot points that that the film thrives on. Michael Fassbender pulls double duty, returning as the cunning David from ‘Prometheus’, as well as the Covenant’s synthetic assistant, Walter. The film takes full advantage of putting these two in the same scenes, including an amazing long-take scene of David showing Walter how to play an instrument. The effect work is seamless and Fassbender sells both characters in what looks like one, long lasting take.

David’s exact plans and how they impact Walter and the rest of the Covenant’s crew are also engaging. There is something sinister under the surface of David’s calm demeanor. And there are clues to what he has been up to since the end of ‘Prometheus’. These puzzle pieces could work as their own movie, even without the samples of xenomorph presence filling in the film’s back end.

But the film often cannot figure out what it wants to be. Does it want to be a prominent Alien movie, or put those on the sidelines and focus on other aspects of the same universe? The film tries to do both. The film shows off the neomorph, a pre-xenomorph breed that has its own unique biology and properties. And Scott gives this creature the suspense and build up it needs to be a true threat. The film could have focused entirely on this species of alien and been successful. But the story evolves to scrap this monster for the return of the xenomorph, and any wonder the film had with these new elements dissipates as it rushes through the familiar beats that it knows we’ve seen in several films before.

Despite this, the film makes good to deliver on its gore and visuals. If it were another franchise, the film may get more of a pass, but when characters automatically assume they can blast a creature out of an airlock a minute after meeting it, you wonder if they rented Ridley Scott’s and James Cameron’s original films to take with them on the flight from Earth. And it leaves you wondering where this logic was earlier in the film to prevent these scenarios to begin with.

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