Ridley Scott began the Alien series as a mostly sci-fi horror film. After which, other directors took the reigns and of the three movies made afterward, one turned out pretty great. In 2012, Scott returned to the series he started with the film Prometheus. Apart from a few moments, Prometheus abandoned the horror aspect his previous entry had in favor of a more philosophical science fiction approach. The ending result was an incredibly well shot and atmospheric film, but unfortunately kind of a mess in many aspects. The reason for bringing up Prometheus, other than Alien: Covenant serving as direct sequel, is because Alien: Covenant can be described in almost the exact same way. Deeply flawed, but impressively ambitious.
To start off, in true Ridley Scott fashion, Covenant is a simply beautiful film. Without words, Scott manages to thoroughly captivate with some of the most stunning landscape shots ever put to film. Watching a ship descend onto the planet, passing through clouds and around mountains looks almost elegant with Scott and his cinematographer, Dariusz Wolski, behind the camera. Even characters trudging through this newly discovered planet feels like cinematic gold. The actual visual effects are also quite impressive. With both Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, Scott has managed to beautifully blend CGI with practical effects, creating a very cohesive looking film. The aliens this time around are once again terrifying, and the effects used for the more gory scenes had me cringing in the best way possible.
To Scott’s credit, he has continued to find a way to create gore that legitimately unsettles without it ever feeling cheep, or like he’s simply trying to top himself. And the gory moments always work for the benefit of the scene itself, with one scene in particular involving two infected hosts at the same time being one of the best examples of how to skillfully amp up tension. But the more ambitious, philosophical storytelling of Prometheus also finds a place in Alien: Covenant, alongside the gory horror more akin to Alien. It’s actually a very impressive blend of the two styles he had in both his previous films, making all three feel very connected, though it’s obvious we’re still at least one more film away from bridging the stories.
And it’s actually Scott’s continued ambition in storytelling that helps me love this film, in spite of it’s many issues. The entire cast works very well, but it’s Michael Fassbender’s show stealing performance as the android David and his musings that really push the story Scott is telling in this universe forward. This time around David isn’t the sole android, being joined by Walter, also played by Fassbender. There are scenes where the two characters are interacting with only each other and it is absolutely mesmerizing. David continues to ponder the existential questions he had from the first film in a way that is genuinely shocking, though feels completely in line with what we’ve seen of him before, making David arguably one of the most interesting science fiction characters out there.
Unfortunately, as has been previously mentioned, the film is far from perfect. Characters making incredibly stupid decisions is a staple of the horror genre, but this pushes it quite far. Many people legitimately had their deaths coming. And while the film also acts as a direct sequel to Prometheus, it only answers some of the many questions we were left with. Some of this can be explained by the story not being finished it yet. However, it also feels like maybe Scott has just left serious plot holes in this story.
It also succumbs to third act problems. It’s all mostly well done, but it’s not nearly as exciting as both the series and this film in particular has been in the prior. It drops the philosophical musings and becomes a chase with our protagonists and aliens. It’s definitely not bad, but it’s fairly predictable and doesn’t live up to some fantastic scenes we had already seen.
Like Prometheus before it, Alien: Covenant isn’t able to live up to the near perfection of the initial masterpiece, but it’s still an impressive piece of filmmaking. It’s also exciting to know that, according to Scott, there’s still much more to the story and Alien: Covenant’s ending makes me excited to see where it goes from here.
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