Alien: Covenant (2017)

I have never been a huge fan of the Alien movies. From what I can tell, the modest success of Alien (1979) and Aliens (1986) have spawned a series of prequels and spin-offs in hopes of creating a kind of Alien extended-universe space drama. Until this year I had only seen the original two films; after hearing almost universally negative reviews on Prometheus (2012) I was extraordinarily skeptical about Alien:Covenant, which is supposed to be a prequel taking place after Prometheus but before the original 1979 film. After sitting through the film, I can say it was moderately interesting but still failed to really engage me substantially.

The film is about a ship of colonists on a seven year voyage to colonize a new planet. All of the colonists are in some kind of hyper-sleep except the ship's resident synthetic-cyborg, Walter (Michael Fassbender). Some kind of random storm or something forces the crew to wake up half way through the voyage. While awakened, the ship's first officer, Captain Oram, discovers another nearby planet that seems to be conducive to human life. Against the judgment of his senior staff, Captain Oram lands on this planet to investigate. Of course, the planet is actually home to the generic aliens from the franchise, although not the fully formed "Xenomorphs" of the later movies, but some earlier version of them.

Then a bunch of stuff happens that doesn't make a ton of sense if you haven't seen Prometheus (I had to have my buddy next to me explain a lot of it to me). Essentially, while hiding from proto-Xenomorphs on this random planet they encounter the synthetic David (also Michael Fassbender), who is like an evil version of Walter. It is revealed that the Alien "Xenomorph" species is actually being engineered by David, who is the stereotypical android that has become too independent for his own good and turns evil (think Lorr from Star Trek: The Next Generation). David's motivation is unclear, but he seems to have adopted the typical "I have concluded that humanity is flawed and must be destroyed" trope and essentially utilizes the Xenomorphs as a kind of biological weapons to destroy humanity - or any other species. David thinks Xenomorphs are the perfect creature...or something.

Eventually everybody dies - even the captain, who I thought was the protagonist until he suddenly gets killed halfway through the movie. Then the focus kind of switches to the female character Daniels (played by Katherine Waterston, whose performance has been described as "Ripley-like"). Once Daniels takes center stage, the movie becomes a traditional alien-chasing-Ripley-character around the ship sort of film, with a "blow it out the airlock" into space scene, exactly how Ripley kills her nemesis in the 1986 film.

There's a twist ending relating to the evil synthetic David, but I'm not sure how much of a twist it really is since everybody I talked to saw it coming a mile away.

So, what was my take away of Alien: Covenant?

Essentially this movie was unsure what it wanted to be. It is evident that Ridley Scott wanted to do something very creative and different, following the lines he sketched out in Prometheus. However, due to the negative reviews of Prometheus, it seems like he also wanted to - or was pressured into? - padding the film with some more traditional Alien-esque scenes, like the whole last twenty minutes with Waterston's Ripley-like character chasing the Xenomorph around the ship before blowing it out the airlock. It seems like this material was included to make the movie safer by aligning it more closely with conventional Alien plots.

The stuff with David and the origin of the Xenomorphs was kind of interesting; the dynamic between Walter and David as good and evil synthetics was also interesting. The scenes of aliens bursting out of host bodies and chasing Daniels around the ship were kind of yawn-inducing. It has simply been done too many times. Face-huggers attaching to victims, laying eggs in them, and aliens bursting out of their stomachs or mouths has been done so many times it hardly has the shock value it did when it was first done in 1979.

Waterston did fine as Daniels, but it was clear that this character was written to be a Ripley surrogate. As mentioned above, the movie didn't really center in on Daniels as the protagonist until almost half way through the film, which led to a kind of confusion over what character you were supposed to be focusing on.

Captain Oram was an interesting character. He was presented as a "man of faith", although other than saying he is a "man of faith" and including some weird, forced Bible quotes, we never see Captain Oram actually doing anything to demonstrate this - say, praying, or showing any evidence that faith inspires his choices in any way. The whole "man of faith" thing felt like a very thin veneer to try to pigeon-hole the captain into some kind of "science vs. faith" theme that never quite materialized because Oram dies halfway through the movie and the whole thing is dropped.

Obviously, this is an Alien film, so it's violent. Not for kids. At all. Some of it seemed gratuitous, and this worked against the film. Part of the allure of the old Alien films was that you often did not see the creature until the end of the film, and a lot of the killing was done quickly or off screen. You often only caught hints and images of things happening, which left a lot to the imagination and played upon the audience's sense of the fear of the unknown to create the right sense of tension - until the big reveal at the end when you suddenly see the full Xenomorph or queen for the first time. But in Alien: Covenant, there are so many shots of aliens bursting out of people that its numbing. And you pretty much see the entire creatures right from the beginning. There's no reveal...there's no mystery. It's just like...yep, there's the aliens. Oh look, a Xenomorph! There's not a lot of tension - although there is some mystery, to be sure.

Also, there is a shower sex scene, but...yeah..as you can tell from the trailer, the people get killed pretty quick.

So...I don't know. It was "meh." I'd give it 1.5 tiaras.