The Prometheus/ Alien Covenant films haven't been that well received by Alien fans and critics alike and I often find myself on the backfoot when discussing these films with friends or colleagues. It's like trying to say that you like the Star Wars prequels. People just look at you sideways.
So, I thought I would try and make the case for Alien: Covenant and explain why it might just be my favourite Alienmovie. I look forward to the scathing comments and responses to follow.
Alien: Covenant, the story of a group of colonists who answer a distress call in deep space, only to be picked off one by one by various Alien creatures, should sound familiar, as it's essentially the plot of the first film Alien film back in 1979. A quick study of the set pieces and the plot points of the film will also draw parallels to other films in the franchise as well, notably James Cameron's Aliens. That's because this film is like a mix tape of the Alien franchise, where Ridley Scott and his screenwriters have cherry picked the best elements from these different films and slotted them into this film.
You've got the Ellen Ripley doppleganger, the psychotic android, the distress call and the alien infection that results in characters being forced into quarantine. You've got the average joe crew as well as the military specialists, an interesting planet where not everything is as it seems and a storm that prevents the team on the ground from being immediately rescued by the main ship. Finally, there's the creature itself which is indeed quite unnerving, even now. That's a LOT of elements from different films to be able to work into this one film and it works in a very smooth and seamless fashion. And all in just over 2 hours! Not bad Ridley.
The second reason why I think this is, at the very least, one of the better films in the franchise, is that it actually enhances that which came before it. Prometheus left a lot of people scratching their heads and I get that. I made a video about it recently so check that out. But Alien: Covenant answers a lot of those questions and does so in a very straight forward manner, I might add. It also gives greater dimension to characters like David, Peter Wayland and makes Elizabeth Shaw a far more tragic and emotionally resonant character than before. No other movie in the franchise does this to its predecessors. They take what worked before and build on it, but they never give back to the film. Cudos to you Covenant for being more generous.
Third point - the creatures in this film are incredible and so much more terrifying in my book than in other films. Whether the crew are being infected by toxic spores, killed by chest or back bursters, being roundhouse kicked by grey creatures in the tall grass at night or just flat out being pursued by a drooling vicious Xenomorph, it is always enjoyable, and always chilling.
This next point is a big one because it's one of those points that people use time and again to criticise Prometheusand Covenant. Both films have been criticised for the poorly written characters that inhabit these films - specifically the crew who, at times appear to be nothing more than cannon fodder. Okay, I get that. In Prometheus, some of the crew do behave bizarrely and one has to wonder how they even got their jobs to begin with, judging by their decision making process. But don't make the mistake of thinking the original films were written any better. With the exception of Alien, pretty much every 'crew' (for lack of a better word) behaves in equally bizarre ways that make them completely unbelievable as characters. The worst culprits of this are in the highely beloved Aliens.
In Aliens, the space marines are depicted, whether consciously otherwise, as a group of bumbling, cowardly, and incompetant soldiers who don't appear capable of passing boot camp, let alone be the best of the best. In one scene, they are given strict instructions not to fire their weapons or risk blowing the entire facility sky high. Like a teacher in a classroom of ten year olds, the commander goes around to each person and confiscates their ammo, as though they are unable to follow a simple directive. To make matters worse, one of the marines hides some of his ammo and starts distributing it to his closest friends - incredible!
At their worst, the characters in Alien: Covenant are too trusting of David, but then, he did save their lives. Billy Crudup stares stupidly into the alien egg only to be met by the facehugger - yes, we all saw that coming, but go back and watch that scene and notice how David manipulates him. These characters are well written, definitely not just a bunch of stereotypes waiting to be decapitated, and whose fates are cleverly interwoven by the fact that they are married to other members of the crew. That coupling of the characters creates a ripple effect across the other characters when one of them dies - and they do die in spectacular and horrific fashion. Burned alive, mauled to death, exploding ship, death by tail whip, death by beheading and so on...
The final point, and this is the film's strongest attribute: it has a meaninful and well developed antagonist. All the Alien films share a common threat - a faceless evil corporation. Sure, that's interesting to a point, but David is a breathe of fresh air in this universe. He's an evil and genocidal maniac who has been slowly and lovingly crafted over two films (with a third presumably not far away). There aren't that many franchises that develop antagonists across multiple films with this degree of complexity and attention and for this reason, it's going on the list.
There are problems with Covenant, as there are with all the Alien films. Poor decision making by characters can be frustrating for audiences, and repeated tropes and narrative conceits, such as answering a distress call, can get boring. But these films are built on repeating tropes and conventions. That's what they do and it's what we look for from these films. I think there seems to be this idea that Ridley Scott is past his prime and he doesn't know where to take this franchise. However, as Scott proved with All the Money in the World and his producing efforts for Blade Runner 2049, his creative vision is far from impaired. Prometheus might not have been the clearest of films to understand, but Covenant fixes that by answering a lot of the questions audiences had. On top of that, it cherry picks the best elements of all the various films and coherently ties them together into a familiar but progressive chapter for the franchise.
And who cares if they've explained the origins of the creature - it's by no means a bad origin story as far as they come.
Whoo... glad I got that off my chest. Now let's all ponder on that final scene of Alien and wonder why anyone thought THAT was a good idea...
So what do you think? Did you enjoy Alien: Covenant, or Prometheus even, and how would you rank them among the other films?
(Image copyright: 20th Century Fox)