Despite its flaws and scrambled continuity, the Alien franchise has tremendous potential to scare and thrill its audience. Ridley Scott’s original 1979 film, “Alien,” was met with commercial and critical acclaim, but the majority of its sequels were underwhelming or downright terrible—the only exception being the first sequel, “Aliens,” directed by James Cameron in 1986.
“Alien: Covenant” is the sixth film in the franchise, but a prequel to the original “Alien” film and sequel to 2012’s “Prometheus”—the timeline is a mess. In Star Wars terms, “Covenant” is Ridley Scott’s “Episode II: Attack of the Clones;” it’s not closing the haphazard Alien timeline loop, but it comes close. A final movie (or two?) linking directly to “Alien” was planned, but is unlikely to happen due to the financial and critical failures of “Alien: Covenant.”
“Alien: Covenant” is not one of the worst Alien films, but it is squarely mediocre. Like the convoluted Alien franchise, “Covenant” is unnecessarily complex, filled with plot holes, and goes on various tangents for too much of its run time. The movie’s greatest strength is horror, but only one third of the two-hour film focuses on the thrills that made the original “Alien” so iconic.
The first act of the film is a nice slow-burn set up of the stakes and characters, but the second act is a rambling dissection of creation and the meaning of life. Michael Fassbender, who plays androids David and Walter, delivers the ham-fisted dialogue as strongly as possible, but it feels completely out of place. Many viewers, myself included, do not watch an “Alien” film for self-indulgent philosophizing. The series is billed as “Jaws” in space, but “Covenant” seems content to elicit yawns and eye rolling rather than heart-pumping scares.
Despite my issues with “Covenant’s” self-indulgent ramblings, there is a lot to like about the film. Any return to the Alien franchise, besides the “Alien vs. Predator” films, is exciting and Ridley Scott’s direction is beautiful and terrifying as expected. “Covenant” also introduces some new monsters and a few extremely grizzly deaths, including a new take on the famous Chestburster scene from the original “Alien.” Horror is where Scott shines creatively and there are great tidbits sprinkled in between “Covenant’s“ monotonous, fanciful diatribes.
The Final Nerd
“Alien: Covenant” could have been a return to form for the flailing Alien franchise. Instead, it serves as a middling entry in the series that further complicates the narrative and rips it further from its terrifying, acidic roots. “Covenant” has moments of brilliant horror which can’t counteract a cheesy script, unexplainable plot detours, and a half-formed fascination with creation and evolution. If “Alien: Covenant” is any indication of where the series is headed, I think it is time to nuke and reboot the beloved franchise.