It is closing in on 2 am as I write this, I just came home from the cinema, and I am in a mood to talk about Alien: Covenant. Consider this a review of sorts. Spoiler-free, because that’s what the internet likes and I’m predictable.
Ever since Prometheus came out five years ago, I have gone back and forth on what I should think of the film. It really didn’t work as an Alien prequel, the characters were way too dumb and unlikable, and many questions about the Alien mythology which we didn’t need were either answered or raised. And yet there was one half of the movie which worked, the story of David and the story of creation and creator. It was an incredibly strong story, but sadly remained a story beat between all the horror cliches and padding. Alien Covenant is part two of that exact same story.
And without spoiling anything of the plot, this is exactly the strength and the weakness of the film: the half, the third even, that focuses on David and the story of creation, his rebellion against his makers, humanity, is as strong if not stronger than in the last one. Michael Fassbender deserves praise for creating one of the best science fiction characters cinema has seen in a very long time, arguably the best written character in the entire series. And yet: he remains a secondary or tertiary character in this story. He is the main crux of story and themes, but he is a supporting protagonist. And this is where the main problems of the film lie.
Alien: Covenant tries to do what all the Alien films tried, which is build atmosphere. There is very little story in this film, once again it has the same problems as Prometheus with tired horror cliches, terribly written and nonsensical characters with no survival instinct, and a short-haired plucky female main character who is smart until the plots needs her to be otherwise. It says something when Daniels in this film does slightly more than Shaw the last time around but remains just as vague and directionless a character.
The thing is, this isn’t an Alien prequel. This and Prometheus are the beginning of a very different timeline to the first film, a soft-reboot of sorts where the 1979 film serves as a common thread connecting two very different universes. It is the only way differences in the established lore and chronology can even work. And I’m fine with it, it’s an equally valid story, equally as compelling as the (wo)man vs nature narrative of the previous series. It is only a shame that both films so far need to be stitched together with about two hours excised, for it to become a worthwhile experience.
Hesitant recommendation from my side.