Since the first Alien had moviegoers jumping out of their seats, the sequels have had a mixed bag of success and critical response. Of course, James Cameron’s Aliens is considered one of the best action movies of all time, so clearly that is right up there next to Ridley Scott’s original. But since then, it has been a matter of personal taste as to how the following films stack up.
When Scott announced he was heading back to the world he helped create with 2012’s Prometheus and that it would be a prequel, reaction was one filled with high expectations. Had anyone really given any thought to how this world began before Sigourney Weaver single-handedly escaped the terror of the 1979 film? Regardless of that answer, the prequel was coming and according to Scott, it would be the first of a trilogy.
When Prometheus landed, it was met with a mixed bag of reactions — both from fans and critics. Overall, this writer felt it was a huge disappointment. The film came off as biting off much more than it should have in terms of not only explaining the origins of those fierce xenophobes, but also trying to answer that age old question about the genesis of mankind. What it did have going for it is another stellar, out-of-this-world, performance by Michael Fassbender as the android David.
Well, Fassbender is back in Alien: Covenant and so too is the collective cinematic fun experience that we enjoyed with the first two films in the series. Despite its faults, which we detail below, this is a film that needs to be seen with an audience on the big screen. The cheers, the oohs, the ahhhs, are all much more resonant witnessing the film with your fellow fans.
That being said, Alien: Covenant suffers from what many films before have succumbed to — the middle movie syndrome. It’s a fascinating ailment. After witnessing Scott’s latest, we actually appreciate Prometheus more! We see that the legendary helmer is heading somewhere and we want to keep going on this ride. Yet, Covenant gets a bit muddled on its journey to get there.
Covenant is less of an Alien prequel and more of a Prometheus sequel. But, it also has a foot in both words, which at times can be tonally confusing. Prometheus had its wide theoretical scope and the “Alien” movies have their world firmly anchored in the horror meets sci-fi milieu that Scott gave birth to with his first film. Covenant is both these things and that doesn’t help it give off the sense of being on firm footing. As such, just as the film should be charging with a full head of steam through some incredible action pieces, our attention is interrupted by exposition that lays out more of the groundwork of this world that we were supposedly already introduced to decades prior.
The end result is it leaves us with moments of listlessness amidst riveting thrills that grabs the theater by the collective collar and only lets go when we have to cut away to a more Prometheus-rooted element.
The issue is one can truly feel that this steaming train wants to storm into the Alien-centric world full force. Scott should have let it. But given the three-film narrative he’s working from… certain boxes need to be checked. Sadly, this movie experience suffers for it. Yet, we do have confidence that the filmmaker has a visceral vision for where he is going and just as we have a new appreciation for Prometheus after watching Covenant, we suspect that our opinion of Covenant will rise after seeing the third film in this prequel trilogy.
Fassbender again is brilliant. Without giving anything away, he has to do something that is the ultimate test for any thespian and he does it effortlessly. Last time out Noomi Rapace was our lead and although she was fantastic, the script failed her character and didn’t allow her to fully engulf the potential of who she could have been. After all, coming after (or technically in this case before) Weaver’s Ripley is one tough act to follow, from the screenwriter penning the role to the actress charged with tackling it.
This time out, we have Katherine Waterson’s Daniels. The stunning actress has a full emotional arc that the entire film rides on her making relatable and she does just that. We pull for her to find her inner and outer strength as she faces horror where there should be utter joy. See, her ship is carrying thousands of souls and is heading to deep space to begin a new life as colonists. When a distress signal catches their attention, they make a quick stop to investigate, only to find David. They quickly learn he is not alone… and neither are they.
Another solid turn is by none other than Danny McBride. The actor is quite divisive. People love him or hate him and in this role, he does the unbelievable. We pull for him to be one of the rare ones to survive this scourge and live to tell the tale.
Scott is clearly having a ball with this late chapter in his directing life. Some helmers might be reluctant to head back to a world that put them on the moviemaking map. But after Prometheus, he clearly sought to answer the naysayers with a film that showed the world he knows what he is doing. He, like the crews of his Alien films, is on a mission. Unfortunately, the success or failure of this particular journey is in many ways not yet coming into focus.
This is a trilogy that will be judged wholly upon its conclusion. Until then… some shoulders may still be a shrugged.