‘Alien: Covenant’ Review: In Space, No One Can Hear You Shrug

Check out our review of Alien: Covenant, Ridley Scott's Prometheus sequel/Alien prequel, which opens in theaters on Friday, May 19.

Alien Covenant

While en route to a remote planet with plans to establish a new settlement on it, the crew of the colony ship Covenant experience some technical difficulties that lead to them stumbling upon a previously undiscovered planet that they believe might actually be a better fit for their colonization purposes. When they send a landing party down to investigate a strange signal that appears human in origin, they soon discover that this might not be the place in which to start putting down stakes and getting their mail forwarded to. While I liked Prometheus okay enough for what it was, I went into to this film really excited about getting back to the basics of the Alien franchise. Ridley Scott is the director that started it all with the 1979 Alien, my favorite of the series due to its horror slant. Of course, I also love James Cameron’s more action-centric follow-up, 1986’s Aliens. A return to form in either of those areas, horror or action, is what I went in hoping for with this film. Did it deliver on that promise? Read on to find out…

First things first, let’s talk about the cast or at least the memorable members of said cast. Performance wise, Michael Fassbender is the clear standout, pulling double duty as both the returning villainous David (not a spoiler, as he does some pretty nefarious stuff in Prometheus) and newer model Walter, who bolsters an American accent that I found off-putting at first, but quickly got used to. I will say, though, that I wish the David character was written a bit better as he came off a bit too much like the moustache-twirly baddie, mostly due to some pretty terrible dialogue in places, but that’s not Fassbender’s fault. I’ve found that even in the worst movies (Assassins Creed, X-Men: Apocalypse), Michael Fassbender always delivers the goods and he does not disappoint in either of his roles here.

I thought Katherine Waterston was great as Daniels, our strong and resourceful female protagonist, a must for any Alien film. She has some great performance moments throughout the film, both emotionally and physically. From what I’ve seen of her previous work, I wouldn’t have thought she could pull off both as well as she did. I also loved seeing Danny McBride in a role that was a lot less comical than I’m used to seeing him in as the ship’s pilot, Tennessee. When he was first cast, I expected him to be the typical funny guy, throwing in a good one-liner every chance he gets (and he does occasionally, just not as much as I anticipated). While I wouldn’t have really had a problem with that, he actually got the chance to really act in this film and I thought he pulled those scenes off exceptionally well. I will say, though, I don’t know how he’s the most qualified pilot. Dude flies like sh– in the film’s third act.

Other cast members that I thought did solid jobs in their required roles were Carmen Ejogo, Demián Bichir, and Billy Crudup as the ship’s de-facto Captain, Oram. They performed their roles well enough, but I couldn’t really tell you more than a couple of words about any of their characters, if that. The rest of the cast, and it was a pretty large one, were mostly forgettable and really didn’t get a whole lot to do, other than to serve as the requisite cannon fodder. That’s not really a bad thing, per say, they served their purpose. Would I prefer a great horror film to reel me in a bit and get me invested in the characters before the bodies start dropping or at the very least get me hating some of them enough so that I can’t wait to see them meet their maker? Sure, but there’s just not enough time here for that kind of nonsense. Watching the prologues that were released online (The Last Supper and The Crossing) might help with that though, so maybe watch those before you see the film.

In some ways, I feel like this film worked a bit better for me as a Prometheus sequel more so than an Alien prequel. I really enjoyed most of the stuff pertaining to the continuation of Prometheus and where it left things off with David and Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Repace). It didn’t go overboard in this regard either. There was just the right amount of connective tissue back to its predecessor that, even if you didn’t really like Prometheus, this stuff shouldn’t bother you. There is a flashback sequence about halfway through the movie that was horrifying to witness, but beautiful in its execution (as, in fact, most of the film is, visually-speaking), however, I would have liked a little more motivation behind why what we see in said scene is happening (it’s hard to explain without getting into spoilers, but when you’ve seen the film, you should know what I’m talking about). People who were big fans of Prometheus, though, might not take too kindly to this sequence. As someone who was just middling on it, this scene was just sort of a thing that happened that looked kind of cool.

When the film gets into the actual Alien stuff, the stuff I was on the edge of my seat the entire time in anticipation for, that’s where I had some issues. I don’t know, maybe I built up my hopes too high or maybe it was just the fact that this sequel/prequel had two jobs to do, but it kinda dropped the ball for me in a couple of ways. It touches on the problem of prequels in general. Just as George Lucas got carried away explaining things in the Star Wars prequels (uh, midichlorians), I feel like Scott too fell into some all too similar trappings. When you explain too much, you just lose all the magic. Some world-building is great, but too much can be detrimental. Again, it’s hard to go too much into this without venturing into spoiler territory, but some of my issues in this department are leftover ideas from Prometheus that were pretty minor in that film but continued on and were pushed even further in this film to the point that they just didn’t sit right with the Alien fan in me.

That all being said, there were some really fun action beats when the film finally got around to them. I was grinning like an idiot, shoving popcorn into my dumb face the entire time anything even remotely resembling a xenomorph was on screen. All of that stuff totally worked for me, especially in the climax. At the end of the day, though, this film didn’t really show me anything new in terms of alien-inflicted carnage and that’s what I was really hoping for.

The film’s super messy, and not just in the blood and gore department, which this film definitely does not skimp on and I actually found that to be one of the highlights of the horror/action bits of the film. However, at this point in my life, I’m tired of overused horror tropes and dumb decisions that lead to unsurprising deaths. “Hey, what’s that thing? Let me take a closer look.” Dead. “We should split up.” Dead. “Let’s have sex in the shower.” Wet and dead. It wasn’t really scary and in a few instances, it’s even a bit boring. Show me something new. Avert expectations. Make me scared. Make me feel something, anything. Also, at a much-appreciated two-hour and two-minute runtime, this film shouldn’t drag like it does in some of these scenes, especially ones that should be ratcheting the tension up to its fulfilling conclusion.

Overall, I found the film to be just decent enough as a fun summer sci-fi thriller, but just barely. I wouldn’t say it’s bad necessarily (though it sure does flirt with it a couple times), it was just disappointing more than anything. Upon my first viewing of Prometheus, I was a little let down simply because I wanted more of a connection to the rest of the Alien saga, but that wasn’t what that film was supposed to be. This one, however, is supposed to be an Alien film (it’s in the title, after all) and some of its shortcomings in that department are what ultimately let me down. It’s just an okay Alien movie when I thought it could have been a great one. I ended up liking this film about as much as Prometheus. It certainly didn’t come close to touching the horror brilliance of Alien or the sheer ass-kickery of Aliens, but I would still say it’s a hell of a lot better than Alien 3 or Alien: Resurrection (low bar, I know). In that regard, I might even call this one a win, just not quite as satisfying as I’d hoped. While I left this film a little disappointed, I’m still down for the next film in the series. Just a sucker for the genre, I guess.

If you are looking for a fun summer sci-fi flick to waste a couple hours with, you might get what you’re looking for with this movie, but if you were hoping for the next Alien or Aliens, you should maybe lower your expectations. However, if you wanna watch two androids play the recorder for five full minutes, then this is definitely the film for you!

Score: C+