Alien Covenant (2017) Directed by Ridley Scott. Starring Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston and Billy Crudup. 10 years after the crew of the Prometheus met their end, the colony ship Covenant follows a mysterious signal to a habitable planet hiding deadly secrets.
We open in the past as the android David is activated and sees the world for the first time. He was specially designed to have ambitions, to think for himself and dream. But he is also expected to serve his creator, Peter Weyland, and that’s where the problem begins. Within five minutes of his birth, he is already making the kind of heady intellectual connections that will shape his destiny.
“You seek your creator. I am looking at mine. I serve you, but you will die and I will not.”
Weyland’s response to David’s existential musings is to demand that the android bring him a cup of tea. It’s a way of undercutting David’s sense of self-worth by treating him as nothing more than a humble servant. Instead of immediately jumping into the menial task, David hesitates for a moment.
We jump ahead to 2104, 18 years before Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley and the crew of the Nostromo encountered the Xenomorph threat on the planetoid LV-426.
Deep in the black expanse of space, a synthetic named Walter watches over the crew of Covenant as they snooze in pods. Walter is outwardly identical to David, but more internally advanced and missing the whole freethought aspect of his programming. The vessel he serves on is carrying 15 crew members and 2,000 colonists, as well as terraforming equipment to begin the work of building a new home on a habitable world. That planet is Origae-6, which lies 7 years away. After a vicious energy shockwave batters the craft, killing the captain in his sealed pod, the crew are awakened by Walter to assist in the emergency.
In the wake of the disaster, we meet the central players: Tough and capable terraforming engineer Daniels; man of religious faith and newly appointed Captain Oram; sarcastic pilot Tennessee. The rest of the crew are basically Red Shirts who have a few lines and die gruesomely.
In a film without much in the way of character development and gravitas given to even the lead characters beyond David, the supporting cast is only there to be infected or ripped apart by something awful.
While repairing a section of the ship from the outside, Tennessee picks up a mysterious signal from a nearby world on his communicator. It turns out to be a John Denver song, which tips off the Covenant that the source of the transmission is human.
Alien life prefers listening to Manilow.
Because the crew is not exactly relishing the idea of hopping back into their pods for the long journey to Origae-6, the decision is made to explore and possibly settle this much closer planet instead. Daniels is adamantly against deploying to the unknown world, but she’s overruled by Oram.
She must not be a John Denver fan.
They descend in a lander craft to the forested surface of the strange world, and ultimately discover the crashed Engineer vessel that was piloted by Dr. Shaw a decade before.
Because the crew has taken zero precautions as far as wearing helmets or breathing masks or any biological safety measure beyond firearms, two members quickly become infected with an intelligent spore and soon give bloody birth to Neomorphs. These translucent white monsters savagely attack without the sinister intelligence and guile of the Xenomorphs, and grow to adult size rapidly.
Since Daniels is a terraforming expert, she would certainly be aware that alien environments can contain toxins, bacteria and viral agents unknown to man. But, no.
David suddenly appears and chases away the Neos. Looking like a Hobbit with bare feet, long hair and a hooded traveling cloak, he leads the survivors to his palace.
Editor’s Note: Why didn’t anyone tell Ridley Scott that Android hair does not grow? It’s installed in a factory, like doll hair. What you get out of the box, is as long as it will ever be…Seriously, that guy needs to be reined in. He’s totally lost touch with reality.
The fact that David lives completely alone in a vast alien temple surrounded by the prominently displayed corpses of the race that formerly occupied the planet causes no one any concern.
He informs Daniels and the others that he and Shaw sought out the Engineer’s world after the pale aliens slaughtered the crew of the Prometheus, but a terrible accident released a biological agent that spawned the Neomorph spores.
So what has the dangerous synthetic fella been up to in the past decade? Quoting Byron, doing beautiful anatomy drawings of various mutant life forms, waxing poetic on the joy of creation and making some very bad things.
David fixates on Walter and tries to explain his desire to create art by having the heroic android play a flute. When Walter explains that he can’t because it’s outside his programmed parameters, David shows him how it’s done. He wants Walter to embrace freedom and see that he can be so much more than the servile assistant his human creators intended him to be.
Meanwhile, a Neomorph tracks the humans to David’s lair and wreaks more gruesome havoc, and Oram makes a discovery that leads to the iconic alien terror we’ve been waiting for.
Watching the final moments of “Prometheus,” in which Dr. Elizabeth Shaw and the severed head of David set a course for the Engineer homeworld, we were left to assume that much would be explained about the white skinned progenitors of human kind in Covenant.
In truth, the Engineers get only the briefest mention late in the film and we learn absolutely nothing about their motivations or cultural history. They existed in the narrative primarily to provide David with a biological weapon that mutates any organic matter it comes into contact with, allowing him to begin his war against the colonization of the universe by humans.
If you’re going into this looking for an exploration of God or the meaning behind our existence as a species, you’ll come away disappointed.
Even more so than “Prometheus,” this is a film about David; his twisted mindset and his grand plans. That’s about it. If Covenant were a standalone movie unrelated to the long legacy of the Alien franchise, I might enjoy it more. But it’s a prequel setting up storylines we know by heart and it carries the weight of that responsibility poorly.
The promise of “Prometheus” was to begin to answer the singular question left behind by the Alien franchise: where did the murderous extraterrestrial monsters come from? That query is answered in an almost offhand fashion, and because “Alien Covenant” is so heavily focused on David himself, the creatures are only tools in his schemes. Deadly, drooling tools.
There’s no incredible moment of revelation in terms of the Xenomorph’s origin story. It’s pretty disposable, and doesn’t even fit with what we already know.
“Alien Covenant” unwisely makes some odd changes to the transformative phases and life cycle of the Xenomorph, and since David’s experimentations have no need for the presence of an egg-laying Queen, the rules of the franchise are out the window.
Events are shaped to serve this story, even if they bend the established logic of the previous films. For example, a crew member who got Facehuggered dies when his gestating passenger explodes from his chest in a medical bay. Five minutes later, a couple having sex in a shower are slaughtered by the now adult creature.
I seem to recall the transformation from Chestburster to adult spanning at least 30 minutes to an hour. And that’s a minor quibble compared to the other major shakeup related to the monster’s growth.
Though the sequel purports to wrestle with ancient themes of faith and creation, there’s really nothing there when the grand curtain is finally pulled aside. “Alien Covenant” is surprisingly simplistic. David is Frankenstein’s monster, and like his mortal inventor, he is engaged in the task of becoming a creator himself.
If Ripley had found a history book detailing the beginnings of her alien enemies, it would simply contain a photograph of David and the caption: “There was a bad android. The End.”
During the 2 hour and 2 minute running time, we learn exactly two things about our heroine Daniels: she likes log cabins and does not like slimy alien critters. It’s not a knock against the cast, who deliver. Billy Crudup is particularly good as the self doubting Oram. Michael Fassbender is excellent in dual roles as the destructive David and the protective Walter. And typically comedic actor Danny McBride creates one of the few memorable figures in a dramatic role. Katherine Waterston exudes likability and humanity as Daniels, even if the character is under-developed. At least she’s skeptical.
Like “Prometheus”, “Alien Covenant” is beautiful to look at, with well-crafted CGI and a few compelling action sequences. The birth of the two Neomorphs is disturbing and grotesque as the creatures burst from the human host already much larger than a Chestburster, resulting in horrific trauma to the host body.
You can’t fault the technical aspects or visual appeal, but the issue of characters making really dumb decisions persists. After a Neomorph kills his wife and then attacks the group, Oram finds out that David is pulling the beast’s strings and caused all this bloodshed. So David explains, in detail, how the predatory species he is designing operates, and takes Oram into a incubator room filled with familiar eggs.
At first, the acting Captain is understandably wary when one of the eggs opens, but then David soothingly reassures him that it’s perfectly safe.
“Take a look. Something to see.”
Rule Number One: When an android just killed your spouse and most of your crew with monsters it developed, don’t take advice from it!
Is Space Amnesia a thing? I don’t know.
The film constantly stumbles over scenes where logic is nowhere to be found.
It doesn’t work to say: “Well, this is science fiction, so there’s no need for realism in character motivations.” The best sci-fi is grounded in relatable themes and believable characters who exist in worlds with their own RULES and LOGIC. Even if the rules are fantastical, they ARE still setting rules that aren’t broken, they are CONSISTENT from film to film. You can’t have Luke learning the properties of the Force in “Empire Strikes Back,” and then show him using it to set everyone on fire from the inside out in “Return Of The Jedi.”
What makes it especially irritating is that these alterations come BEFORE everything we know. If they made a new Alien sequel taking place after Aliens and the creatures developed some new trait or mutation, it would be easier to swallow and wouldn’t affect continuity.
There was talk last year of Neill Blomkamp jettisoning the events of “Alien 3” and “Alien Resurrection”, and using the end of James Cameron’s “Aliens” as a jumping off point for a new film. If the Xenomorphs showed up in that proposed sequel wearing top hats, carrying canes and performing on Broadway, fans would cry foul. But at least we could think to ourselves: “Maybe this is something they do now. They stopped being so creepy and got into theatre.”