Alien: Covenant follows on from Ridley Scott’s Prometheus and will no doubt lead into his classic Alien (1979), but it feels like a movie that has exhausted itself and run out of ideas. After thirty-eight years and seven films, how many new ways can there be to hide the dreaded monster in the dark and make it go “Boo!”?
The Alien movies ran their course by the time Aliens (1986) was done. Then Prometheus came about in 2012 carrying the Alien DNA and a bag full of new and exciting possibilities. Now Covenant arrives as the inevitable sequel and leaves all the promise of Prometheus behind. For those who found Prometheus to be a step too detached from the franchise, I suspect Covenant will be a comfort. But for those, like me, who enjoyed the new ground Prometheus was exploring, this movie will seem like a toothless clone of a once great empire.
Alien was a fantastic film because it was patient and understood the mechanics of horror, which used space, lighting and pacing to draw us in to a perpetual state of anticipation. It employed the Jaws formula – by keeping the monster that could potentially eat the entire cast hidden for most of the film, its eventual revelation was shocking. Covenant dashes headfirst into the action, regularly foregoing any kind of build-up. We see the aliens up close and very often, many times in wide shots that reveal their entire humanoid physique. Yes, by now we are no longer strangers to what the aliens look like, but when you throw them at us from every direction and pay little attention to where they come from or how they emerge, the film simply becomes an action machine.
You could argue that Covenant, therefore, is more about its characters and continuing the story that was introduced in the previous film. This it does naturally. Michael Fassbender returns as an android, and we get a new ship with a new crew made up of familiar faces like Danny McBride, Billy Crudup, Demián Bichir and Katherine Waterston, though who they are is not as important as what they do, since most of what they do is a re-enactment of what all the past Alien crews have done: Scream their heads off and run for their lives. It’s a little disappointing that while the plot attempts to explore the realm of free will and creationism through the Fassbender android and his Godlike scheme, it follows the Alien pattern religiously. Crew is on a mission in deep space. They are brought to a mysterious planet and discover evidence of life. Some of the crew get too nosey and become infected. Aliens erupt from their bodies. All hell breaks loose.
I think by now we have all been Aliened-out, just like we’ve been Transformered-out and Pirates of the Caribbeaned-out. These pictures have crossed over into tired repetitiveness. Covenant is as well-made as any other big budget movie out there, with lots of tantalising visuals and ideas that are never developed or pushed to fruition. What it lacks are purpose and direction. It feels strangely eventless, as if two hours go by and we’re suddenly at the climax. If this had been the first of its kind, maybe, it might’ve been something to remember. Unfortunately, its kind has been done and dusted, and then dusted some more.