I am part of a happy minority where “Alien Covenant” (2017) is concerned — I keep hearing about “meh” or negative reactions from my friends, but I quite enjoyed it. I’d rate it a 9 out of 10.
No, this second installment in the “Alien” prequel trilogy doesn’t bring much new to the table. It often seems like a collection of common tropes, and borrows a bit from previous films in the franchise — especially the first movie in 1979. Some aspects of it — like a predictable and slightly gimmicky development late in the story — even feel like horror movie cliches. (I am doing everything I can to avoid spoilers, so forgive how vague I’m being here.) “Alien: Covenant” isn’t groundbreaking, and it isn’t destined to be called a “classic.”
Here’s the thing, though — all of the movie’s common tropes are exactly what make fans happy. Think about it … if you had to name two “Alien” movies as unique or the most divergent, they might be the heady, ambitious “Prometheus” (2012) and the baroquely experimental “Alien: Resurrection” (1997). Whatever their failings, both of those movies deserve points for creativity. And they are among the three films that fans hated the most. (The third here is the smartest and most underappreciated installment, 1993’s brilliant “Alien 3.”)
With “Alien: Covenant,” Ridley Scott gives fans exactly what they were clamoring for — a frightening, gory, space-based horror film with creatively designed monsters and some nasty surprises. It very much returns to the tone of the first film. It is even jarringly darker than “Prometheus,” which was defined partly by its moments of cautious optimism. And, more than any other sequel, it seems directly inspired by the grotesquerie of H. R. Giger’s original, nightmarish monster designs. I feel certain this movie would have received the late artist’s blessing. (I could name a certain scene and an excellent surprise story development, but I won’t.)
Michael Fassbender shined in his two roles here. (He not only reprises his role as the android, “David,” but also portrays a newer model, “Walter.”) The rest of the acting was roundly good too.
I also found the movie nice and scary. I, for one, don’t think Scott’s direction of action scenes here is perfect. (They are harder to follow here, for example, than his beautiful arena melees in 2000’s “Gladiator.”) But they were still effective.
So this return to form made me pretty happy. I didn’t want another muddled attempt at profundity like “Prometheus.” Nor did I want a winding, bizarre, arthouse-horror tale like “Resurrection” — that movie was like a poorly written, drug-fueled comic book. I wanted a first-rate sci-fi horror show with lots of monstery goodness, and that’s what I got.
If I had to pick a criticism of “Alien: Covenant,” I’m surprised to have to point to some less-than-stellar CGI. This was something I noticed from early trailers for the film, and I’m surprised I haven’t heard another reviewer mention in it yet. One scene rendered a title baddie about as well as a modern video game, albeit a good one. Another’s depiction of an upright “neomorph” seemed … fairly bad. (Fans of decent creature features shouldn’t despair, however — there are still some outstanding monster moments, and no small amount of accompanying gore and goo.) Have I just become spoiled by the amazing dinosaur effects of 2015’s “Jurassic World?” I don’t think so … I suggest that the otherwise lamentable “Alien: Resurrection,” with its combination of CGI and practical effects, had far better creature effects than this newest outing.
Of course I recommend this movie. Maybe I should only do so with the caveat that I am (obviously) a huge fan of the series. It has been said that I’m easy to please, too — I actually gave a glowing review to “Prometheus” shortly after its release, before wiser minds pointed out to me its sometimes egregious flaws. (A friend of mine shared with me one of those “Everything Wrong With” videos that CinemaSins produces … it’s a hilarious webseries, but it sure will dull the shine of some of your favorite movies, lemme tell ya.) Your mileage may vary, especially depending on how much you enjoy horror movies, as opposed to more general science fiction.
Oh! There is a mostly non-sequitur postscript that I can’t help but add here … yet another one of my movie prognostications was flat out wrong. It isn’t a spoiler if it’s a far-out prediction that didn’t happen, so I’ll go ahead and share it here … during one of the ads for “Alien: Covenant,” I could swear I heard a character call out the name “ASH!!!!” (I’ve evidently started hallucinating at the start of mid-life.) I predicted that the new and robotic Walter would turn evil, and actually become the android named Ash in the 1979 original. (And why not? Androids do not age, and a web-based prologue for “Alien Covenant” suggests their faces can be easily swapped out.) I further predicted that the more human David would be pitted against him in order to save humanity somehow from alienkind. (These things do not happen.)
I still think that’s a pretty clever idea, though, even if I only accidentally arrived at it. It would be great if that happened somehow in the planned “Alien: Awakening.”