Someone needs to sit Ridley Scott down in a comfortable room and tell him that it might be time to let well enough alone. His newest outing in the Alien franchise, Alien: Covenant, can lay claim to not being as entirely soul sucking and awful as its predecessor, Prometheus. However, beyond that backhanded compliment, there isn’t much in the way that inspires confidence that this new trilogy he’s making is worth more than some admittedly delicious Michael Fassbender performances. Alien: Covenant does present some intriguing ideas but by the time you get to them, you’ll already be pissed off and wishing the characters would just die.
What grates on the nerves the most with regards to this Alien film is how the screenplay treats it’s characters, picking and choosing character traits to lay on like a coat of primer but stopping before adding any other paint. In particular, Billy Crudup’s character is a self proclaimed man of faith and yet the only faith based decision we see him make is to take a scout mission down to what will be a doomed planet. Not one question about what the beasts are, not one prayer offered to God, not even a single quake in the fundament of his very beliefs is uttered from his lips despite being given ample scenarios that would cause any human, let alone someone with strong religious beliefs, to marvel and wonder. One of the movie’s greatest failings is that despite the time it dedicates to showing us the team dynamics and measured pacing, that it manages to render the characters so thin and throw away some of their more interesting attributes. How do you have a whole movie based on idea of creation and the power which comes from it and not position your religious character to have a ton of those conversations?
This isn’t the only area in which the characterizations go by the wayside or pop back up when Ridley wants them to. One of the mainstays of horror cinema is that characters, when presented with scenarios unlike what they have faced, can make some less than smart decisions. Both Prometheus and Alien: Covenant have incredibly smart people making incredibly dumb decisions and acting as if they’d never been in tough situations before. The first encounter with an alien turns Faris (Amy Seimetz) into an incompetent blubbering mess who ends up not only dooming Karine (Carmen Ejogo) but the entire crew when her actions blow up a ship. It’s mind boggling to have women be so capable in one moment and dumb as hell the next. Daniels (Katherine Waterston) fares the best among the group of thinly drawn humans, but even she gets saddled with some strange choices at the beginning of the film. All most of Alien: Covenant did was make me long for the brilliance of the first film. Take for instance the moment the crew overrides Ripley’s command of using quarantine protocol and inadverntetly bringing the xenomorph abord the ship. It’s a dumb decision yes, but it’s rooted in character and conflict, and illuminates so much about the crew as people. There isn’t much here, even with the group being full of couples.
Sparred mostly from this foolery is Michael Fassbender as Walter and David. I can’t really get into his storyline for fear of spoiling some interesting subject matter, but he gives the movie’s best performance and almost manages to rise above unscathed. It’s just too bad that all the attention paid to him couldn’t also be doled out for the other cast members and make Alien: Covenant a more interesting film. Wrestling with ideas and retconning established canon do not an interesting movie make.