Review: Alien Covenant – An Uncertain New Direction

Review by Alon Weiss

The latest installment of the Alien movies, additionally a continuation of its new origins prequel, gives early impressions of having the deck fully stacked in its favour. It’s commanded by veteran director Ridley Scott, paired with the captivating acting presence of Michael Fassbender to rally a well rounded cast, all brought to the screen with beautifully atmospheric cinematography and as you’d expect, visual effects of the highest caliber. And yet for all its individual strengths, Alien Covenant is a paradox of the whole not being greater than the sum of its parts.

While watching the movie it’s easy to get swept up in the visual scenery and solid performances all around. I can even appreciate how well it connects to the events of Prometheus, weaving a solid continuity, at least within the framework of the prequel. There certainly is a quality to the film craft on display here. But as the story progresses it becomes ever more apparent that something has been miscalculated in the equation. Yes you have a crew whose mission goes to hell from the alien encounter, there’s the mounting death toll, the people trying to figure out how to survive an unknown threat they don’t understand… yet curiously it feels like the focus isn’t on the terror of an unstoppable killing machine.

I’m a big fan of Michael Fassbender and always admire his stand-out acting but it just seemed he stole the show from what should be the real star; the Xenomorph. Maybe it’s just me, but I came out of it with the impression that Fassbender was the real centre of attention. And not just on the force of his acting, but placing a great deal of emphasis on his android character, examining themes of Artificial Intelligence exploring life, purpose, and choice. Now don’t get me wrong, I can quite appreciate such deep philosophical journeys into the human condition and all the nuances that define us. I would even highly recommend Ex Machina.

But with many other movies having explored such themes more effectively and even given that androids have been prominent in the series throughout, it’s not what I go into an Alien movie for. Here it clashed with and diminished the terror that has been a pillar of the classic movies, to the effect of suggesting that they’ve lost sight of what made Alien the iconic name in cinema that it is. When you look back to the first two films, the Alien didn’t even have to be seen for its presence to be felt. The crew at all times were aware that this deadly creature was somewhere out there, never sure where to go to stay out of its destructive path and no matter where they were, always feeling persistent dread that it was in the shadows of the next corner, just waiting to strike. And through the characters prevalent fear, the audience also was all too aware of the alien menace even when not seen.

By contrast in Covenant, while the danger is tangible at times the alien is on screen, the rest of the time it’s easy to forget as we’re once again directed to the android’s search for his place among humans and with new choices that are presented to him, the role he serves. With such inconsistency in direction and pacing, the suspense and tension feels like it’s been somewhat sacrificed.  Additionally as this movie continues the new prequel history of the mythology in exploring the origins of the Engineers, the enigmatic race hinted at in the first classic film, and the Xenomorphs, without giving too much away makes some questionable choices.

Long-time fans of the Alien series will likely be disappointed. Though maybe your general sci-fi and action audience or just those not as familiar, can find enjoyment for two hours. With all that this movie had going for it, I really really wanted to see a return to form for a franchise that had once set the tone for Sci-Fi Horror. I would liken this to a finely crafted bow with a sharpened arrow, but the archer isn’t sure which target to aim at. So much potential that sadly missed the mark. So my final score is a 6/10.