Directed by Ridley Scott (2017)
by Sandy DeVito
You know when you're dreading writing a review for a movie it can't possibly be a good sign. Alien is my favorite movie of all time, as some of you who know me know very well. That movie is basically perfect, a masterfully executed work of horrific art. A masterpiece of the horror genre. A realistically drawn, well-crafted, certified badass female protagonist. Unparalleled production design. It's an example of film at its utter best, combining every aspect and characteristic to create a cohesive, masterful narrative.
Alien: Covenant, on the other hand, is two-thirds of the dumb incoherence that comprises Prometheus, one-third random, badly-drawn imitative arcs mashing up ideas from Alien and Aliens, as if they were thrown in a blender on a high setting. I laid in bed last night after watching it, wracking my brain for positive things to say, the memory of this film retreating further and further into my subconscious, as if my psyche wanted to be rid of it as soon as possible. I feel like this movie made me a tiny bit dumber. I suppose it had aspirations of being something, but this movie is big, fat nothingness.
There's not a whole lot you need to know about the plot for this movie (and this movie will make like, two minutes of sense to you if you haven't seen the other Alien movies anyway, so just skip it and go see King Arthur which I guarantee is more fun to watch than this even though I haven't even seen that fucking movie yet): another group of scientists in a ship called Covenant are on a terraforming expedition and are sidetracked when they pick up a boosted signal from a nearby planet. When they reach said planet, it seems to be a botanical paradise, but it's sinister and evil blah blah blah where have I heard that storyline before? Why are grown-ass adults who are professional scientists going to a strange planet they know nothing about without bothering to wear any helmets or interspace gear at all onto its surface? At least in Prometheus they wear suits onto the planet initially. There's a whole plotline in the first half hour that cruxes on these Professional Scientists being exposed to the surrounding habitat and becoming infected. Guess what. That would not happen, because actual deep-space astronauts would not set foot on a foreign planet with their bare-ass skin hanging out.
It bothers me to no end that John Logan was one of the script writers for this film. I have a very fraught love-hate relationship with Logan's writing, kind of like a bad boyfriend you keep going back to even though he's a jerk because the sex is so good. If you know me, you know I can go off on a tangent about Penny Dreadful with practically no warning in the middle of any conversation; the first two seasons of which are one of the greatest gothic narratives in modern times. The third season crushed my soul and spit on it. That third season failed me so utterly it was fucking personal, and I can probably never forgive Logan for doing that to me. Likewise I think projects like Skyfall were exemplary, while others like Spectre were so stale I could probably tell you next-to-nothing about it, despite having definitely sat down and watched that movie, because there is nothing in it worth talking about. I don't know why Logan's writing is this divisive for me, but it seems to be the case that he either lifts me up into the arms of divine ecstasy, or...crushes my soul and spits on it.
This movie is pretty soul-crushing, but not in a way that's interesting or emotional. This movie is very boring. This movie is very dull. Any scene in it that seems to be interesting is merely lifted from other films in the Alien cinematic universe. I actively yawned during a few of the action scenes. The rest seem to be trying to build on the David (Michael Fassbender) character introduced in Prometheus. The only really substantially positive thing I have to say about this movie has to do with Fassbender being a great actor, and therefore being able to turn garbage writing into something that sounds sort of profound (even fucking weird incestuous flute playing). I'm gonna insist, however, that if you've ever seen a movie in your entire fucking life, you spot the twist in the third act instantly, which makes the plot holes surrounding it garish. Two things: this movie starts with a major character dying almost instantly. Guys, do not do this. Do not kill a character we have never met in a strangely stagnant manner and then show us his crying wife looking at old videos of him on her iPad and expect us to feel something. WE DO NOT KNOW THIS CHARACTER. We do not know this character's significant other yet. We are immediately thrust into a manipulative emotional position where we are clearly expected to feel empathy for characters we have no understanding of yet. I hated immediately being forced into an emotional box this way. In the beginning of a narrative, it's important to try to let your audience come to some kind of organic understanding of what is happening. The original Alien, in fact, does this masterfully, making us a passive observer of characters we do not fucking know at all yet, giving us time to develop an emotional bond with them. This movie doesn't seem to understand that concept at all. Regarding the twist, it involves a character being apparently killed off-screen. On our walk home, my partner and I agreed that there had almost definitely been a "kill scene" that was shot during this sequence, due to the odd way it's edited; why that kill scene never actually materializes we could not come up with an answer for. This is just lazy, bad storytelling.
Back to Fassbender. As I said previously in my thoughts about Prometheus, I think Scott would have had something interesting going if, instead of making David a part of the Alien universe per se, he created a trilogy about AI (artificial intelligence) that centers David as its main protagonist. Sure, put it in space, in the future. Include other planets and shit. Put Weyland in there too. But why do we have to include the kitchen sink? Why David and the AI, the Prometheus beings, and Xenomorphs? The narrative in this movie is stretched at every turn to the breaking point, trying to include so much so quickly it's just an incoherent mess. A bunch of the effects in this movie look actively weird; this feels more like a sci-fi action film made in 2004 than 2017. I think Scott himself is stuck in 2004, to tell the truth. What was the last good movie Ridley Scott made? I haven't seen Gladiator since I was in middle school, and I have a sneaky feeling I would probably not love it the way I remember loving it back then. I get that people like The Martian, but I did not like that movie (ugh, fuck you Matt Damon). I pulled up Scott's filmography, and I was sort of surprised to note that I love two of his films very much (Alien and Blade Runner) and...well, that's it. I don't like any of his other projects that I've seen. I've realized that Alien is my favorite movie, but I don't actually really like Ridley Scott as a director. This film is certainly keeping with that vein.
There was a moment after a certain Alien Baby bursts from a certain chest (get it, it's an homage to the original!), and it lifts its little Alien Baby claws up to David, where I thought it was going to start dancing like the Dancing Baby from Ally McBeal. I actively laughed at the mental picture, and this film was already going so wildly off the rails that I had just stopped caring at that point. I mean, it might as well have started dancing, you know? At least it would have made this movie interesting for two seconds.