More noise than signal

Alien: Covenant

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

Did you like Promethus, you weirdo? In which case, I’m sure you’ll like Alien: Covenant, as despite the title it’s far closer to Prometheus 2 than the Aliens of yore, and maybe there’s five or six people in the world who would celebrate that fact, while the rest of us must consign ourselves to dumpster fire duty.

The likeable crew of the colonisation ship Covenant are given a rude awakening from hypersleep when an unusual signal is detected, unfortunately in the process their captain (James Franco) is incinerated in what must be the earliest death for what I guess we can call an A-lister, although it does rather make me question why hypersleep pods were connected to the gas mains.

This means the slightly awkward Oram (Billy Crudup) must take command, with the now second in command Daniels (Katherine Waterston) questioning his religious beliefs for no obvious reason apart from clumsily introducing a tertiary theme to the piece. Once the crew have said their goodbyes to dear ol’ Cap’n Whodat Wossisface, their attention turns to the signal, which seems to include snippets of a woman singing, despite them being out way past where humans had boldly gone before. They take a detour to investigate, over Daniels’ objections, which only really make sense if she had access to the script, or at least the film title and a working knowledge of the survival rates therein.

Turns out the planet would make a suitable colonisation target, prompting Oram to wonder if it’s better to set up shop here, rather than another few years of deep freeze voyaging. Before any decision is made, they explore the area to find the source of the signal, a crashed vessel that will look familiar to viewers of Prometheus, as will Michael Fassbender’s David, which comes as a surprise to the crew who have their own model, Walter, their model sporting a generic American accent rather than a bizarre Lawrence of Arabia homage. The trick, Potter, is not minding that it sucks.

Anyway, Ridley Scott has taken up the mantle of killing off main characters offscreen between films, with Noomi Rapace apparently having died peacefully some time after re-soldering David’s bonce back onto his bod. And, well, I suppose I’ll have to stop recapping here before getting into spoiler territory, but I assume I am not blowing any minds to reveal that there are aliens around, and they do what aliens are wont to do to the crew, and it turns out that things are not what they seem.

Trailers for Aliens: Covenant suggested a return to the classic Alien formula, or at least the classic Alien design. While that’s there, and used to great effect during sections that would be entertaining in the context of a better film, it’s somewhat obscured by Scott deciding that the question of “What are the xenomorphs?” is best answered by “whatever you want them to be, including an airbourne pathogen, or magic, or a suitable furniture polish substitute, or whatever”.

For a film with Alien in the title, it doesn’t seem to care all that much about the xenomorphs. It seems that Ridley’s much more excited by the prospect of artificial intelligence, and at the risk of spoiling things for you, artificial intelligence doing the thing that artificial intelligence near enough always does. Weirdly, it also seems that David has cultivated a vendetta against the Precursors, or whatever we’re calling them big blue boys now, for no explained reason I can recall. Well, I suppose there was the whole decapitation thing. May have coloured his perception.

Anyway, it seems like an undue amount of the film is based around David trying to corrupt Walter with his master race propaganda along with a side helping of the whole “meeting your makers” thing, and that might work, if Fassbender’s David wasn’t the most irritating thing of all time, he said, with nary a trace of hyperbole.

I see why Ridley Scott has been going that way – there’s only so much you can do with a antagonist that’s a pure killing machine. It’s not like a xenomorph is going to branch out into white collar crime or work his way up the ranks of a Mafia crime family, although I would totally watch either of those movies. Given that the plots of the first four Alien films are essential “one/many aliens kill everyone”, with most variation coming from directorial style, I understand why Scott would not want to rehash Alien again, and why he’d want to explore new corners. I’m just not at all convinced this is the franchise in which to have those discussions, as they’re only tangentially concerned with your titular protagonists.

I always thought the pertinent unexplored questions in this universe were about Wayland Yutani, but perhaps even the oblique hints of that mentioned during Aliens Vs Predator poisoned that well. The whole “origins” tangent is, to be fair, a worthy concept to mine in general, but not with the toffee hammer that this franchise equips you with.

Anyway, the matter at hand – I’m not sure I’d say this is much better or worse than Prometheus. It wins a little by having a generally likable crew that aren’t entirely douchcanoes, particularly Danny McBride’s Tennessee, but loses with a narrative that I’m convinced no-one cares about dominating the piece until it all kicks off towards the end, when it suddenly remembers it’s an Aliens film and does the Aliens thing pretty well. But, too little, too late.

I’m probably overstating my reactions to Alien: Covenant, largely because it’s a franchise I greatly wish better things for and I’m only getting very well produced slices of tedium going in directions I don’t think are particularly fruitful. My biggest problems with Covenant, however, are more mundane than where Scott’s pointing the ship, it’s that the film’s kinda boring, and entirely predictable.