Say what you will about the Alien movies but – with the exception of the Alien vs. Predator flicks – they all had ambitious ideas. It was exciting to view the story of these creatures from a fresh perspective, every single time. A haunted house in space segued into a Vietnam War allegory, into a grim exploration of inevitable death, into an empowering body horror action-comedy, into a serious rumination about the origin of life in the universe. Even if the films weren’t always “good” they always dared to take the series, and sci-fi as a whole, in new and exciting directions.
Ridley Scott’s Alien Covenant is an impressive visual spectacle, beautifully photographed with impeccable CGI effects, but it is also a tired rehash of the original story, one that jettisons any new ideas that Scott included in Prometheus, one that muddies the mythology of the franchise and one that ultimately concludes with the revelation that we probably could have skipped directly to the next film in this series and missed very, very little.
Stop me if this sounds familiar: the crew of a spaceship changes course when they receive a distress call from a mysterious planet, only to land, get infected with an alien species, give violent birth to monsters and have to fight for their lives. Also there’s a dangerous android making all their problems worse.
It goes on like this. You wanna bet there’s a scene where they have to blow an alien out of an airlock? I’ll give you really good odds that there’s a scene where they have to blow an alien out of an airlock.
Alien Covenant is too competently produced to be boring. Ridley Scott knows how to film an action sequence and he knows how to make monsters look creepy as hell. But all of that effort is in service of tiresome material. The monsters are scary but the characters are, mostly, two-dimensional constructs. You feel nothing when one of them dies, no matter how eery their severed head looks after the fact.
Katherine Waterston is allegedly the protagonist here. It’s a shame that Alien Covenant forgets to give her a meaningful character arc. She begins the film suffering from a serious personal loss, and is unsure why she should even go on. By the end she’s fighting monsters but she appears to have learned nothing other than that she simply likes living. It’s hard to imagine why we needed a whole movie to get from Point A to Point B.
So what, exactly, is the point? Yes, there are a few thrills and yes, there are even some exceptionally beautiful moments scattered throughout Alien Covenant, but what is this film trying to accomplish that none of the other films in the series attempted?
Well, it’s a film about faith. Or rather, Alien Covenant would like you to think it’s a film about faith. The ship’s captain changes course because he thinks the discovery of a new planet is a sign from God. The androids ponder their relationship with their makers, and the aliens are the creation of mysterious megalomaniacs. But all the film’s many, many speeches mean nothing if they have no impact on the characters. Nobody changes their faith because of the events of Alien Covenant. They live or die on the whims of violent beasts. Our hero doesn’t have a religious epiphany nor does she turn her back on God. She merely makes it from one part of the movie to another.
And that’s the biggest problem: Alien Covenant is a film of very little faith. It doesn’t have faith that you’ll notice how formulaic its story is, and it doesn’t have faith that you’ll see the most predictable plot “twist” in years coming half a movie away. And when someone doesn’t have faith in you it’s only natural to feel the same way about them. Alien Covenant is so familiar, so disposable, and so baselessly self-important that it might just make you lose faith in this franchise altogether.
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Top Photo: 20th Century Fox
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon, and watch him on the weekly YouTube series What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.