If the original Alien was the pinnacle of fear and sexual threat in horror movies then Alien: Covenant is the bottom of the same barrel – perhaps even the bit you’ve scraped from the bottom of the barrel, consumed, and then excreted. In some ways I guess I should have expected it when the film opens with Michael Fassbender and Guy Pearce discussing God and creators. I knew right away I had been swindled into watching Prometheus 2.
As with Prometheus, this isn’t an Alien film. Instead it’s a hotchpotch of religious and social themes smashed together with all the delicacy of a Michael Bay Transformers movie. The alien is very much a secondary threat, so the trailer which suggested a return to the original’s intense horror was lying. Instead we get a poor man’s Frankenstein or, at worst, a seventh Resident Evil film. That’s a shame, as there are some spore-type infestations earlier on that tease a significantly nastier and better fim. But that’s all torched when Covenant links up with the loose threads from Prometheus and we move into a set of exposition scenes followed by bloody death scenes that are impressively meaningless.
The inherent problem, as with Prometheus, is that all these potentially complex themes are torpedoed by the witless, jaw-droppingly dumb actions of the characters. Again, we do not get a chance to get to know them properly and the film uses lazy husband and wife templates to establish relationships. Unfortunately, everyone in Alien: Covenant seems to be a husband or wife, leading us to be unable to emotionally connect or care with any of them. Instead we see these characters try to outdo each other in Jackass-style levels of stupidity. I counted at least ten occasions where a character did something so incredibly stupid that it endangered the lives of the crew or just outright led to their deaths. It’s hard to buy the “leave the brain at home and enjoy the rollercoaster” argument when we’re subjected to pretentious spiritual babble that the director demands we take seriously at the same time. It didn’t work in the Matrix sequels and it doesn’t work here. And besides, I don’t remember any rollercoaster I’ve been on which stopped midway through and gave me a lecture on Descartes.
The highlight of Alien: Covenant for me (and for many other audience members who laughed along with me) is a lengthy scene where Michael Fassbender teaches someone how to play the recorder. This happens in the middle of the film, just after an alien onslaught. “You blow and I’ll do the fingering” he says (or something like that, but the fingering line is definitely there). Oh, how we laughed ourselves to tears.
Tears for the death of the franchise.