Ridley’s back! Again!
Should he have bothered?
Warning – contains light spoilers for Prometheus and Alien: Covenant.
Prometheus really split audiences. After an amazing promotional campaign (though later trailers ended up revealing the entire plot) the film fell between two stools – an intelligent sci-fi pondering our existence and an Alien prequel – just what happened on LV-426 before Ripley and co answered the distress call?
Prometheus looked great – every Scott film does, it had a great cast and some interesting ideas – sadly it was let down by some idiotic plotting and character development. E.g. The guy with the hi tech maps gets lost, the scientist afraid of everything decides to pet the space snake and Guy Pearce is old and stuff. It also left too many questions; Why did the engineers create humans, leave clues to their existence and get all grumpy when we turn up to say hello? What were the engineers running from? If the Alien xenomorph did not exist yet, why are their murals of it on the walls of the temple? Why is it Charlize Theron can only seem to run in a straight line?!
So does Covenant answer any of these questions or at least correct the mistakes? Does it steer the title ship back on course…..Yes and no.
In some ways, it’s the film Prometheus should have been, yet it’s still a long way from joining the dots to the original Alien and suffers similar plot contrivances – essentially the crew are mostly idiots and robots are evil because…conventions say so.
Covenant has some strengths – a bold opening that ups the stakes, slow burn tension, plentiful gore (I’m easily scared, by the way) and some beautiful cinematography. Like its prequel predecessor, the films starts well, then unfortunately descends into Alien fan service, going through the familiar beats that have been done better elsewhere, with Scott seemingly abandoning plot logic and rules he laid down in Alien.
Whilst the dynamic of Covenant’s crew being couples should add an element of empathy, they’re all fairly bland characters I couldn’t really care about. I’m still yet to be convinced by Katherine Waterston (after this and Fantastic Beasts) as an actress and despite being sold as a lead, she’s a bit part until the film decides to hammer home the Ripley comparisons. She’s no Ripley, she’s not even Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace’s character from Prometheus) for that matter. The crew collectively make so many stupid decisions, I’m surprised they were cleared to head up a billion dollar colony project, but I’m probably splitting hairs.
The only actors that do register are Michael Fassbender and Danny McBride. Fassbender is clearly having a ball in his two roles, one android chewing on the scenery (David) and the other chewing on a misplaced American accent (Walter). Don’t get me wrong, Fassbender is one of the best actors of his generation, but he still struggles with an American accent! I was pleasantly surprised at how good McBride was at playing it straight, maybe because his character is more in line with the disgruntled space truckers from Alien, than the optimistic colonists we’re supposed to root for.
Ultimately it’s a frustrating film – though admittedly less so than Prometheus. The most frustrating thing is having Scott at the helm still – it’s a trophy wife of a film, stunning to look at but no personality. It’s as if he’s gone full George Lucas with his prequels and no one has the heart to tell him that claustrophobic space horror and philosophical ramblings don’t really mix.
It’s obvious he’s making it up as he’s going along with him discussing different titles (Paradise Lost/Alien Paradise/Alien: Covenant) and multiple drafts over the years since Prometheus, even stating back in 2014 that he found the xenomorph boring, “The beast is cooked, done…I think you’ve got to come back with something more interesting.” Well Sir Ridley, I think the same could be applied to yourself – at approaching eighty years old, shouldn’t you be doing something other than derivative Alien prequels?
The Martian (2015) shows that with a good script Ridley Scott can still deliver tense and engaging sci-fi – to quote Luke Skywalker, “There is still good in him.” Sadly Scott has promised (threatened) us with at least one more prequel before we catch up with the Nostromo crew from Alien, so it looks we’ll have to ensure some more philosophical space horrors for the time being.
In space…no one can hear you sigh.
What are your thoughts on Prometheus and Alien: Covenant? Let us know in the comments!