Alien lays egg, egg hatches facehugger, facehugger hugs face, chestburster bursts chest. The Xenomorph lifecycle used to be so simple, yet with Ridley Scott’s latest two movies it’s becoming needlessly complicated, not to mention self-contradicting. The same could be said of Alien: Covenant’s plot anytime it attempts to expand the franchise’s lore – the same misguided choice that ended up sinking Prometheus. Thankfully it never hits the lows of that mess, but at times it comes dangerously close.
Covenant takes place ten years after Promethus, following the titular ship on its mission to colonize a distant habitable planet. After receiving a rogue transmission of a human voice, the crew makes a detour to its planet of origin to evaluate its potential as an alternative settlement. When they arrive they find the planet deserted, save for a few thousand humanoid bodies. And here the specter of Prometheus rears its ugly head, as the movie wastes precious time on a subplot whose connection to the main narrative is tenuous at best.
Which is a shame, because the moments when the alien does show up offer solid horror thrills. But the movie is a complete tease when it comes to these scenes, especially considering the promise made by its title. Every time Covenant feels like it’s finally past all its nonsensical mythologizing, it reverts to another scene of expository dialogue. This might be excusable if it had well-drawn characters, but half the roles are one-word archetypes – the believer, the cowboy, and of course, the Ripley – and those are the meaty ones. The only character of any interest is the android David, whose personality comes more from Michael Fassbender’s performance than anything else.
It’s only in the movie’s climactic twenty minutes that it feels like a proper Alien film, and not surprisingly, it’s Covenant’s strongest section. But unfortunately, it’s too little too late, and the sudden onslaught of character deaths squeezed into a short time feels rushed. That’s the problem with trying to force two genres together: one tends to get the short end of the stick. Covenant is solid ninety-minute Alien movie trapped in a bloated sci-fi drama’s body. My recommendation: genre reassignment surgery via piercing tongue-appendage.