'Alien: Covenant' Review: Because These Days Every Monster Needs an Origin Story
By John Boone
20th Century Fox
Maybe humans are the real monsters, and xenomorphs have just been misunderstood all along. That, I suppose, was the logic that spawned Alien: Covenant, another franchise film that buys into the current trend that every villain needs an empathetic origin story.
Covenant, a prequel to the classic 1979 creature feature, Alien, begins with its own prologue: David, the android introduced in Prometheus and played by Michael Fassbender, discusses creation with his maker and asks him "the only question that matters": Where do we come from? Covenant, as with Prometheus before it, is all about creation and, boy, is that creation gross.
The movie then shifts focus to the crew of a ship, the Covenant, on a colonizing mission to the planet ORIGAE-6. Coinciding with a catastrophic malfunction aboard the spacecraft, a previously hidden planet suddenly appears on their radar, a seemingly perfect alternative to their objective. So, they just...re-route and go there. The movie is Passengers (minus the love/murder story) until it turns into an Alien movie. It's not too big a venture into spoiler territory to say when they arrive on the unknown planet, things go awry.
The crewmembers themselves -- a bunch of faces you'll recognize from other blockbusters -- aren't too important. You never care that much about any of the characters, because you never learn all that much about them (aside from the fact that they are all married to one another, which you know from a YouTube prologue and because the men shout "My wife!" over and over like a bad Borat sketch). More than even the titular alien, this is the Michael Fassbender show. Tackling duel roles -- Fassbender plays both David and a new synthetic named Walter -- he is given some truly wild material to dig into. And dig he does, adding a dark and creepy twist to his nuanced performance of a nearly human character. And that's before Covenant's exclusively gay moment. (Eat your heart out, Beauty and the Beast.)
As directed by Alien maestro Ridley Scott, the film's action sequences are often shot in a way that makes it impossible to know what's going on, but you know it's bad. This was never meant to be an action franchise, though, and there are some truly grotesque bits of horror at play, moments that rival the scares of the original trilogy -- at least, until everything gets a bit too computer generated. (Plus, you have to give props to a blockbuster that kills off James Franco after 10 seconds of screen time. That's bold.)
The big problem is that, in the end, I apparently just don't care too much about the origin of the xenomorph, and Alien: Covenant is so much -- too much -- explanation of exactly what it is and when and how and why it came to be. I just want to watch people fight aliens in space. Moreover, amid all that navel-gazing over creation, there isn't anything terribly new: God created man, man created a god, that god wants to kill man and God. Sigourney Weaver inherits the world.