The "Alien" film franchise has always been synonymous with atmospheric tension, and suspense surrounding one of the most creative, inventive and terrifying creature designs ever: the late H.R. Giger’s xenomorph.
Although every movie in the series is technically a different genre, the one that made the biggest departure was 2012’s "Prometheus." The film served as an origin story for an early incarnation of the xenomorph, and because of this, it feels the most removed from its predecessors. The year’s "Alien: Covenant" is meant to bridge the gap between "Prometheus" and the original "Alien" from 1977, and as such, it seems like a mix of the two, for better or for worse.
We open on a spaceship called the Covenant, carrying 2,000 people to a new planet much like Earth to be colonized. All seems well until an unpredictable solar flare disrupts the voyage, leading to the waking of the ship’s crew from their hibernation too early, before Walter, a synthetic android in charge of the Covenant while the crew was asleep, can stop them.
After readjusting to life aboard the ship, the crew members discover a planet suspiciously similar to Earth that is very close to them, and decide to see if such a perfect opportunity is too good to be true.
Upon touching down on the mysterious planet, the crew finds it almost too similar to their own; as they venture further, they start falling ill. So what once seemed like an impossibly good opportunity might not be what it seems, and a familiar face could lead to more danger than anyone could’ve imagined.
As is typical of any "Alien" movie, the set design is intricate and inspiring. The Covenant itself is a huge ship with some creative places for the alien to hide in, further increasing the tension. Many aspects of the ship’s interior design could, in the right lighting, resemble the xenomorph itself – an idea that, in theory, could’ve proven just as effective as in the original, but instead, it highlights it’s main problem: The alien is not scary!
Make no mistake, It’s design will be eternally frightening, but that must be coupled with how it is used, and this film just doesn’t know how to use it effectively. Many times the xenomorph is shown blatantly in full light and not hidden, ruining the suspense and atmosphere found in at least the first three "Alien" films. The thought that, at any time this horrific horror monstrosity could be right behind you is absent in "Alien: Covenant," diminishing any truly suspenseful scenes.
In addition, the way it’s victims are claimed is not new or inventive, as the methods used here are nothing alien to the franchise. This, coupled with the xenomorph’s blatant display, really doesn’t lend itself to many frightening scenes.
The characters themselves are, for the most part, bland and uninteresting. They are the typical faceless fodder for uninspiring deaths that leave a lot to be desired. Even when they are given dramatic or sad scenes it’s difficult to feel anything because you hardly know anything about them.
Despite this, the film’s villain is actually very good and interesting. When our cast is in danger on the planet, David, the questionable synthetic android from "Prometheus," saves their lives and takes them to his hideout. From there, he gradually reveals his true intentions, and becomes the film’s main villain besides the xenomorph.
One reason he works well as a villain is his role in "Prometheus." That film already heavily established him, and "Alien: Covenant" just serves as an outlet for the next phase of his plan. David himself is stoic, while being manipulative and very intelligent. He almost gains our crew’s trust before dashing it away. He strikes when they least expect it, which keeps his victims guessing, especially when they aren’t aware of his presence, making him scarier than the alien itself. David is definitely the best part of the movie, and it actually might be worth it just for him.
Looking at the film objectively, without what other "Alien" movies have done in the past as a reference, "Alien: Covenant" is an above-average film with great set design, an amazing villain, and an interesting plot, but is let down by the lackluster use of the xenomorphs and the lack of personality in its protagonists.
Only when you factor in the legacy of the "Alien" film franchise as a whole does this film become an exercise in wasted potential.
"Alien: Covenant" is by no means a bad movie, but it falters in some fundamental aspects that even the lesser entries in the franchise got correctly.
That being said, this is still a good film, especially if you think of it as a companion piece to "Prometheus." But, the movie-going experience leaves more than a little to be desired, despite the fact that the ending is very terrifying, and will leave viewers very intrigued for a sequel.
Quinn Zack is a sophomore at Hamburg High School.